"L" is for Lighthouses on the Seacoast
By John Hirtle, Beach News Staff
Beach News, Thursday, July 14, 2005
[The following article is courtesy of Beach News]
Note - this is another 'stock' article which can be found at beachnewsnh.com, along with photos of each of the lighthouses mentioned. At the end of the article is a website address which is _THE_ definitive online guide to the region's lighthouses.
A few other random trivia notes you might be interested in (in case there is a lighthouse lover around there:
-- The Boon Island lighthouse's original Fresnel lens is on display at the little museum in Kittery (near the rotary circle) It is a lens of the second order (the second most powerful). Most of the lighthouses have had their Fresnel lenses replaced by modern LED type airport beacons because they use less power, are smaller, and won't burn out like a light bulb. A second Fresnel lens is on display at the Newburyport Maritime Museum (although I don't remember that one's origins). Each one is irreplaceable, since the factory and castings for them were destroyed by Allied bombings during World War II (they were made in France)
Standing along the edge of the seashore off harbors and marking dangerous islands are silent, solitary sentries of the sea- the lighthouses. Once manned around the clock by keepers who stood a lonely vigil, most of these have been automated, and in many ways made redundant by modern innovations such as global positioning satellites and radio. But before those innovations, the lighthouse and its ever-present keeper stood watch, sending out a beam of light to warn ships at night to check their course, and sounding their foghorn on brooding, mist filled days.
The golden age of the lighthouse may be long past, but they still keep their lonely automated vigil along the Seacoast, and provide a point of interest and delight for those seeking a taste of the history of the sea. From Plum Island Massachusetts to York Maine, we have listed the handful of lighthouses which still mark the ways into safe harbors and warn of dangerous rocks.
Plum Island Light
Starting at Plum Island, just off Newburyport you will find the Plum Island Light at the northern end of this picturesque and sandy island on the grounds of the Parker River Reservation’s headquarters. While not a terribly tall lighthouse, it is more than adequate to guide ships into the Merrimack River as its light peeps over the dunes and buildings surrounding it. This lighthouse was erected in 1898, replacing a wooden octagonal lighthouse which had occupied the site since 1789.
The Newburyport Range Lights
Driving into Newburyport, odds are you will miss one of the two range lights along Water Street. If you visit the Maritime Museum in the old Custom House, the lights are a short walk up the street towards the Newburyport Art Association’s gallery. There at 61-1/2 Water Street in an alley rises the taller of the two lights, an impressive brick structure which looks all the world like a chimney topped with glass windows. A walk down the alley between the buildings will bring you to the second and shorter of the pair of range lights which once guided vessels into Newburyport to the right on the Coast Guard reservation. In an era before radios and global positioning, these lights were used not to guide ships away from rocks, but into the river after dark- so long as the pair lined up, the ship’s master knew he was on course. One should note that these are the last intact pair of range lights in the United States, and efforts are being made to preserve them.
White Island Light
Heading up the coast into New Hampshire, you won’t see any lighthouses until you reach Rye on Scenic Route 1A. There, as evening falls and you look out to the Isles of Shoals you may see a flashing beacon which belongs to the White Island Light. Originally built in 1820, the light was the childhood home of the Seacoast’s noted poet Celia Thaxter, whose father took the position of lightkeeper. You may view the lighthouse from a chartered tour boat from Rye Harbor or Hampton Harbor on a cruise of the Isles of Shoals, or you can visit the lighthouse with Atlantic Aqua-Sport, which takes the more adventurous out to the isolated island to try their hand at scuba diving.
Portsmouth Harbor Light
In Newcastle you will find not one but two lighthouses off its coast. The first is Portsmouth Light or alternatively Fort Point Light, since is sits next to Fort Constitution, the oldest fortification in the state. The original light was little more than a lantern run up the flagpole at night by the local British garrison. Governor Wentworth erected an octagonal wooden lighthouse prior to the American Revolution to replace tthe lantern on a flagpole. That eventually gave way in 1877 to the impressive iron lighthouse which stands just outside the unfinished granite walls dating from the fort’s Civil War reconstruction.
As you take in Fort Point Light, and the panoramic views of Portsmouth Harbor on a clear day, you will undoubtedly spy Whaleback Light, a tall grey pillar rising from the sea on a low island which resembles the back of a surfacing whale (hence the name). The original lighthouse there was swept away in the early 1800’s, prompting its reconstruction in solid granite which has stood solid ever since thanks to its unique mortice and tendon construction. The grey structure on the nearby island is not the lighthouse keeper’s residence, but was the Wood Island Lifeboat Station, a predecessor of the United States Coast Guard service. Built in 1908, and decommissioned in 1941 as World War Two was spreading, efforts are underway to restore the aging building as a Maritime History Museum.
Off the tip of Cape Neddick, perched precariously on a small rocky island is Nubble Light, a unique sight for local and traveller alike. Separated by only a few hundred yards of pounding surf, it offers a close-up view to visitors parked on the mainland to the microcosm of an island occupied by a lighthouse. The keeper’s cottage is there, along with outbuildings and a prim picket fence, providing a beautiful sight to behold.
Boon Island Light
Eight miles off the coast of York is perhaps the most nefarious island in New England -- Boon Island. In December, 1710 the Nottingham Galley struck the rocky island which just barely juts out of the sea. The crew were marooned on the desolate island for twenty-four days of the worst winter weather, and resorting to eating some of their dead shipmates to survive before they were rescued. Following that tragedy, a cache of food was initially put out on the island for the next unfortunate seafarer who might run afoul of the dangerous isle. Ultimately a 137 foot lighthouse was erected on the island in the 19th century, making it the tallest lighthouse in Maine.
Only the Plum Island Lighthouse and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse are open to the public on a limited basis. For more information about these and other lighthouses in New England, you can visit www.lighthouse.cc.
Le Kofe’, a place for great gifts or coffee.
LaChiquita, a great place for authentic Mexican dining.
Linda’s Breakfast Place, a great spot to start off your morning.
La Bec Rouge, a restaurant that 'rules the roost’ at Hampton Beach all year long.