The southernmost lighthouse in the state of Maine, Whaleback Lighthouse stands on an offshore ledge at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. It’s one of the most familiar icons of the Seacoast region, viewed from afar by countless local residents and tourists each year. The nonprofit American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) and its local chapter – Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses (FPHL), are working to make the historic site accessible through public tours, but the biggest hurdle in that mission is the construction of a dock system at the offshore location.
ALF and FPHL have been working closely with Duncan Mellor, P.E., a highly respected marine engineer with the Portsmouth firm Tighe and Bond, to develop a suitable docking system at Whaleback Lighthouse. The engineering plan for the project includes three phases:
Phase I: Consistent with the original construction design of the breakwaters that once protected a boat landing at the ledge, a marine contractor will reestablish staple-like connecting rods to key areas along the existing set stonework to safeguard the breakwater structures and prevent further deterioration.
Phase II: Reset the east and west breakwaters to their original design by utilizing the existing granite rocks strewn about the basin by the sea on the north side of the lighthouse
Phase III: A landing system will be incorporated along the inside of the west breakwater, making it possible for small-to-medium-sized boats to safely dock at the site. A walkway will be installed, providing access for visitors from the dock to the lighthouse. The dock system will have a low visual profile, ensuring that the historic appearance of the lighthouse is not adversely impacted.
The total cost of the three-phase project is $300,000, including preliminary repairs to the old fog signal base next to the lighthouse, which will be completed during spring 2017 by the J.B. Leslie Company of South Berwick, Maine. ALF and FPHL are seeking funds for this exciting project through grants, community business partnerships, and individual contributions.
ALF and FPHL have set a goal to complete Phase 1 in 2017, and Phases II and III in 2018.
The ownership and responsibility for the care of Whaleback Lighthouse was transferred in 2009 to the American Lighthouse Foundation through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. ALF’s local chapter – Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses also cares for Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire. Thanks to FPHL volunteers, more than 5000 visitors tour Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse each year.
Since assuming stewardship, the organization has sealed and weatherproofed Whaleback Lighthouse, overhauled the lantern and deck, cleaned up the interior, and repaired the entry door. Access to the lighthouse is by boat only and is difficult, as the landing facilities once used by Coast Guard crews were destroyed by the action of tides and storms many years ago.
The turbulent currents at the mouth of the Piscataqua often make access impossible at Whaleback Lighthouse, which adds additional challenges to restoration activities and makes public access unfeasible without the installation of a dock at the site.
To make a donation to the Whaleback Lighthouse dock project send a check payable to: Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, P. O. Box 8232, Portsmouth, NH 03802-5092 (please specify “Whaleback Fund”) or to make a donation online, visit www.portsmouthharborlighthouse.org