On this special occasion of National Lighthouse Day, we turn our spotlight towards the historic and iconic Whaleback Lighthouse, standing proudly at the gateway to Portsmouth Harbor in New Hampshire. A beacon of maritime history and a symbol of resilience, this lighthouse has guided sailors and mariners for over a century.
Year Built: 1872
Rising from the rugged coastline, the Whaleback Lighthouse has been a steadfast guardian of the seas since its construction in 1872. Its gray conical tower, reaching an impressive height of 75 feet, holds within it stories of seafaring adventures and the challenges of coastal navigation.
The lighthouse's purpose comes to life with its distinctive flashing pattern. Emitting two flashes—one at 8.4-second intervals and another at 1.4-second intervals—every 10 seconds, its white light pierces through the darkness, providing crucial guidance to ships in the area. This luminous beacon, with a focal plane of 59 feet above the water, is a reassuring sight for sailors, visible from an impressive 17 nautical miles away.
Beyond its visual brilliance, Whaleback Lighthouse is equipped with a powerful foghorn, emitting two blasts every 30 seconds. This auditory signal acts as an additional safeguard, navigating vessels through even the thickest coastal fog.
A Coastal Sentry
Nestled on a ledge on the northeast side of the outer entrance to Portsmouth Harbor, the Whaleback Lighthouse stands as a testament to maritime ingenuity and dedication.
A Glimpse into History
The history of Whaleback Light dates back to 1831 when the original lighthouse was constructed. Standing at 40 feet tall, it featured a fixed white light that shone 58 feet above high water. The 1849 List of Light-Houses, Beacons, and Floating Lights of the United States highlighted the lighthouse's unique configuration of two lights, stacked 10 feet above each other, appearing as one light from a distance of around 6 miles.
Over the years, the lighthouse faced its share of challenges. By 1836, it became evident that the original tower was inadequately built, leaking during storms and heavy seas. In 1855, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed, enhancing its visibility and aiding sailors in their maritime journeys.
The story of Whaleback Light took a significant turn in 1872 when a new tower emerged on the rocky ledge. This 50-foot tower was crafted from durable granite blocks, ingeniously dovetailed together, similar to iconic lighthouses like Minot’s Ledge Light in Massachusetts and the historic Eddystone Light in England. Even today, a part of the original tower's base remains visible, a reminder of the lighthouse's enduring legacy.
In 1963, Whaleback Light entered a new era as it became automated, a technological advancement that continued to ensure its essential role in maritime safety. With its rich history and picturesque setting, Whaleback Light remains an essential part of the New Hampshire and Maine coastal landscapes, a symbol of maritime heritage, and a guiding light for seafarers.
Let's celebrate National Lighthouse Day by honoring the remarkable Whaleback Lighthouse, an enduring beacon of hope, safety, and history along the stunning shores of New Hampshire and Maine.