Rose Island sits in the middle of the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. The island was used during the American Revolution to house a fortification for the defense of Narragansett Bay and Newport. Later, construction of Fort Hamilton Barracks took place from 1798-1801. 

With the increasing shipping traffic in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay and the area around Newport in the mid-1800s, Rose Island seemed the ideal place to construct a lighthouse and on July 20, 1868, Congress appropriated $7,500 for completion of the task. Crews selected what was once a circular bastion of Fort Hamilton on the southwest corner of the island to place the lighthouse.

The wooden keeper's dwelling featured a mansard roof with an integrated octagonal tower. The tower stood thirty-five feet tall on the western end of the structure,. The lantern was outfitted with a sixth-order Fresnel lens displaying a fixed red light. Keeper John Bailey Cozzens, appointed on November 25, 1869, first established the light on the night of January 20, 1870.

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