EAST PROVIDENCE — Somewhat out of sight, but never out of the minds especially of those who cherish its presence in city waters, the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, and its preservation, is the passion of numerous locals, including noted Riverside resident Dave Kelleher.
Mr. Kelleher is known to many in East Providence for his three-decade career in the school department. He started as a teacher at Waddington Elementary School in 1968 then soon became the principal at the former Oldham Elementary building followed by stints in the same position at Kent Heights, Thompson and Union Primary, closing the latter two buildings with the consolidation of Rumford elementary schools. On the heels of the closings, he was the first principal of the new Myron J. Francis Elementary School at the site of the old Wilson School in 1989 before closing out his career here with a five-year stay at Silver Spring.
All the while, Mr. Kelleher was an active member of several historic and preservation efforts in the city, sitting on committees and volunteering his time.
It’s how he became involved with the attempt to rehabilitate the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse, the 140-year old structure that sits about 800 yards off the shore in Riverside. It remains one of only about a half-dozen lighthouses in the state still used for nautical purposes despite the ongoing attempts for its upkeep.
Mr. Kelleher credited one-time city residents Don and Nancy Doucette with drawing his interest and that of others in the status of the Pomham Lighthouse some 15 years ago. Since, he and a loyal crew have raised money and put in countless hours to see the historic structure return to its past glory.
“I was president of the (East Providence) Historic Society at the time, so that’s why Don and Nancy asked me to look into it,” Mr. Kelleher explained. “But it wasn’t until the American Lighthouse Foundation got involved that things started to happen.”
That was in 2002 when Mr. Kelleher and another founding and current member of the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse organization, Nate Chase, reached out for some expert advice.
Tim Harrison, at the time president of the ALF based in Maine, helped negotiate the terms of the restoration with Exxon-Mobil, which then owned the property. The oil giant has since bequeathed the lighthouse to the Friends group, though it still has some interest in its operation because of its use in shipping.
Besides Mr. Harrison, Mr. Kelleher also noted the assistance of former Exxon-Mobil East Providence terminal manager Greg DiMarco, a former Coast Guardsman, for aiding the cause.
Formed in 2004, the Friends group has reached a number of milestones while procuring tens of thousands of dollars in donations and receiving about the same or more in grants. It’s allowed the exterior of the lighthouse to be repainted, the windows refurbished, fencing erected and, significantly, electricity to be restored.
The focus of the Friends group now is geared mostly on renovating the interior of the structure. The ultimate goal is to at least make the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse a useful tourist and educational site.
“Lighthouses have become pretty popular, oh, I’d say in the last 20 years. People travel all across the country visiting lighthouses and we have one right here, even though I think most people who live here don’t even know it exists even though we’ve been screaming about for years,” Mr. Kelleher said with a chuckle.
“It’s ours, and we should preserve it,” he added. “If we can get more people out there to see it, I think it will really turn them on, get them interested in seeing it preserved.”
Editor’s note: This article is the first installment in a series of stories on the past, present and future of the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse and the Friends of Pomham Rocks Lighthouse group.
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