In 1827 a rotating light was installed to differentiate the light from that of the Stonington Harbor Light in Connecticut. Erosion forced the lighthouse to close in 1855 and move further away from the bluff edge.
The next lighthouse, opened in 1856, stands tall. Sixteen years later the steamer Metis crashed off Watch Hill in 1872 killing 130 people. A United States Life-Saving Service station was built next to the lighthouse where it operated until the 1940s and was destroyed in 1963. In 1873 Captain Jared Starr Crandall, operator of the lighthouse, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for rescue operations involving the Metis. In 1879, Capt. Crandall's widow, Sally Ann (Gavitt) Crandall, became the first woman lighthouse operator there.
In 1907, the steamer Larchmont collided with a schooner killing 200 people four miles from the lighthouse. The Hurricane of 1938 caused severe damage to the lighthouse. The Leif Viking ran aground a few hundred feet from the lighthouse in 1962, and although there were no injuries, the ship was stranded for nine days. The lighthouse was automated in 1986 and leased to the Watch Hill Lightkeepers Association.