Digest>Archives> June 2010

Unsolved Mystery and Recalled Memories

By Timothy Harrison


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The Sabin Point Lighthouse in Rhode Island stood ...

In going through a stack of never published stories by the late Myron Corbett, son of Willie Corbett, who was a keeper at Maine’s Little River Lighthouse from 1921 to the early 1940s, I came across a brief mention of his visit to Rhode Island in 1968.

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Sabin Point Lighthouse keeper Charles Whitford, ...

In those memoirs, Corbett briefly mentioned being present to watch the lantern room being removed from the Sabin Point Lighthouse before the local fire department set fire to the structure, destroying the abandoned lighthouse.

Then, in an uncanny coincidence, a package arrived in the mail from Violet Marquis that was packed with photographs and information on a number of her ancestors who were lighthouse keepers off the New England coast, including Charles Whitford who was the lighthouse keeper at Sabin Point Lighthouse for an amazing 27 years from 1916 to 1943.

Sabin Point Lighthouse keeper Whitford, along with his wife Annie, raised three daughters at the lighthouse surrounded by water, something that none of us today can possibly imagine. The children had no grass to play on, only a small deck that went around the base of the lighthouse. Getting along with each other in these small living quarters would have been imperative and there was very little, if any, privacy.

However, “Life wasn’t as lonely as you might expect,” daughter Myrtle recalled, because, “living there was such a novelty; we always had plenty of company.”

Myrtle, recalled in later years, the time in her life when she was courting. Every time she had a date, her father would take her to shore in the station’s boat. Most of her suitors were young men she met at school on the mainland.

Myrtle remembered her many trips to shore to go on a date, “I always got wet,” but one of those dockside suitors turned out to be George Corbishley. She said that most suitors who came out to the lighthouse complained about tying to get out there, with the exception of George, who stood out from the rest and never had any difficulty in easily getting to the lighthouse. The two feel in love and got married.

However, Myrtle said she didn’t have to worry about her wedding dress getting wet; the 18-year old bride got married at the lighthouse. For the wedding the small lighthouse was host to over 50 guests. However, most of her adult life was spent on the mainland raising her family and working at the Warwick Water Department for 31 years until she retired in 1979 and spent 17 years as a volunteer at a local library. She passed away in 1999 and with her went the last first hand memories of life at a long lost lighthouse.

Myrtle was not the only one of the Whitford girls to get married at the lighthouse. Her sister Lillian also got married there. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see photographs of either of those weddings at the lighthouse?

In the late 1960s it was decided that the lighthouse needed to be removed for the widening and deepening of the channel. It was a decision that was considered a travesty by most people who lived in the area. But Rhode Island government bureaucrats, who could have cared less about historic preservation, ordered the lighthouse to be destroyed and on July 3, 1968 it was set on fire by the East Providence Fire Department.

However, the location of the lantern room that Myron Corbett witnessed being removed from the lighthouse remains a mystery. It would seem that even in the late 1960s this would have been a unique artifact that would have been preserved and put on display somewhere in the community. Perhaps it went to some ones back yard. Perhaps it was sold for scrap. It is highly unlikely that the Coast Guard would have taken it for use at another location. In those days they were more concerned with automating the lighthouses, rather than saving lantern room. Exactly whatever ever happened to the lantern room remains an unsolved history mystery, to yet be solved.

This story appeared in the June 2010 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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