Next Lighthouse:
Portsmouth Harbor
This Region:
Seacoast, NH

Isles of Shoals Lighthouse
(White Island Lighthouse)

White Island lighthouse

Rye, New Hampshire
Built in 1821



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

Isles of Shoals Light
1859 Construction (New Tower)
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.

early image White Island (Isles of Shoals) Lighthouse with new tower

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

Isles of Shoals (White Island) light overlooking rocky shore


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.

Isles of Shoals (White Island) light



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.

sand castles at Hampton Beach

Sand Sculpture Festival
at Hampton Heach

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. stone chruch on Star Island
Star Island Cottages
and Stone Church.

Island Cruises offers tours to the Isles of Shoals Islands and the lighthouse, it is actually the daily mail boat that goes out and passes close by White Island out of Rye Harbor. It offers daily stopovers to Star Island, the next island over, 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.


Island Cruises
Provides a mailboat out to the islands along the Isles of Shoals. Provides close up views of White Island (Isles of Shoals) lighthouse. Provides also a stop over for visitors 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



Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Provides narrated history of Portsmouth Harbor, nature, and weekly Isles of Shoals cruises that will drop you off and pick you up at Star Island for half and full day excursions. They have one of the largest vessels in the region, and provide dinner and nightlife cruises.
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 431-5500
(800) 441-4620



Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses
Besides offering weekly tours of the tower of Portsmouth Harbor light, and haunted lighthouse tours, they also organize during the summer season special narrated sunset lighthouse cruises that pass by Portsmouth Harbor light, Whaleback light, and White Island (Isles of Shoals) light. There is also an annual 5-lighthouse cruise in September that also includes Nubble (Cape Neddick) light, and Boon Island light.
P.O. Box 8232
Portsmouth, NH 03802-5092
Phone: (603) 534-0537


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



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



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



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



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.

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 local coastal attractions




You can order these books through any pages on this website, and I'll be happy to personally sign and ship them to you anywhere inside the United States. You can also order from the publisher, Schiffer Books, who can ship anywhere globally.



Price is lower at $24.95 if purchased here.


Table of Contents

Over 50 famous stories with lots of details in my book New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues, and Other Tales

There is a detailed story about acting lighthouse keeper, John Bragg Downs, saving members of the Russian brig during a blizzard as mentioned above.

The book contains, along with my photographs, paintings by six famous artists for the Coast Guard, and vintage images from the Coast Guard, museums, and special collectors.



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