Rhode Island is by far the nation’s smallest state, but its busy waterways and 400 miles of coastline led to the construction of about 30 lighthouses dating back to 1749. Of those, 21 remain standing. Bullocks Point Light, one of the nine lost beacons of the Ocean State, was home to several families in its six decades of existence.
The part of the Providence River near Bullocks Point in East Providence was a dangerous place for navigation, and around 1850 a pyramidal daymark was erected to mark the dangerous shoals. In 1872 a portable beacon was installed on a granite pier, and its first keeper was Joseph Bower. A single keeper was responsible for the Sabin Point Lighthouse and the beacon at Bullocks Point from 1872 to 1876. Finally a more permanent lighthouse was built in 1876.
Bullock’s Point Light was a fairly unusual looking lighthouse unlike any other in New England. It was an attractive Victorian dwelling sitting on a rectangular granite pier, with a lantern room on its roof. The sixth order Fresnel lens exhibited a fixed red light, and a fog bell was added in 1907.
Joseph Eddy was keeper from 1886 to 1892. His four children rowed to school every day. The Eddys had many visitors, and Mrs. Eddy said she enjoyed living at the lighthouse better than living on land.
Captain William Thomas Tengren, who was born in Sweden, was keeper from 1901 to 1909 and 1918 to 1927. Tengren had gone to work on ships at the age of nine. As he later explained, nobody ever bothered to check his age. During his time on ships Tengren learned about all things nautical from the older sailors, and he also learned to read and write. His travels eventually landed him in the United States.
Captain Tengren lived at the six-room lighthouse with his wife, Charlotta, and their three children, Anton, Agnes and Mary. The Tengrens added a deck to the lighthouse to serve as a “yard” so that the children could play outside.
Anton Tengren’s son, Thomas William Tengren, spent some time at the lighthouse with his grandparents when Anton was overseas during World War I. Years later Thomas would say, “You ain’t been cold till you’ve sat in that outhouse in January with a good stiff breeze coming in off the bay.” The outhouse, of course, hung over the river outside the lighthouse.
The Tengrens also had plenty of visitors, usually fishermen and their families who would dock at the lighthouse and spend the day. The Tengrens recorded that in the winter of 1918-19 the river froze over and it was possible to walk to shore.
Living at the lighthouse was hard work for everyone in the family. Supplies were bought a month in advance in case of bad weather. The Tengrens rowed to and from the lighthouse for school, church and medical attention. Rainwater was boiled for drinking. There was no elecricity at the station; the light was fueled by kerosene.
The next keeper at Bullocks Point was Andrew Zuius. He and the Tengrens became friends and the Tengrens sometimes returned to spend time at their old home.
On May 27, 1930, a sailboat was capsized in a squall near Bullock’s Point, and Keeper Zuius rescued the two persons on board. The squall was nothing compared to what hit the station in September of 1938.
The Hurricane of 1938, the greatest storm of the 20th century in southern New England, undermined the pier beneath the lighthouse and did great damage to the building itself. Keeper Zuius survived, somehow keeping the light burning through the storm. In the morning he found that the wall facing the wind had been ripped away and the stairs had been washed out, and all his belongings were swept away.
Bullock’s Point Light was discontinued shortly after the great storm and the structure was torn down a few years later. Today a small lighted beacon on the old foundation marks the spot where families once worked and played.
Special thanks to Jessica Blackwelder and her family for their assistance with this story. The author can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and would love to hear from anyone with more information about the history of Bullock's Point Lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
August 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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