The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse

The Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was  established in 2004 to restore and maintain the 1871 historic landmark. The Friend’s mission is to ensure the historic restoration and preservation of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse and to improve public awareness, appriciation and access to the lighthouse.

Upcoming Events: 

Noted Lampist to Return Pomham Rocks Lighthouse’s Iconic Lens


What do an Academy Award nominated film and Pomham Rocks Lighthouse have in common? A lampist. Kurt Fosburg, one of only a handful of Coast Guard certified lampists in the country, created the realistic lighthouse props for the 2019 motion picture, “The Lighthouse.” He will be traveling to Riverside, RI in September to transfer Pomham’s original lighthouse lens home. The fourth order Fresnel lens has been on display at the Newburyport, MA Custom House Maritime Museum for more than four decades. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, it is returning to its island home.


From the Marquette Maritime Museum in Michigan, where he is vice president of the board of directors, Fosburg shared his thoughts about lighthouse lenses in an interview recently with representatives of the Riverside and Newburyport museums. His career began in 1999 when Marquette received a Fresnel lens on loan from the U.S. Coast Guard. The lens arrived with a lampist to assemble it – James Woodward from Cleveland, Ohio. Fosburg assisted him, apprenticed for several years, then worked in business with him for more than a decade. 


The Michigan lampist has had a diverse career history. “I’ve never sat behind a desk,” he affirmed.  From his Lake Superior home, he ran a fishing charter boat, then a ferry full time. “Ironically,” he noted, “I ran people to a lighthouse and gave a lighthouse tour.” He also worked locally in Warren, RI on Blount’s cruise ships, giving tours. “I’m a mechanical engineer and a jeweler by trade and a kind of jack of all trades,” he explained. He added that the Fresnel lens is “like a really, really big jewelry, in a way.”


Developed by French civil engineer and physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in 1822, the lens which bears his name was revolutionary in focusing a lighthouse’s beacon, and in turn, improving the safety of those at sea. The intricate arrangement of prism-shaped pieces of glass in concentric circles, supported by a brass frame, concentrated light by reflecting and refracting, or bending, it into parallel horizontal beams which could be seen over long distances. It was the task of a professional lampist to assemble, clean and repair this fragile optical equipment. In 1871 when Pomham Rocks Lighthouse was built, there were hundreds of active lighthouses lit by Fresnel lenses in the country, and the United States Lighthouse Service employed lampists to care for them. A century and a half later, the number of both has declined sharply.


Since the U.S. Coast Guard replaced the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1939, the original Fresnel lenses have been replaced with more current technology. Many of the antique lenses were destroyed. Those remaining were stored and later transferred to maritime or lighthouse museums. Fosburg has moved, repaired and conserved more than a hundred Fresnel lenses, ranging from small sixth order ones to the largest, more powerful first order size, throughout the country. 


Logistics is what Fosburg describes as the most challenging part of his job. “Moving priceless objects that can be broken” is a great responsibility, he notes, and every move presents its own challenges. He admits that the most terrifying part of this job will be going through Boston. To transport the antique lens, weighing from 150 to 175 pounds, from Newburyport to Riverside, he has built a special wooden crate. “It’s a good, old-fashioned, what I call Egyptian-style,” he explained. The crate will have two holes on each side and rods running through it.


Owner of Superior Lighthouse Restoration, LLC, Fosburg is experienced in caring for these antique lighthouse lenses. Once at Pomham, he will make any necessary repairs, clean and install the classic antique lens for display. He is currently creating a replica of the brass oil lamp that was placed inside the beehive-shaped lens. He is also making a replica of the pedestal on which Pomham’s original sixth order lens was stationed from 1871 to 1926 and a display platform for the lens. The newly created pedestal will be placed in the tower of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse to be used as a stand for the existing LED light. The brass pedestal currently in the tower, which is original to The Lighthouse, will be moved to the first floor Pomham Room in The Lighthouse’s museum, and will hold the returned fourth order Fresnel lens. Assisting Fosburg with the move and installation will be Alex Dias, vice chair of the board of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse.


Fosburg is a recognized expert in creating replicas of lamps and pedestals. He built the rotating clockworks, lens pedestal and lamp for the Academy Award nominated motion picture, “The Lighthouse,” starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. “I was their technical advisor,” he recounts. “The set director was fanatical about accuracy. So, the things you see are actually very, very accurate,” he stated.   


What he enjoys most about his job is that he gets to go to unique places. “I get to work on something mechanical, something unique and something historical, all at the exact same time. And I think it fits very well that I can do that because I have knowledge of the item, the artifact, and history’s my thing,” he said. “I like to tie it all together.”


And that makes this particular job all the more noteworthy. “I understand that Custom House is losing the lens, but you (Pomham Rocks) are getting the lens… So, I understand the significance of that,” he stated. “It’s nice to see them reunited.” Members of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse are forever indebted to Custom House Maritime Museum for caring for the antique lighthouse lens for more than forty years and for generously allowing it to return it to its home. This will enable visitors from Rhode Island and surrounding areas to view the historical artifact when tours resume in 2022.

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Kurt Fosburg pictured with a 4th order Fresnel lens

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse’s 

4th order Fresnel lens to return home 

We hope the lighthouse community joins in our excitement as we announce that our original 4th order Fresnel lens will be returned back to the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. This lens was installed at the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse in c.1926 to replace the original 6th installed back in 1871. Our 4th order lens was removed from the tower in 1974 when the lighthouse was decommissioned. It eventually made its way up to the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, MA. Since the 1970s, our lens has been prominently on display and well cared for in Newburyport. However, the time has come for this historic artifact to find its way back to its original home: The Pomham Rocks Lighthouse in Riverside, RI. When it arrives back at Pomham Rocks, it will be displayed proudly in the Lighthouse’s museum. Stay tuned as our lens begins its journey back home!

Friends Honor Pomham Rocks’ First Lighthouse Keepers at Graveside Ceremony  

About 20 people gathered at South Burial Ground in Warren, RI on Sunday afternoon, June 27. Participants heard about the life of the deceased and placed markers on the graves. But despite appearances, this was not a normal gravesite ceremony.

Members of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse were on site to pay homage to Captain Charles H. Salisbury, the first Lighthouse Keeper of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, and his wife, Mary, Pomham’s second Keeper. A Civil War veteran, Mr. Salisbury served as keeper at The Lighthouse, located on an island off the coast of Riverside, from its opening, Dec. 1, 1871 until his death in May 1893 at the age of 89. At that time, his wife took over as Keeper until a replacement was hired in November of that year.

The Friends were joined by Keri M. Cronin, President of the Warren Town Council, who brought greetings from the town. Also attending were Kate Michaud, Warren Town Manager, and Taylor Croft, U.S. Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate. Judith Fardig represented Warren American Legion Auxilliary Unit 11 and David McCarthy represented Warren American Legion Post 104.

David Kelleher, board member of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, and one of the original founders of The Friends, addressed the guests at the historic cemetery. He told them how it was Capt. Salisbury’s responsibility to light the oil lamp in the lantern room, check on it every four hours and trim the wicks so that the light would shine brightly from dusk to dawn. At sunrise, he would extinguish the light, clean the glass panels and oil lamp – before 10 a.m. each day – and refill the oil in the lamp.

Life in the northernmost lighthouse in Narragansett Bay was challenging for the Salisburys. In cold winters, one could walk across the ice the 800 feet from the light station to the shore. But in milder winters, a path needed to be cut through the ice to allow a boat to reach the island. There was no electricity, telephone, running water or indoor plumbing for a bathtub or toilet at Pomham Rocks at that time. Oil lamps produced the only light. Rain water was collected from the roof, stored in a brick and concrete cistern below the house, and pumped up to kitchen by means of a cast-iron hand pump. An outhouse was in the backyard.

In addition to keeping the light burning to safeguard vessels in the area, Captain Salisbury, in his wooden rowboat, saved six people from drowning in a three-month period, from May to July 1876 at the age of 72. Mrs. Salisbury had applied for the position of Assistant Light Keeper in 1872, but had been turned down. Upon her husband’s death in May 1893, she was appointed Light Keeper. Mr. Salisbury’s salary remained the same $500 a year for his entire 22 years as keeper. When Mrs. Salisbury was hired to replace him, performing the same duties with 22 years of experience, her salary was reduced to $480.

As part of a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Riverside light station, Dennis Tardiff, Chair of the Board of Directors of Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, placed special historical markers on the Salisburys’ graves. Initiated by Tim Harrison, of the international publication “Lighthouse Digest,” the markers honor the sacrifices made by Lighthouse Keepers of the United States Lighthouse Service. The bronze markers which hold a U.S. flag, recognize the service and dedication of Lighthouse Keepers to the safety of those at sea.  To learn more about Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, visit www.

Capt. Charles H. Salisbury
Mary Anna Salisbury
Keeper Ceremony 6.27.21

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse: Guiding More than Ships

     Pomham Rocks Lighthouse sits high on an island across the bay from Rhode Island Hospital. But that’s not the only connection they have. As The Lighthouse celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, a bit of its history has come to light. A 1959 graduate of Rhode Island Hospital School of Nursing, Joan O’Sullivan, of Warwick, shared information from hospital and nursing school publications explaining the lighthouse-hospital link.

     It started in 1892 when Charlotte Peters, wife of the Rhode Island Hospital Superintendent, Dr. John M. Peters, designed a pin, which was later presented to each graduate of the Hospital’s nursing school until they closed in 1973. Mrs. Peters was an invalid who spent much time on a couch in their apartment above the entrance to the hospital, facing Pomham Rocks. From her window, she watched the ships as they sailed on Narragansett Bay.

     An article published in the July 1974 Rhode Island Hospital newsletter, entitled Another Era Ends: Pomham Lighthouse is Automated, the editor sadly relates that the “lighthouse mounted on a rocky projection in the middle of the Providence River, was decommissioned this past June 1, in traditional Coast Guard ceremonies…Since 1892, the lighthouse has appeared on the nurses’ school pins and has symbolized a guiding light for the sick in their search for the care provided by this Hospital.”

     In December 1892, Mrs. Peters had a pin made from a $20 gold piece and presented it on Christmas Day to her private duty nurse, Eugenia D. Ayers, a graduate of the class of 1888. In the center of the pin is the State seal in blue with a gold anchor. To the left, atop white waves is a sailboat. To the right, Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, described in the nursing school’s publication, The Story of the Nursing Badge, as “a beacon to guide in darkness, a tower of strength by day, directs the ailing traveler to the sturdy ship from which he can regain his own strength.”

     The first pin, now in the nurses’ alumni’s historical collection, bears the number one on the back. Each pin that followed is numbered sequentially. The photograph featured here shows pin No. 3,053, and belongs to Joan Knox O’Sullivan.


Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse
P.O. Box 15121 Riverside, RI 02915
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