The National Historic Landmark, Southeast Lighthouse(1873) was moved back from the edge of the bluff in 1993, as it was in danger of falling off the Mohegan Bluffs on the southeast side of the island due to extreme and ongoing erosion. An authentic first order Fresnel lens in the tower still sends out a green beam across the ocean. In addition to offering tours of the tower during the summer season, the site offers a great location for weddings or special gatherings. Contact the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation @ 401-466-5009. Special Group Tours can also be arranged via the Historical Society. A unique food truck is located inside the gate this summer selling water, refreshments, lobster rolls and “SE Light Delights”.
In 1972 the Block Island Conservancy was founded. Capt. Rob Lewis spearheaded this campaign to “Save Open Space”. He was also a member of the Historical Society Board of Directors for many years and was instrumental in having the vision to help the Society launch the plan to move the Southeast Lighthouse away from the eroding bluff edge. The Conservancy and other land conservation organizations are responsible for protecting over 47% of the island from development. Greenway trails have been established across the island. The Society conducts off site tours which include some Conservancy land with historic sites, specifically the Manissean Village site on Great Salt Pond. Tours of the smaller island cemeteries also include walks on the Island’s greenway trails. Sheffield Cemetery off Corn Neck Road , Winfield Dodge Preserve;Palatine Graves and the Lewis Dickens trail includes info about the “Bird Lady” Elizabeth Dickens and her dedication to preserving Block Island’s land and culture. Please inquire as to time and rates.
The three story building with cupola and red straight mansard roof is the headquarters for the Society established in 1942. The House is listed on the Register of Historic Places. The museum building originally known as the Woonsocket House ca. 1871,( a hotel & annex with rooms that were rented until the 1970′s ) was purchased in 1945, it was the homesite of Gideon Rose and later rebuilt as a boarding house by A.J. Rose and family. Today a gallery and museum shop are located in the ell addition. Genealogy research is available as well as tours of the museum. See About Us for more info.
In the 1930′s, Block Island was hit hard economically by the Great Depression and the Hurricane of 1938, which devastated its prized fishing fleet. Farming had come to a near standstill, as a result of the depression and the invention of refrigeration, which allowed produce to be shipped from far away places at competitive prices. The final blow arrived in the form of World War II as many young men left the island to fight overseas, some never to return. Left with a depressed economy and a ravaged fishing fleet, the Island basically remained unchanged for the next 30 years. Visit the museum to view photographs of the famous Block Island fishing fleet and artifacts the explain the history of fishing.
Paralleling the growth in the US economy in the late 1800′s, Block Island enjoyed the reputation of a grand Victorian resort from the 1860′s to the 1920′s. Large hotels were built establishing Old Harbor and New Harbor after 1895, as city dwellers from New York, Boston, and Providence escaped the heat and enjoyed summers on the island. The islanders prospered from fishing and farming to support the burgeoning summer population and for export across to the mainland. The museum has many vintage photographs from this time period as well as clothing, postcards and collectible dish ware and souvenirs.