For a truly unique Newport experience, there is no better place to visit and stay than the Rose Island Lighthouse.
by Art Petrosemolo
Jersey shore residents often find it difficult to take a few days away in the summer with sun, surf and sand at their doorstep. But off-season is a different story and a weekend away in the mid-Atlantic region or New England just might be attractive.
A great getaway spot is Newport, R.I., about 225 miles from Red Bank. The city is on the southern end of Aquidneck Island, 30 miles south of Providence but accessible via a scenic drive from Interstate 95 on Rhode Island Route 138 through South County and over the Jamestown and Newport Bridges.
In the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, many of America’s wealthy made Newport the heart of the summer social scene and built huge mansions, called cottages, along the rugged coast. They still stand today and can be visited or just viewed from the city’s famous Cliff Walk pedestrian trail.
The U.S. Navy has had a presence in the city for centuries, and it served as home of a destroyer fleet until 1973. It is still the home of the U.S. Navy War College, established in Newport in the late 19th century.
Newport sits on Narragansett Bay, close to Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The Newport Bridge connects the island to neighboring Conanicut Island with its quaint town Jamestown. The Jamestown Bridge connects Conanicut to Rhode Island’s west shore.
A boating hub, Newport is filled with yacht clubs, boat clubs, marinas, and tourist attractions that support the city’s nautical heritage. It was the original site of the America’s Cup yacht races, hosted by the New York Yacht Club, until the United States was defeated in the competition by Australia in 1983.
The quaint cobblestone Newport streets are lined with locally owned boutiques and souvenir shops and a few national retailers like Gap and Brooks Brothers. The seafood restaurants and pubs are legendary and include the Black Pearl and the historic White Horse Tavern. And if you haven’t tried Rhode Island chowder or clam cakes, Newport has a number of locations to try both as well as local seafood specialties.
Gambling arrived in the area with Newport Grand (slot machines). Cardines Field, a minor league baseball park and home of the Newport Gulls, is one block from the main shopping district.
The Marriott and Hyatt chains offer lodging right on the water, and countless smaller hotels like the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina, the Viking and Castle Hill Inn along with beds and breakfast locations, abound.
There is plenty to do in Newport off-season. Its weather is moderated by the surrounding bays and ocean and average temperatures are in the 50s through November and in the mid to high 40s in the winter. Occasional winter nor’easters drop the temperature significantly and pile on snow to match. However, like most coastal communities, the snow does not last long.
Shopping, dining and historical walks can pass the time on an off-season weekend. Worth a visit is the historic St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the site of the wedding of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier. Ferry and tour boats operate, weather permitting, to provide a close-up view of the Newport Bridge, completed in 1969. A boat cruise also gives you a chance to see and photograph the seals’ habitats offshore and especially those near Rose Island Lighthouse.
For a truly unique Newport experience, there is no better place to visit and stay than the Rose Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1869 and operated for 100 years until the 1969 opening of the Newport Bridge, which is lit up like a Christmas tree at night. In 1984, the city of Newport took control of Rose Island and its structures; the government had used the island to load munitions into torpedoes and mines from the late 1700s. A foundation was formed that began the work to restore the lighthouse and surrounding buildings. In 1993, the foundation began to allow visitors to use the island for day visits, parties, weddings and social events and allow guests to serve as lighthouse keepers for a day or two or a week.
The wooden lighthouse building now houses guests on two floors. The first floor with two bedrooms has been renovated to 1905 era. The second level is the lighthouse keeper’s quarters. It is larger, with a bedroom, dining area, stove and refrigerator. Guests have the complete run of the 18-acre island and grounds. You can even climb to the top of the lighthouse tower and walk outside on the catwalk.
Work on the lighthouse and surrounding buildings continues under the watchful eye of Davie McCurdy, executive director of the RIL Foundation. He and his staff keep the lighthouse ready for guests year round.
If, like this writer, you decide to stay at the lighthouse, remember that you are on an island, so don’t think you can head to the town Starbucks at midnight. Guests are ferried to the island in the morning and picked up the following day or week, depending on the length of their stay. You bring and prepare your own food. There is indoor (and outdoor) plumbing. You can swim (in season), kayak and explore. Electricity is provided through a battery/inverter powered by a wind generator with gasoline generator back up. Rates are affordable and the one-of-a-kind experience will provide you with stories for a lifetime.
Log on to www.RoseIslandLighthouse.org for more information about Rose Island. For information about visiting Newport, check www.GoNewport.com.