Built in 1830
Stationed at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, entering Portsmouth Harbor. The lighthouse can be viewed from the Commons Park on Newcastle Island near Portsmouth, from Odiorne Point off Route 1A in New Hampshire, or from Fort Foster in Kittery, Maine.
|Latitude: 43° 03' 31" N
||Longitude: 70° 41' 48" W|
|Whaleback lighthouse was built in 1830 to accommodate the increasing shipping traffic to and from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and for the many local lobster men and fishermen. It was rebuilt a number of times afterwards due to initially poor construction, its close location to the mean water and the constant bashing of New England storms.||
During a fierce January storm in 1863, the British Schooner Rouser crashed against the rocks near the lighthouse. The Keeper was unable to save any of the crew with the fury of the waves and all seven crew members perished in the storm.
In 1882, assistant keeper John Lewis fell from the fog signal tower as he was painting it, and later died from his injuries.
A violent storm in 1886 sent huge waves smashing against the lighthouse that flooded the living quarters of Keeper Leander White, nearly drowning him. Luckily he was rescued in time by two local Kittery residents.
Whaleback Lighthouse Circa 1950
Courtesy US Coast Guard
Places to Visit Nearby:
Kittery is the oldest town in Maine and is a quiet seacoast community across the river from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Kittery’s Historical and Naval Museum is loaded with historical lighthouse and naval artifacts, including local shipyard and submarine memorabilia. Kittery has a famous outlet area open to tourists of over 120 stores along a one-mile stretch on Route 1. For kayaking, fishing, hunting, and hiking needs, you'll find the famous Kittery Trading Post to explore.
The scenic harbor ride along Route 103 will lead you to Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier to enjoy lobsters in the rough and for kayakers and boaters to bring their boats to the small pier.
Whaleback lighthouse has been in the midst of border controversy for many years as many believed it should be part of New Hampshire, not Maine. Finally the problem was resolved and the beacon is now considered as part of Maine.
Between Kittery and Portsmouth Harbor there were a multitude of forts built since Colonial times to protect this military strategic region. Fort McClary, one of the oldest forts originally built in 1689, lies on a hilltop overlooking quiet Kittery Harbor where you can see Portsmouth Harbor light in the distance.
Fort McClary tower in Kittery
|Across the Piscataqua River, on the New Hampshire side, you'll find one of the most beautiful oceanside parks, Great Island Common, on New Castle Island. Here you can see both Whaleback and Portsmouth Harbor lighthouses, relax at its small cozy beach, climb rocks along the shore, or play in its open areas. As the park is located at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, visitors will occasionally be treated to views of tugboats bringing in and escorting out shipping traffic to and from Portsmouth Harbor.||
Kayaking from New Castle Island
Historic Portsmouth across the Piscataqua River offers many cultural events, tours, and theater events visitors can enjoy along with plenty of specialty shops and restaurants. Narrated tours by the Seacoast Trolley Company provide views of Portsmouth Harbor and Whaleback Lighthouses along with tours of historic areas of the city of Portsmouth.
During the summer months you can enjoy the beautiful gardens and arts festivals of Prescott Park in Portsmouth, and take in outdoor theater acts as well while watching boating traffic in the harbor. Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth offers visitors an outdoor museum of how people lived in the coastal areas from the late l7th to the mid-20th centuries. The Music Hall, built in the late 1800’s, provides visitors with professional acclaimed film, music, theater, and dance performances year round.
Directions: To get a close view of the lighthouse from Fort Foster, in Kittery-
- From Interstate 95 N in Portsmouth, Take Exit 2 for Route 236 / Us Route 1 and follow onto Route 236.
- At the traffic circle, take the 3rd exit onto Route 236/Rogers Rd.
- Continue to follow Route 236 for about a mile then bear left onto Route 103.
- Take right at Chauncey Creek Rd.
- Turn right at Gerrish Island Lane, which becomes Pocahontas Road.
- Park at the gate and walk about three quarters of a mile to the shoreline inside the fort where you can see the lighthouse.
Directions: To get a close view of the lighthouse from New Castle Island, in NH
- From Interstate 95 in Portsmouth, take Exit 5 and go south on Route 1 Bypass for a little over two miles.
- Turn left on Elwyn Road, and continue for about a mile and a half until the road ends.
- Turn left onto Sagamore and then right onto Wentworth Road, which is Route 1B.
- After crossing onto New Castle Island, about two miles on Route 1B, you will see signs directing you to turn right to the Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor and Fort Constitution, stay on 1B instead past the fort and you will see Great Island Commons on the left.
- Park and enjoy views of both Whaleback and Portsmouth harbor lighthouses. This is a beautiful Oceanside park to spend the day.
Local Boat Tours
While the cruises mentioned below offer specific lighthouse cruises that pass by Whaleback Lighthouse, some will pass by the light during charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, fishing tours, and other types of excursions. Weather is also a major factor in New England, especially on sailing excursions.
Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Portsmouth Harbor and Isles of Shoals tours
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Sailboat charters to the Isles of Shoals and Portsmouth from Rye Harbor.
Contact: Captain Rick Philbrick
Malagar Group LLC
188 Bunker Hill Ave
Stratham NH 03885
My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips.