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Whaleback Lighthouse

Whaleback lighthouse

Kittery, Maine
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


Historic Stories:

Whaleback lighthouse was built in 1830 on the Piscatequa River, that borders Maine and New Hampshire, to accommodate the increasing shipping international traffic to and from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and for the many local lobstermen and fishermen from Kittery, Maine, and New Hampshire border towns.

early whaleback lighthouse 1847 construction
Whaleback Light
1847 Construction
Courtesy US Coast Guard

The shoddy construction of the first light lasted surprisingly for nearly 40 years, although the keepers who tended it felt their lives were in danger constantly.


Keeper Rescues His Daughter

In 1849, a Keeper Rand's daughter came to visit her father. One day they set out in a small boat to go to nearby New Castle Island to explore, but they were overturned by a rogue wave on rough seas that dumped both into the water. Unable to get back into the craft, his daughter became exhausted and the keeper tried his best to keep her head afloat. Luckily a schooner passing by rescued the stranded couple and helped revive his daughter.

Note: More details of the story can be found in my Lighthouse Stories section by clicking the link "Keeper Rescues Daughter" at the top of the page.

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.

After much petition from the keepers, and from the superintendent, the government appropriated funds to build a new light as the beacon was deteriorating rapidly. The dovetail construction of granite was considered an engineering feat as the lighthouse was completed in 1872.

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. Terrified, the keeper went up in the tower to the highest point in the lantern room to safety as the storm roared on. He proceeded to hang a blanket out as a distress signal for any passing ship to be rescued if at all possible. Captain Walter S. Ames, anchored at Kittery point spotted the blanket and during a lull in the gale force winds in the storm, was able to get to the lighthouse. He found Keeper White nearly half-drowned and very frighteneed. Ames was able to get the keeper to shore and get him medical treament.

Two years later, a terrible gale storm in Novemvber 1888 swept over Whaleback, causing the large fog signal to swept overboard by huge waves. In all, nearly 2000 tons of rock had been ripped away from the old foundation of the beacon and piled up next to the stone lighthouse tower.

In 1891, five years after rescuing Keeper Leander White, Walter S. Ames was apppointed as keeper of Whaleback light, performing more rescues during his tenure there.

In December 1948, historian Edward Rowe Snow, known as the “Flying Santa” to lighthouse keepers, dropped a bundle from a plane with Christmas gifts, including his book Storms and Shipwrecks of New England. The drop was too far away for the Whaleback keepers to retrieve it, and it was carried out to sea by the tides. Three weeks later, Eugene S. Clark was walking on a beach in Sandwich on Cape Cod. He found the package 90 miles from where it had been dropped.

early whaleback lighthouse in 1950
Whaleback Lighthouse
with Fog Signal Tower 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.

Views of Whaleback Lighthouse from the Kittery, Maine side can be seen from Fort Foster, with its trails, beaches and long boardwalk to get a close view of the lighthouse.

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

Fort McClary Tower in Kittery

Between Kittery and Portsmouth Harbor there were a multitude of forts built since Colonial times to protect this military strategic region.

Whaleback lighthouse waves crashing during rare astronomically high tides

Whaleback Lighthouse with
crashing waves during rare
astronomically high tide.

Whaleback lighthouse can also be viewed across the Piscataqua River at New Castle Commons, a beautiful park on the New Hampshire side. It also provides a nice view of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

Visitors can view the lighthouse from some great locations: Fort Constitution, Fort Stark, and Odiorne Point in this historic area.

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.

kayaking near Portsmouth Harbor light

Kayaking towards Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

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.

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.

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


Driving Directions

Directions: To get a close view of the lighthouse from Fort Foster, in Kittery-

Directions: To get a close view of the lighthouse from New Castle Island, in NH


Contact Info:
Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses
P.O. Box 8232
Portsmouth, NH 03802
Phone: (603) 534-0537


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
(603) 431-5500
(800) 441-4620


Portsmouth Harbor Cruises
Portsmouth Harbor and Isles of Shoals tours
64 Ceres Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 436-8084
(800) 776-0915

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


Cove Runner Coastline Cruises
Private intimate trips (up to 6 passengers) along the southern coast of Maine to destinations of your choice, in a smooth riding 23’ power catamaran. Cooler (BYOB), Bluetooth sound system, comfortable seating and a full-sized head provided. Enjoy seal sightings and other wildlife. Departs out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine.

Captain Bob Spencer
(207) 216-2844


Books to Explore

Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England:
New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont

This book provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses along the northern New England shores, with plenty of coastal attractions and tours near each beacon.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and local coastal attractions



book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

This book is available in paperback, hardcover, and as an eBook for all devices.

my ebook on apple books

The Rise and Demise of the Largest Sailing Ships:
Stories of the Six and Seven-Masted Coal Schooners of New England

In the early 1900s, New England shipbuilders constructed the world’s largest sailing ships amid social and political reforms. These giants of sail were built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies and measured longer than a football field! These true stories include competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.




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