Some good things happened at Whaleback Lighthouse before the work season concluded this year. The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses (FPHL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, was able to contract with the J.B. Leslie Company to carry out important maintenance at the offshore Whaleback Light, Kittery, Maine, in September 2020.
The scope of work included prepping, priming and repainting the iron lantern, sealing the control joints along the exterior gallery deck, resealing glass panes at distinct locations and installing a fiberglass grating to span the gap between the old fog signal base and the tower’s entryway. The previous access platform was washed away during a winter storm.
Anytime vital maintenance or restoration work can be accomplished, it is a cause for joy, but even more so in a year like 2020, which saw the pandemic place a crimp on a number of projects and volunteer activities. The completed project at Whaleback not only serves to protect the iron components, it will also continue to ensure that the historic tower is as watertight as possible, which is especially important for a wave-swept location.
Jeremy D’Entremont, FPHL Chairperson and President of the American Lighthouse Foundation, touched on the challenges of 2020, noting, “This was a difficult year for our organization in terms of money raised and projects accomplished, but it’s a good feeling to get this much-needed project done. The ironwork on the lighthouse is gleaming with its new paint, and we can rest assured that the tower is sealed from moisture this winter.” D’Entremont went on to say, “As always, it was a pleasure to work with Jim Leslie and his crew, as well as with the home office of the American Lighthouse Foundation.”
The 1872 Whaleback Light, which is owned by the American Lighthouse Foundation, is a wave-swept, granite structure located at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. The water around Whaleback Light is seemingly always agitated, if not downright nasty. The confluence of the river with the open sea – and the fast currents that rip through this area, make Whaleback a very tough place to approach. A landing at the site is further complicated by the lack of a docking system and irregular, slippery rock and ledge.
The J.B. Leslie Company had to cope with these factors as they carried out the maintenance project. In fact, one day they went to the lighthouse, but had to turn around and go back due to the rough seas around Whaleback.
“Whaleback Lighthouse is one of the classic, granite, wave-swept lighthouse towers of the Atlantic Coast and an icon of Southern Maine and the New Hampshire Seacoast region,” said Jeremy D’Entremont. “It’s easily seen from both sides of the mouth of the Piscataqua River and many thousands of people pass it on tour boats every year. Our ultimate goal is to have public tours at Whaleback. But for now, without a good docking system, access for the public is too problematic. In the meantime, we’re working to be good stewards.”
The Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses is targeting repairs to the old fog signal base at Whaleback Light in 2021. The $23,000 project will not only stabilize the historic ruins of the fog signal base, it will preserve the platform as a vital component to be integrated into a future docking system at the offshore site. The docking system is the key to public access and site educational programs – a goal the organization remains committed to moving forward.