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. 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
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 Harbor Light 1804 Construction
Portsmouth Harbor Light 1877 construction
|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.||
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.
Note: For stories of famous lighthouse events and folklore, check out the Lighthouse Stories section of this website. There you'll also find info on my book showcasing over 40 stories with plenty of colorful images titled “New England Lighthouses: Famous Shipwrecks, Rescues, and Other Tales,” which can be purchased from Schiffer Books Publishing.
One of the stories in the book involves the life, and afterlife, of Portsmouth Lighthouse Keeper Joshua Card, a colorful individual with a great sense of humor.
Places to Visit Nearby:
Welcome to where I’ve been living for over 20 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. Strawberry Bank 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. The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse provide tours inside the lighthouse during the summer months.
One of the most beautiful oceanside parks is Great Island Common, on New Castle Island within walking distance from the 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.
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. Check out the beach's Web Cam. If you take the coastal drive along Route 1A, you'll be treated to views of opulent mansions
Directions to Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse:
- From Interstate 95 in Portsmouth, take Exit 5 and go south on Route 1 Bypass for a little over two miles.
- Turn left on Elwyn Road, and continue for about a mile and a half until the road ends.
- Turn left onto Sagamore and then right onto Wentworth Road, which is Route 1B.
- After about two miles on Route 1B, you will see signs directing you to turn right to the Coast Guard Station Portsmouth Harbor and Fort Constitution.
- Park in the Fort Constitution parking lot and walk to the fort during daylight hours from where you can get a good view of the lighthouse. While enjoying this historic fort. The lighthouse is closed to the public, but is accessible during open houses offered by Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.
View Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in a larger map
Local Boat Tours
Boat cruises and ferries mentioned below may offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises, some will pass by specific lighthouses as part of charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, ferrying passengers, whale watching, fishing tours and other types of excursions. Contact info is provided to help you plan your special trips to New England’s shorelines. Enjoy!
Isles of Shoals Steamship Co.
Portsmouth Harbor and Isles of Shoals tours
315 Market Street,
P.O. Box 311
Portsmouth, NH 03801
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
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
Directions to NH Seacoast Marinas
Directions to Rye Harbor Marina
From Rte 95 South:
- Take Exit 3B. Right onto Rte 33 East.
- Go 1.4 miles to 4th light; right onto Peverly Hill Rd. (becomes Elwyn Rd.)
- Go 2 miles to Rte 1A; south 6 miles to Rye Harbor State Marina.
- Take Exit 2 onto Rte 101 West. Follow 1 mile.
- Take exit 12. Right onto Rte 111 East.
- Follow 6.4 miles to Rte 1-A.
- Left onto Rte 1-A North. 3 miles to Rye Harbor State Marina.
From Rte 95 North:
Directions to Portsmouth Docks
From Route I-95:
- From Route I-95 North take Exit 5 to the Portsmouth Traffic Circle. From I-95 South, take NH Exit 7, then LEFT at lights.
- At the traffic circle, take your second right on to the Route 1 Bypass North (Towards Maine)
- Take the 2nd exit on to Maplewood Avenue and make a right at the end of the ramp.
- Proceed to first set of lights and take a left onto Deer Street.
- Follow Deer Street to the end, take a left at the stop sign and the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company dock is located on the right just after the salt pile across from the Sheraton Harborside.
- For Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, just past the Sheraton Hotel on your right, you will see a small alley on your left marked "Private Way and the "Olde Harbour District". This is Ceres Street where you’ll find the dock.
Directions to Hampton State Pier
From the North:
- Take I-95 South to the Hampton toll booth.
- Take Exit 2 and Route 101 East until you reach the beach.
- Turn right. Drive about 1 mile until just before the Hampton-Seabrook bridge.
- Exit on the right.
From the South:
- Take I-95 North to just over the New Hampshire state line.
- Take Exit 60.
- At the second set of lights, take a left onto Route 286.
- Follow all the way to the beach.
- Turn left. Go about 1.5 miles.
- Just past the Hampton River Bridge on the left.
Other Types of Tours
Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse
Provides tours inside the lighthouse during the summer months.