Pomham Rocks is a tiny island in the Providence River, about 800 feet from the east shore of the Riverside section of East Providence, Rhode Island. With increased shipping traffic heading toward Providence in the 1800s, Pomham Rocks was an obvious place to establish a navigational aid, and funds were appropriated in 1870. A wooden dwelling with a mansard roof was built on a granite foundation with a hexagonal lighthouse tower on the front center of the building. It was first lighted on December 1, 1871.
The lighthouse was discontinued in 1974 and was replaced by an automatic light on a skeleton tower. In 1980 the General Services Administration sold the property to the Mobil Oil Company, now Exxon Mobil, which has a large refinery and terminal near the lighthouse. Exxon Mobil eventually leased the historic structure at no cost to the American Lighthouse Foundation. A new chapter of the Foundation, the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, was announced.
A restoration of the exterior of the building was completed in early 2006, and the navigational light was returned to the lighthouse. Then, in the spring of 2010, Exxon Mobil donated the lighthouse to the American Lighthouse Foundation. Recent work has included the construction of new docking facilities, restoration of the oil house, installation of new fencing, restoration of the lighthouse windows, and restoration of the interior.
Dennis Tardiff arrived at Pomham Rocks in April 1971 as a 19-year-old Coast Guard fireman. He left Pomham at the age of 22 as a third class Petty Officer. As one of the last Coast Guard keepers at the station, Dennis lowered the flag on June 5, 1974, when the light was decommissioned. More than four decades after he left Pomham Rocks, Dennis became reacquainted with the lighthouse when he became involved with the restoration project in 2016. Dennis is now the chairperson of the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. He was recognized for his efforts with a 2018 volunteerism award from the American Lighthouse Foundation. In this interview, Dennis talks about his days as a Coast Guard light keeper and about the preservation of this jewel among New England lighthouses.
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org