WARWICK — Sailboats and jet skis cut through the surf in front of the Warwick Neck Lighthouse as every 15 seconds the green light warns of the threat of rocks in Narragansett Bay. The air is scented with just a hint of salt, and waves can be heard lapping at the rocks below.
Inside the former's keeper's house, the musty smell of a family of foxes permeates the air. Built in 1889, the former keeper's quarters now appears more like a hodgepodge of different eras: a modern gas stove and dishwasher, new counters, old windows and plaster peeling off a few walls.
Who will become the next owner of the lighthouse property, currently owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, is an open question, as the General Services Administration accepts letters of interest from governmental agencies and nonprofits seeking to become the lighthouse's next owner, a process that will probably take a couple of years.
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Who wants custody of the Warwick Neck Lighthouse?
Since the notice of availability for interested parties was published on May 15, there has been "very, very strong interest," said the man handling the listing of the lighthouse, GSA Region 1 Branch Chief Kevin Legare.
Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi said the city will submit a letter of interest to the GSA for the property.
In 2004, Warwick took custody of the Conimicut Light, at the mouth of the Providence River, with plans to renovate it. With no money to do so, efforts stalled. A decade later, a proposal to repair the structure and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast went nowhere. The city secured a $775,000 federal earmark to restore the lighthouse last year.
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As a boy, Picozzi would go down to the lighthouse to fish, even though he didn't usually have any luck. Now, parking is practically nonexistent on the small site, which means it would not work well as a park, he said, but the keeper's house could be turned into an office for a veterans organization and the site could be opened periodically for clubs.
"There are endless opportunities and possibilities," he said.
Picozzi said the Warwick Neck Improvement Association contacted city government to say it plans to put in a letter of intent as well. The state Department of Environmental Management said it has no plans to put in for the site.
Those groups putting in applications need to have enough money to maintain the lighthouse and grounds, and must agree to make it available for "education, park, recreation, cultural or historic-preservation purposes for the public at reasonable times and under reasonable conditions," according to a news release from the GSA.
How does a lighthouse get transferred?
Once notice of availability closes on July 14 after being open for 60 days, the GSA will send those who qualify an application and give them a chance to inspect the property. Everyone who gets an application has 90 days to complete it from the date they inspect the property.
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The GSA then sends those applications to the National Park Service, which reviews the applications. The National Park Service then makes a recommendation to the Department of the Interior, its parent agency, which signs off on a single applicant and sends it back to the GSA to convey the deed.
Legare said the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, passed in 2000, marked the first time nonprofits were given equal standing to compete with local and state governments for former federal properties.
The first lighthouses put up for transfer or sale were often those like Conimicut Light, in the middle of a body of water and difficult to access. More recently, the lighthouses have been far more desirable, and accessible. Most recently, the Watch Hill and Beavertail lighthouses were put up for transfer. The process for them is still pending.
The history of the Warwick Neck Lighthouse
While a lighthouse has been at the Warwick Neck site since 1826, the current lighthouse and keeper's station are much younger. The first lighthouse, a clapboard tower, rose out of the stone one-story keeper's station, built in 1826, according to the 1988 National Register of Historic Places entry for the lighthouse.
In 1889, a new keeper's house was built, and the original tower and stone house were torn down. The tower was the last "traditional" lighthouse built in Rhode Island.
In 1939, the lighthouse was moved 50 feet north, away from the shoreline, to its current location and put on top of an 8-foot concrete base after the Hurricane of 1938 undermined its original foundation.
The lighthouse was the fifth in Rhode Island and the first non-harbor light on Narragansett Bay.
"Because of the important of Providence as an early center of trade, a light was needed at Warwick Neck to guide ships through the narrow straight between the Neck and Patience Island en route to the Providence River," according to the historical entry.
The three acres of land for the lighthouse were originally purchased from the Green family in 1826. From when it was first built until the current tower was constructed in 1932, two keepers were needed to tend to the kerosene lamp. When the new lighthouse was constructed, the lamp was electrified.
The current light, which flashes green, is solar-powered.
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This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Warwick Neck lighthouse is being given away and lots of groups want it