This Region:
Seacoast, NH
Next Lighthouse:
Portsmouth Harbor

Isles of Shoals Lighthouse
(White Island Lighthouse)

white island light

Rye, New Hampshire
Built in 1821


 

Location:

On White Island about six miles from the Portsmouth shoreline. Island is not for public access. Views of the lighthouse can be seen from Appledore Island where the public is allowed to explore.

Latitude: 42° 58' 02" N
Longitude: 70° 37' 24" W

Historic Stories:

The first lighthouse in the Isles of Shoals was established on White Island in 1821 as a stone tower, and then later encased with wood to brave constant storms that would wash over the island.

isles of shoals light 1821 construction

Isles of Shoals Light, 1821 Construction
Courtesy US COast Guard

isles of shoals ariel view  built 1859cution light

Ariel View of White Island Light,
(Isles of Shoals Light) 1859 Construction
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard


In 1839, Thomas Leighton became keeper at White Island light. His daughter, Celia, later gained widespread fame as Celia Thaxter, poet and author. During a severe gale in 1839 the vessel Pocahontas was wrecked on a nearby sandbar and all aboard perished. The memory of this incident inspired Celia Thaxter's poem, "The Wreck of the Pocahontas”, She also wrote about life on the island. Celia wrote extensively about life on the Isles of Shoals, which in turn continued to attract tourism to the islands.

In 1873, one of the islands, Smuttynose, attracted media attention when two young women were brutally murdered there with an ax. The culprit was caught and hanged in front of the public. It was also believed to be the site of Black beard’s pirate’s treasure buried on the island, although it has never been found. Celia Thaxter’s gift to write about the islands’ gardens, and her writings about murders, ghosts, and shipwrecks on the islands spawned much media attention to the area. Even today, the Isles of Shoals remain a major tourist attraction.

In the mid-1800’s, John Bragg Downs was temporarily acting as keeper, with a friend as his assistant, when during a severe blizzard with blinding snow and heavy seas covering the island, they found a lone sailor covered in blood knocking on their door for help for his comrades who were wrecked on the rocks nearby. Downs was able to carefully secure himself onto a ledge and managed to get a line to the rest of the crew on the vessel. He was able to rescue every crew member bringing them to safety from the sinking ship.

Isles of Shoals Light with tower

Isles of Shoals Light (White Island Light)
Tower Built 1859
Courtesy US Coast Guard

 

The Lighthouse Kids

The many years of constant storms were taking a toll on the lighthouse. Hurricane Bob and the ferocious "Perfect Storm" of October 1991 washed away the walkway from the tower to the house, as well as the old fog signal tower. Over the years, the lighthouse tower developed major cracks along the outside of the tower, which would eventually cause it to fall into the ocean. This inspired a group of seventh grade students calling themselves the “Lighthouse Kids” in North Hampton, New Hampshire, along with their teacher to try to raise money to save the lighthouse. In 2005, they presented Governor John Lynch with a check for $110,000 to help with the restoration of the lighthouse, which helped to add to matching federal funds acquired in 2003, by Senator Judd Gregg. Most of the main restorative work was completed during the summer of 2005. Recently however, a ferocious storm in the spring of 2007 destroyed the walkway, and removed the solar panels for the light, but the lighthouse tower still remains in good condition. The kids are still raising funds for the lighthouse.

 

New England Lighthouses

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

Although New Hampshire’s seacoast is only 18 miles long; there are plenty of parks, beaches and tours for visitors to enjoy. Hampton Beach is New Hampshire's longest beach with plenty of concerts at the Hampton Casino Ballroom. Each week you’ll find plenty of events, festivals, fireworks displays, attractions, amusements, and restaurants. There is also a concert amphitheater for local shows and concerts. Among many festivals, in the middle of June is the world-class Sand Sculpture Event, and in the middle of September is the Annual Seafood Festival.

The Rye Harbor State Marina offers plenty of fishing, lobstering, and whale watch expeditions, along with beaches nearby. You can also enjoy some views of coastal Victorian and 20th century mansions in Hampton, NH.

The Isles of Shoals are nine islands split between the New Hampshire and Maine borders, located six miles off the New Hampshire coast. They have been a popular destination for tourists, writers and artists alike for centuries, especially the largest, Star Island. White Island (Isles of Shoals) lighthouse can be easily viewed from Star Island. Here visitors can eat at the Victorian Era Oceanic Hotel and explore the island and its timely stone cottages and church, built to withstand the harsh weather.
Star Island cottages and stone church.

Island Cruises offers tours to the Isles of Shoals Islands and the lighthouse, it is actually the mail boat to the island out of Rye Harbor. It offers daily stopovers to Star Island for a few hours or for the day. The teacher who founded the "Lighthouse Kids" organization, is still involved and operates Island Cruises on board the Uncle Oscar each summer. Stop by and say hello, and thanks. Other boats out of Portsmouth Harbor provide tours to Star Island as well. For the adventurous, Atlantic Aquasport offers diving expeditions off White Island.

Granite State Whale Watch, out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, offers sunset tours to the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse in the summer season.

 

 

Directions to NH Seacoast Marinas

Directions to Rye Harbor State Marina

 

Directions to Portsmouth Docks

From Route I-95:

 

 

Local Boat Tours

Boat cruises mentioned below may offer many types of cruises, but also provide lighthouse narrated cruises. They may also pass White Island Light as part of an Isles of Shoals tour or as part of narrated wildlife and historic tours, whale watching, fishing tours and other types of excursions.

 

Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Provides narrated history of Isles of Shoals tour that provides close up views of the lighthouse.
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 431-5500
(800) 441-4620

 

 

Portsmouth Harbor Cruises
The Isles of Shoals Cruise covers all nine islands and provides close views of White Island Light.
64 Ceres Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 436-8084
(800) 776-0915
phc@portsmouthharbor.com

 

 

 

Seabourne Sailing
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
Rye, NH
(603) 778-1372
Email boatcents@comcast.net

 

 

Island Cruises
Various tours to the islands along the Isles of Shoals. Stop over to eat at the Oceanic Hotel and explore Star Island. The founder of the “Lighthouse Kids” who raised funds to help the Isles of Shoals Light, Sue Reynolds, owns the boat. 
Rye Harbor State Marina
Rte 1-A Ocean Blvd
P.O. Box 66
Rye, NH 03870
(603) 964-6446

 

 

Granite State Whale Watch
Besides daily whale watching tours, they a narrated tour of all nine islands of the Isles of Shoals which includes White Island, providing close up views of White Island lighthouse.
1870 Ocean Blvd
Rye, NH 03870
(603) 964-5545

 

 

Sunrise Adventure Charters
Two-hour Portsmouth Harbor tour or Isles of Shoals cruises. Deep sea fishing excursions aboard a 25-foot Sport Cabin boat.
(603) 345-4946 or (603) 424-4946
Email:  info@SunriseAdventureCharters.com

 


 

My 300-page book (with over 360 images), Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, published by Schiffer Publishing, 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.

In the book, you'll find more detailed accounts of the heroism of islander John Bragg Downs, mentioned above, who saved a Russian ship's crew that had crashed on the rocks during a fierce winter storm.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and attractions

 

 

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