For a mariner, the voyage home is often long and arduous. So, too, was the journey of the soul of Rhode Island’s Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, now returned home.
A Fresnel lens, often referred to as the jewel of a lighthouse, is also considered the soul of a light station. Constructed of multi-faceted glass prisms arranged in concentric circles, the lenses are both an engineering masterpiece and a priceless work of art. In 1851, the Congress of the United States ordered Fresnel lenses to be installed in all existing and newly constructed lighthouses. Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, built in 1871 on an island off the coast of Riverside, Rhode Island, was first lit with a 6th order Fresnel lens, visible for about seven to eight nautical miles.
Sometime around 1926, a more powerful 4th order Fresnel lens was installed, greatly improving the safety of shipping to the port of Providence and in upper Narragansett Bay. The lens remained in operation until 1974, when the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and it was replaced with an external light on a metal-framework tower placed next to the building. The Fresnel lens from Pomham Rocks lighthouse was sent to the Lightship Museum at Boston’s Constitution Wharf. It was later loaned by the Coast Guard to Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where it was displayed for more than four decades.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse this year, the nearly century-old Fresnel lens is being brought back to its original home this fall. It will be disassembled in Newburyport and reassembled in its island light station in Riverside, Rhode Island. These highly specialized procedures will be performed by a professional Coast Guard lampist, one of only six skilled artisans in the country experienced in conservation of this historic optical navigational equipment.
The Fresnel lens will then become the centerpiece of the museum exhibit at Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. When Covid-19 guidelines fully allow, the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse will offer boat trips for the public to tour the lighthouse where visitors can view the iconic lens.
For information on upcoming events to celebrate Pomham Rocks jubilee year or to join Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, visit www.pomhamrockslighthouse.org.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2021 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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