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Portsmouth Harbor 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. 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


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.

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.

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

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.


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.

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

early image Joshua Card Portsmouth lighthouse keeper

Joshua Card
Photo Courtesy of
New Castle Historical Society

Note: For more intricate details about Keeper Joshua Card's legacy, select the "Keeper Joshua Card" link at the top of the page to be directed to my Lighthouse Stories blog.    



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:

Welcome to my home for over 30 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. replica of Spanish galleon vessel
Replica Spanish Galleon
Across Prescott Park During Festival.

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.

Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse also referred to as Fort Constitution light, you can drive to just out of Portsmouth and connect by road to next door New Castle Island where the lighthouse is located.

Portsmouth Harbor light guiding boat home 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.

The grounds to Fort Constitution are open all year round for visitors.

The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses provide tours inside the lighthouse during the summer months, and coordinate haunted and pirate tours. In addition to taking care of Portsmouth Harbor lighthouse, they are also working on preservation efforts on nearby Whaleback lighthouse.

view from Portsmouth lighthouse tower

View of Fort Constitution
from Portsmouth Light Tower

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.

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 with 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.

sunset by Portsmouth Harbor light


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. 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

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


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



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



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

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:



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 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




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

Stories include more details about Keeper Joshua Card, his life and hauntings afterwards, and a detailed account about lifesavers who rescued crewmemebrs of a ship wrecked nearby, and had to rescue one another as well.

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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