Digest>Archives> April 2006

Capt. Adolf H. Aronson

From Lightship to Lighthouse

By Timothy Harrison


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Pomham Rocks Lighthouse where Capt. Adolf H. ...

When Adolf H. Aronson, a native of Sweden, came to the United States as a youth of 18 to seek his adventure, he had no idea that he would eventually become a lighthouse keeper.

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Capt. Adolf H. Aronson of the United States ...

When he arrived in the United States, he immediately found work on vessels that traveled the New England coast as well as foreign ports.

When the Spanish-American War broke out, he was on board the schooner

George M. Grant off the coast of West Africa. With calm seas and no wind, it took the vessel 83 days to reach the states and all during that time, no one on board realized the nation was at war.

In March 1869, he joined the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment as a sailor and was assigned to the Hog Island Shoals’ Lightship No. 12 in Narragansett Bay in Bristol Harbor near Portsmouth, Rhode Island. However, the government decided to build a lighthouse at the location.

As Aronson watched the construction of the lighthouse from his duty station on board the lightship, he decided he would apply for a transfer and try his hand at lighthouse keeping. When the Hog Island Shoals Lighthouse was completed, he was appointed as the assistant keeper and two years later was promoted to head keeper of the lighthouse. He remained in that position until April 1, 1908, when he was appointed to the position of head keeper at Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, a much more desirable assignment.

Aronson’s duties were pretty standard at the idyllic Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, which is located on a beautiful island off East Providence, RI. Here, he was able to grow vegetables and care for a flower garden.

Even though life and his duties were calm at Pomham Rocks, Aronson was involved in a couple of rescues at the lighthouse. One time, a person in a canoe capsized and for some reason, thinking the lighthouse was not even in use, never even bothered to shout for help. Aronson saw the man go under several times when he reached him with the station boat and pulled him to safety.

Lighthouse keeper Aronson was also credited with one of the most unusual rescues in lighthouse history when a seaplane carrying two people crashed into the water off the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. Aronson raced to the plane crash in the station’s power boat and quickly secured a line to the seaplane. Before it could sink, he towed it to shallow water, saving both the plane and its occupants.

He retired in 1937 after serving an amazing 29 years, the longest tenure of any keeper to have served at the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. Two years after his retirement, while walking home from the store, he suffered a heart attack and died within the site of the lighthouse that he loved so dearly.

This story appeared in the April 2006 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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