The New Hampshire Whaleback Lighthouse is probably the most well-known of all lighthouses in the USA and it marks the approach to the Portsmouth Harbor. The tower can be clearly seen in the Maine waters from about 1500 feet before approaching it and serves as a warning sign for the jagged ledge of Whaleback located on the northeast entrance of the Piscataqua River.
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Portsmouth Harbor was one of the most popular harbors in the early USA for trading and shipbuilding. The first Federal shipyard was built on the Kittery side of the Piscataqua River. Wrecks frequently occurred on the river and one of the earliest known shipwrecks on the Whaleback Ridge occurred in early 1733. More wrecks followed in the coming years and rescuers were frequently hampered by the dangerous tides and the sharp Whaleback Ridge.
The wrecks became so frequent that Congress was approached to build a lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in the early 1820s with an amount of $1500 but it was not enough. Even after building the lighthouse, ships frequently ran aground on the Ridge leading to several complaints to Congress. By 1929, the existing tower was then built up and increased to make the tower bigger and more visible to oncoming ships. Wood was taken from the local forests and the lighthouse was elevated on to a conical granite pier to make it taller and more visible.
To help ships recognize the lighthouse, two lights were used one above the other to bring attention to the danger. Over time, keepers realized that the tower was poorly built as it leaked badly. In spite of the light and an additional fog bell, schooners still found the area hard going. Eventually storms and bad weather resulted in cracks in the tower and foundation resulting in a new tower that was built for $75,000.
Over the years, the lighthouse was frequently renovated and built up but the overall appearance has remained the same. Whaleback Lighhouse has now been added to the National Register for Historic Places.
You can visit the area for guided tours. The lighthouse has its own museum. The lighthouse has also been memorialized by popular folk artists in the forms of drawings, tapestries, and sculptures. Popular US folk artist Jim Shore has also created a beautiful model of the lighthouse.