Father and Daughter Love Reigns Over All in Rescue at Whaleback Lighthouse
Stationed at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor in New Hampshire, and Kittery Harbor in Maine, Whaleback Lighthouse was built in 1830 to protect the increasing shipping traffic from the menacing Whaleback ledge, which is usually underwater at high tide. It was rebuilt a number of times afterwards due to initially poor construction, its relatively close location to the mean water, and the constant bashing of New England storms. It is the first lighthouse into the Maine border.
The Piscataqua River has a very strong dangerous current and rogue large waves are quite common in the area. Also, astronomically high tides also create huge rogue waves that can engulf or cover the lighthouse tower during storms. Keeper Jedediah Rand, of nearby Rye, New Hampshire, stayed at the lighthouse from 1849 to 1853, and learned first-hand, the dangers of the river, the New England storms, and the effects of unique high tides..
In September 1849, his 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Jane, came to spend three weeks at the lighthouse with her father. On the morning of September 25, Rand launched the station’s rather small boat to take his daughter to New Castle Island across the river, but the craft was suddenly overturned by a large rogue wave. The boat spilled both occupants into the waters as the keeper swam to his daughter to keep her near the boat. As they tried to find safety in trying to right the boat, large waves would overturn the craft. After a few attempts thwarted by the rough seas, Rand’s exhausted daughter slipped into unconsciousness.
Luckily, a schooner was passing by nearby and saw the incident. They heard Keeper Rand’s cries for help and quickly dispatched a boat to rescue the keeper and his daughter to bring them to the beach at New Castle. The rescuers tried to revive the young girl along the way and were successful just before they reached land. In fact, she spent only a short time in medical care on the island, and decided to return to the lighthouse to be with her father that same afternoon.
View of Whaleback Lighthouse
Whaleback lighthouse lies on the border between Maine and New Hampshire, a mile away adjacent to Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse on the New Hampshire side. Visitors can get a close view of Whaleback lighthouse from Fort Foster in Kittery, Maine. Park at the gate and walk about three quarters of a mile to the shoreline inside Fort Foster where you can walk the pier and view the lighthouse a few hundred feet away.
There are plenty of boat tours out of Portsmouth that will take you right by both lighthouses heading to and from the harbor.
New Castle Island lies just outside of Portsmouth separated by narrow waterways and is connected by Route 1B. You’ll find great shoreline views and you can dine, and even stay at the renovated Wentworth by the Sea Hotel, where kings, queens, and presidents stayed in the 1800s. For boaters, the marina is just across the street.
One of the most beautiful ocean side parks in the region is Great Island Common, within walking distance from Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse. It offers beaches, recreation, rocks to climb, and views of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Hampshire, and Whaleback lighthouse across the river in Kittery, Maine. There is no place I know of on the East Coast where you can get detailed views of lighthouses from two different states from one vantage point. 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, or lobster boats and fishing boats going off to work. You can also walk around the grounds of Fort Constitution nearby and get very close views of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse.
Here are some photos I’ve taken of Whaleback lighthouse.
Enjoy your summer!
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore. These include whale watching excursions, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, special parks and museums, haunted lighthouse stories, and lighthouses you can stay overnight. You’ll also find plenty of stories of shipwrecks and rescues. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for all you weekend explorers.
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