Previous Light:
Isles of Shoals
Next Lighthouse:
Whaleback, Maine
This Region:
Seacoast, NH

Portsmouth Harbor
(Fort Constitution) Lighthouse

Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse

Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Built in 1791


On the northeastern corner of New Castle Island. It marks the entrance into Portsmouth Harbor for shipping traffic and boaters alike.

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.

The original construction was a wooden tower painted brown.

early Portsmouth lighthouse 1804 construction
Portsmouth Harbor Light
1804 Construction
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard

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.

In 1878, a new cast iron tower was built inside the old tower, which was then removed.

Portsmouth lighthouse 1877 construction
Portsmouth Harbor Light
1877 Construction
Photo Courtesy US Coast Guard

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.


Most Famous Keeper of Portsmouth Light

The keeper who served the longest at the station was Joshua K. Card, who retired after he suffered a stroke at age 86 in 1909 after 35 years at the station. In that span, from 1874 to 1909, he only failed to light the lamp 11 times. This shows how dedicated he was to his duties, as he loved being at the lighthouse and welcoming visitors.

He was witty with a great sense of humor, enjoying the company of his neighbors, and the Portsmouth community.

Card was the oldest lighthouse keeper stationed.

early image Joshua Card Portsmouth lighthouse keeper

Joshua Card
Photo Courtesy of
New Castle Historical Society

After his passing in 1911, there have been many stories of sightings and strange sounds believed to be his ghost still attending the lighthouse.

In 1887, Jerry’s Point Life Saving Station was established a few miles from Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. They were directly involved in many rescues where the Portland Lighthouse keeper and his crew had to remain at their post. These brave men trained daily in rescue drills to save crew members of any ship wrecked offshore. Their most famous rescue involved saving the crew of the Oliver Dyer, wrecked nearby, during a devastating storm on November 25, 1888. The rescue attmepts were so dangerous that the lifesavers ended up having to save one another from peril as well.

Note: For more intricate details about either Keeper Joshua Card's legacy, or about the most famous rescue of the Jerry's Point Lifesavers, select the apropriate link at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories section. 


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.



Places to Visit Nearby:

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, also referred to as Fort Constitution Light, is a short drive out of Portsmouth and connected by road to New Castle Island where the lighthouse is located.

sunset by Portsmouth Harbor light You can explore inside the fort with easy close up views of the lighthouse, or you can also get views from Newcastle Commons Park nearby.

Grounds of Fort Constitution where the lighthouse is located are open to the public under security of the Coast Guard. Stay on the blue line as you enter the station.

The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses provide tours inside the lighthouse during the summer months.

view from Portsmouth lighthouse tower

View of Fort Constitution
from Portsmouth Light Tower

In addition to taking care of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, they are also working on preservation efforts on nearby Whaleback Lighthouse.

They also, in cooperation with Granite State Whale Watch, 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.

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.
There are plenty of special festivals, like the tall ships, to encourage visitors to the city. replica of Spanish galleon vessel
Replica of Spanish Galleon
across Prescott Park

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.

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

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.

autumn at Odiorne Park trails in the woods The center is located on Odiorne Point Park that provides plenty of wooded seaside trails, a playground, and shoreline beach for visitors to explore.

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.

Although New Hampshire’s seacoast is only 17 miles long; there are plenty of parks, beaches and tours for you to enjoy.

sand castles at Hampton Beach

Sand Sculpture Festival
at Hampton Heach

Hampton Beach is New Hampshire's longest beach.

Visitors will find 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


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.

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 include Portsmouth Harbor light, Whaleback light, and White Island (Isles of Shoals) light. 

P.O. Box 8232
Portsmouth, NH 03802-5092
Phone: (603) 534-0537


Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Provides narrated history of Portsmouth Harbor, nature tours, 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 the largest vessel in the region, and also provide dinner and nightlife cruises.
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
(603) 431-5500
(800) 441-4620


The Gundalow Company
For those who prefer a slower more quiet pace, take a sailing tour aboard the Piscataqua. She is a traditional reproduction of the flat-bottom gundalow barges that were used along local waterways to carry supplies. They have 2-hour afternoon, concert, sunset sails, along with offering special events sails. They provide a narrated history of Portsmouth Harbor, nature tours, and pass by Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.

60 Marcy Street
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Phone: (603) 433-9505


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


Sail NH
Sailboat charters to the Isles of Shoals and Portsmouth from Rye Harbor.
Contact: Captain Rick Philbrick
188 Bunker Hill Ave
Stratham NH 03885
Rye, NH
Phone: Cell 603-380-3804


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. Enjoy seal sightings and other wildlife, departing out of scenic Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine.

Captain Bob Spencer
(207) 216-2844

Lighthouses: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse (NH), White Island Light (NH), Whaleback Lighthouse (ME), Boon Island Lighthouse (ME), Nubble Lighthouse (ME)


Directions to Portsmouth Docks

From Route I-95:


Books to Explore

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

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

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 local coastal attractions



book of the rise and demise of the largest sailing ships

To order a signed paperback copy:

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 the ten original six-masted coal schooners and one colossal seven-masted vessel, built to carry massive quantities of coal and building supplies, and measured longer than a football field!

This self-published book, balanced with plenty of color and vintage images, showcases the historical accounts that followed these mighty ships. These true stories include competitions, accidents, battling destructive storms, acts of heroism, and their final voyages.



Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England:
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts

This lighthouse tourism book provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses along the southern New England states. There are plenty of details regarding indoor and outdoor coastal attractions and tours, with contact info to help with your vacation plans.

Look inside!


book about lighthouses and local coastal atttractions in southern New England



New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues & Other Tales

This image-rich book contains over 50 stories of famous shipwrecks and rescues around New England lighthouses, and also tales of hauntings that occurred.

You'll find more extensive details and imagery on both Keeper Joshua Card's legacy, and about the most famous rescue of the Jerry's Point Lifesavers. 

You'll find this book and the lighthouse tourism books from the publisher Schiffer Books.



Back to Top