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Seacoast, NH
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Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

portsmouth harbor light

Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Built in 1791



Location:

On the northeastern corner of New Castle Island. It marks the entrance into Portsmouth Harbor for shipping traffic and boaters alike. Grounds of Fort Constitution where the lighthouse is located are open to the public under security of the Coast Guard. Summer tours to the lighthouse tower are given by the Friends of Portsmouth Light.

Latitude: 42° 39' 43" N
Longitude: 70° 40' 52" W

Historic Stories:

Portsmouth Harbor Light as it is known today, lies in one of the more historical New England sites, once occupied by the British inside Fort William and Mary. In 1771, a wooden lighthouse was soon established at Fort William and Mary on what is now the town of New Castle in Portsmouth Harbor, near the mouth of the Piscataqua River.

It was the first light station established at a military installation of the British colonies. The site is also famous as one of the catalysts of the American Revolution when In December 1774; Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth from Boston to warn the colonists of British plans to reinforce Fort William and Mary. The colonists raided the fort and successfully made off with ammunition and supplies, which were used against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the early battles in the Revolutionary War. When Americans gained control of the fort after the Revolution, the name of the fort was changed to Fort Constitution.

The lighthouse was owned by the new federal government in 1791, and in 1793 President George Washington ordered that the light be maintained at all times, with a keeper living on site. Since then, the lighthouse was been moved a number of times within the area and has been in its present position within the walls of Fort Constitution since 1906.

portsmouth light 1804 construction
Portsmouth Harbor Light 1804 Construction
Photo courtesy US Coast Guard

portsmouth lighthouse 1877 construction
1877 construction
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard

In 1878, a new cast iron tower was built inside the old tower, which was then removed. The cast iron structure for the lighthouse was a rare type of construction for New England during this time. The lighthouse was painted a reddish-brownish color until 1902, when it was painted white.
The keeper who served the longest at the station was Joshua K. Card, who retired against his will after he suffered a stroke at age 87 in 1909 after 35 years at the station. He was the oldest lighthouse keeper stationed. There are many stories of sightings and strange sounds believed to be his ghost still attending the lighthouse.

portsmouth lighthouse keeper

Photo Courtesy of New Castle Historical Society

In 1998 the lighthouse was made "environmentally friendly" when the Coast Guard had all the lead paint removed from the exterior and interior of the tower, then repainted to its present colors.

In 2013, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse was chosen as one of five New England lighthouses, painted by artist Howard Koslow, for the "Forever" stamp collection sold at all US Postal stations.

 

New England Lighthouses

 

Places to Visit Nearby:

Welcome to my home for nearly 30 years! Historic Portsmouth offers many cultural events, tours, and theater events you 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, theater, and arts festivals of Prescott Park and other theaters in the area in Portsmouth, and take in an outdoor theater play at the park as well. Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth offers 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.
Replica Spanish Galleon docks across
from Prescott Park for visitors to explore during festival.

You can explore the inside the USS Albacore submarine, the prototype for modern submarine, converted into the Albacore Submarine Museum.

The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses provide tours inside the lighthouse during the summer months, and coordinate haunted and pirate tours. This year, in cooperation with Granite State Whale Watch, they have a special lighthouse cruise in September that takes visitors around Boon Island, Nubble (Cape Neddick), Portsmouth Harbor, Whaleback, and White Island lighthouses. They will also be having a couple sunset lighthouse cruises to view Portsmouth Harbor light, Whaleback light, and White Island light in June. Boat leaves out of Rye Marina in NH.

View of Fort Constitution from Portsmouth Light Tower

Noted popular lighthouse historian and FPHL founder, Jeremy D’Entremont, offers Lighthouse Tours, driving visitors around Portsmouth attractions and up Maine’s coast, stopping at lighthouses along the way. He also is involved with coordinating tours of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, including those mentioned.

The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company and Portsmouth Harbor Cruises offer narrated tours that pass by Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse.

One of the most beautiful oceanside parks is Great Island Common, on New Castle Island within walking distance from Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. It offers beaches, rocks to climb and views of Portsmouth Harbor and Whaleback lighthouses. As the park is located at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, you may occasionally be treated to views of tugboats bringing in and escorting out shipping traffic from Portsmouth.

The Seacoast Science Center offers extensive programs and exhibits in marine education. Located on Odiorne Point Park with plenty of wooded seaside trails, a playground, and shoreline beach. The Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve provides an opportunity to learn and hike around this reserve area and the Native American cultures that thrived in the area.

Children's Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, offers many events and exploratory activities for kids. For family fun, you’ll find Water Country with plenty of water slides and rides off Route 1 in Portsmouth.

Sand Sculpture Festival
at Hampton Heach

Although New Hampshire’s seacoast is only 17 miles long; there are plenty of parks, beaches and tours for you to enjoy. Hampton Beach is New Hampshire's longest beach with plenty of concerts at the Hampton Casino Ballroom, events, attractions, shops and restaurants for vacationers. If you take the coastal drive along Route 1A, you'll be treated to views of opulent mansions.

 

Directions to Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse:

 

Contact Info:
Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses
P.O. Box 8232
Portsmouth, NH 03802-5092
Phone: (603) 534-0537
E-mail: info@portsmouthharborlighthouse.org

 

Local Boat Tours

Boat cruises mentioned below offer many types of cruises, including narrated tours that pass by Portsmouth Harbor Light in the harbor. They will also pass by the lighthouse as part of special charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, fishing tours, and other types of excursions.

 

Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Portsmouth Harbor and Isles of Shoals tours that proviode close views of the lighthouse.
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 431-5500
(800) 441-4620

 

 

Portsmouth Harbor Cruises
Narrated Portsmouth Harbor cruise provides visitors a historical tour of the area's history, and a chance to view Portsmouth and Whaleback lighthouses.
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

 

 

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

 

Directions to Portsmouth Docks



From Route I-95:


 

 

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 about Keeper Joshua Card, and stories of hauntings at this location, and of course lots of local attractions.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and attractions

 

 

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