Block Island Southeast Lighthouse

Block Island, Rhode Island

  • Site Established: 1872
  • Current Bldg. Erected: 1875
  • Height of Light Structure: 52 ft.
  • Focal Plane of Light: 261 ft.
  • Active: Yes
  • Lens: First Order Fresnel
  • Beacon Visibility: 22+ M
  • Information: (401) 466-5009

Historic Significance Score: 4

Located just 12 miles off the coastline of Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay, Block Island was settled by the Dutch in 1614. The shoals off the island were so dangerous to passing vessels that many early settlers made lucrative livings from scavenging shipwrecks that met their doom off the island.

After many shipwrecks and an increase in swarms of vacationers, the Block Island North Light was established in 1829 on the northern tip of the island. Its southern counterpart, The Southeast Lighthouse would follow in 1875 and be established 150 feet above sea level on 10 acres of land bordering Mohegan Bluffs.

The lighthouse’s gothic architecture and strong presence was designed at the time to be a showpiece for the U.S. Lighthouse Bureau. It was such a popular vacation spot that even Ulysses S. Grant, who originally signed the appropriation to build the lighthouse, made the trip!

The Southeast Block Island Lighthouse from the offset was designated a ‘primary seacoast aid to navigation’. This allowed the lighthouse to be established with the most powerful fresnel lens available at the time — a first order fresnel lens — to aid the passing ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

The lighthouse was severely damaged by The Hurricane of 1938.

In 1990, the Southeast Lighthouse was deactivated by the Coast Guard and soon after the relentless erosion of the cliffs severely threatened the historic structure’s actual existence. The lighthouse that was originally established 300 feet from the bluff, now stood less than 60 feet from the edge of Mohegan Bluffs.

To assure this landmark’s preservation, The Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation raise $2 million in funds to pay for the lighthouse to be relocated back from the threatening cliffs.

In 1993, The International Chimney Corporation was awarded the contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move the lighthouse for posterity. The International Chimney Corporation also were responsible for the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

The complex move entailed relocating the 3 million pounds plus lighthouse over 360 feet and was completed on August 24, 1993.

In September of 1997, Block Island’s Southeast Light was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There are current plans by the Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation to completely restore the keeper’s quarters and light tower at a cost of close to $2 million and turn it into a bed and breakfast by 2005.

Majesty Score: 5

Block Island Southeast Lighthouse is a prime example of a smaller lighthouse (52 feet tall) that carries itself very large!

Its impressive girth and gothic architecture give it such a strong presence when viewed in person. Its height from the water reaches 250+ feet as it sits high atop the Mohegan Bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Water View Score: 5

Block Island Southeast Lighthouse has one of the best water views of any lighthouses in America! The ocean crashes 200 feet below you and your position is elevated by the bluffs to see endlessly out on the horizon.

In addition, there are two scenic views off the road to the west of the lighthouse that offer awe-inspiring views!

Preservation Score: 2

As highlighted in our history section, the Block Island Southeast Lighthouse Foundation has put extreme amounts of effort and money into preserving this lighthouse including the much publicized move and the plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast over the next few years.

Visually, today the lighthouse is very worn inside and out but there are small signs of repair currently going on.

This being said, however, some of the lighthouse’s charm comes from its tattered appearance.

Upon the completion of renovation by 2005, this score will be adjusted up and the Block Island Southeast Lighthouse will be one of the highest scoring lights on our web site.

Surrounding Area Score: 5

Block Island is one of the nicest summer destinations around, as the island has so many points of beautiful scenery. It is a very laid-back, well-kept town. It doesn’t have the fanfare of a Cape Cod, but rather just a quieter beauty. Once you get away from the ferry dock on Water Street (known as Main Street to the locals), which is very “touristy,” you will really enjoy the beauty of this island! (See below)

It is the perfect Rhode Island vacation destination!

Accessibility Score: 5

The lighthouse’s will be open for visitors during weekends in the summer during the renovation.

Visitors may take ferries from New London, Conn.; Newport or Point Judith, R.I.; or Montauk, N.Y., to reach this beautiful island. Each ferry route has its advantages:

The New London Ferry takes you by more than five lighthouses along the way, including a close-up of the New London Ledge Lighthouse, which is difficult to see from land.

Taking the Montauk Ferry will let you be in the area to visit the Montauk Point Lighthouse, one of the greatest lighthouses around!

Newport, R.I., has the beautiful Cliff Walks and the Castle Hill Light, time permitting.

And finally, the Point Judith Ferry has more ferries running throughout the day and will let you stay on the island until the evening (the others leave once in the morning and return in the late afternoon). You can also have a limited glance at the Point Judith Lighthouse.

You really can’t lose. Here are the links to the ferries:

Aside from taking your car on the ferry, visitors may take taxis or rent mopeds or bicycles once on the island. One strong bit of advice: Keeping in mind the Mohegan Bluffs are 200 feet above the sea, a bicycle ride can be very challenging for those not use to riding. The island is not flat and you might end up walking the bicycle around most of the island.

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