In fact, except for a phone and wind-generated electric power that runs the automated beacon, the lighthouse isn't much changed from when it began guiding sailors into harbor at Newport, R.I. But that doesn't deter visitors. Booked through November—the winter months are still available—at up to $800 a week plus an hour a day of chores—the Rose Island, now in the National Registry of Historic Places, is one of the few lighthouses in America where guests can stay.
It was an opportunity they almost didn't get. Abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1971, the light had suffered years of neglect and vandalism when Johnson discovered its charm on a camping trip in 1982. Then she learned that a 125-unit condominium and marina was planned for the 16-acre island. "It just seemed so destructive of that environment," says Johnson, who lives in Newport and is executive director of the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation. So she decided to do something about it.
In 1985 Johnson took her cause public. Using more than a mile of donated sheets sewn end-to-end by volunteers, she and 100 supporters acting as fence posts girdled the island in white to draw attention to the need to protect the island. When lighthouse renovation got under way in 1986, Johnson left the door unlocked, and visitors began leaving notes. "I'll donate the wiring," said one. "When you're ready to do the floors, give me a call," read another. "Eight years later, we did," says Johnson.
The lighthouse beacon was relit in 1993. "I'm very persistent," says Johnson. But saving the lighthouse, she admits, wasn't really all that selfless. "It's an absolute joy for me," she says. "The whole place is just one big blessing."