• Search

A Complete Guide to Whaleback Lighthouse, Maine

A cylindrical granite tower and a sturdy brick signal house make up the Whaleback Light Station, which rises out of a small rock outcropping about sixty feet above mean high tide.

History of Whaleback Lightouse

This impressively well-preserved building, which was built in 1872, has the old keeper’s quarters and storage areas inside its granite walls. On its north face, it has a door, three windows, and a vertical row.

The tower shaft is capped by an eye-catching sculpted granite platform that holds up a railing-equipped iron promenade. The domed ceiling of the octagonal lantern is topped with a spherical ventilator.

The Whaleback Light Station, which was in fact established in the late 1820s before its aforementioned rebuild, is located on a small ledge of rock near the outer entrance to Portsmouth Harbor.

The second of two lights constructed to direct ships down the Piscataqua River was called the Whaleback light. It operated as a beacon between the inner harbor light, which had been erected in 1789, and the Isles of Shoals light, which was located at the port’s outer entrance.

Whaleback light was designated as a secondary sea-coast light during the nineteenth century, which highlights its relevance given that it is close to important shipping routes and that there is a lot of traffic entering and leaving the ports of Portsmouth and Kittery. In 1963, it joined the ranks of America’s automated lighthouses.

The Whalebeck Lighthouse you see today was constructed in 1872. The redesign improved on earlier construction efforts that were ultimately unsuitable for the severe weather in the area.

Planning Your Visit

It is possible to take in Whalebeck Lighthouse from numerous scenic viewpoints, despite it not being among the region’s most popular to visit. Vantage points include:

  • Fort Stark (Portsmouth, NH)
  • Fort Constitution (Portsmouth, NH)
  • Fort Foster (Kittery, ME)

The only way to see the lighthouse up close is via a boat tour. During the spring, summer, and fall seasons, Portsmouth Harbor Cruises offer an approximately 1.5 hour trip to Whaleback Light.

This cruise operator is highly thought of in the local community. Operating since 1982, they are a source of a wealth of useful information and insight.

Sailings sell out quickly in the peak season so reservations are recommended. Adults pay $25 while children under 2 ride free. There are discounted rates for older children, military members, and seniors.

The lighthouse can be viewed from distance from one of several forts either side of the Maine-New Hampshire border. For close up viewing, a harbor cruise is recommended.

Interesting Facts

Whaleback Light lays claim to being the southernmost lighthouse in the state of Maine. It lies approximately 1,500 feet north of the Maine-New Hampshire line, near Kittery, at the mouth of the Piscataqua River on a tiny rock protrusion.

Congress funded a seemingly paltry $1,500 in 1827 for a lighthouse to mark the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor due to the area’s high number of shipwrecks. It was soon discovered that this was clearly insufficient funding to construct a sturdy lighthouse in such a vulnerable location.

By 1829, further allocations totaling $20,000 had been provided. Construction on the tower foundation started once contractors were chosen. Construction on the lower courses was impeded by the tide, leaving builders just a few hours a day to work at that level.

The 38-foot tower had a base diameter of 22 feet and a top diameter of 11 feet, jutting out from the granite pier below. It became clear over time how badly built the original tower was, however. The foundation hadn’t been leveled before building started, and tiny stones had been used inappropriately to fill up gaps towards the bottom of the tower, according to a structural analysis.

A second lighthouse tower was built in 1872 after violent storms in 1869 caused more breaches in the tower and base. The new tower was built of granite stones that were intricately laid together in a design that established the standard for lighthouse towers exposed to such severe circumstances.

It measured 27 feet in diameter at its base and around 70 feet tall at its lantern dome. The American Lighthouse Foundation along with the local Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse submitted an application for the transfer of the lighthouse in 2007, taking advantage of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.

The American Lighthouse Foundation acquired ownership of the lighthouse in November 2008. Since then, the lantern, dome, deck, and other external ironwork have all been repainted and the lighthouse has been weatherproofed. They have continued to publish further details on the restoration’s status.

Insufficient funding meant that the original iteration of Whalebeck Light was highly vulnerable to severe weather conditions. After its rebuild, however, it became recognized as a standard-setter in solid construction. The ALF operate the lighthouse today and have invested in its repair and maintenance.

Key Information

Location Near Kittery (approx. 31″ N, 46″ W)
Established 1829 (rebuilt in 1872)
Height 70 feet (60 feet above sea level)
Type  Conical tower
Construction Granite
Architect Haselton & Palmer (original) and rebuilt by the US Army Corps of Engineers
Sequence White light (ON – 0.1 seconds, OFF – 8.4 seconds, ON – 0.1 seconds, OFF – 1.4 seconds)
Fog Horn 2 sounds every 30 seconds


Where is the best place to park?

If you intend to take a cruise with Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, the nearest, cheapest and most reliable option is the city-run garage on Hanover Street where rates are around $1.50 an hour.

Where is the best place to view and photograph the lighthouse?

Views from the shore are pleasant and perhaps sufficient for all but the most eager of enthusiasts. Kittery, ME is the obvious choice but Fort Stark and Fort Constitution (Portsmouth, NH) are also suitable.

Who operates tours to the site?

Portsmouth Harbor Cruises are by far the most established operator in the region. For in person bookings go to 64 Ceres St. (Next to the Tugboats) Portsmouth, NH. Alternatively, see our earlier link for online bookings.

What are the best dining and accommodation options nearby?

The Oar House is a quaint pub situated close to the Portsmouth Harbor Cruises booth. There are large Hilton and Sheraton hotels in close vicinity too.


Written by
Jim Hudspith

Jim is a lifelong enthusiast of maritime history but strives to make his writing as accessible and fun as possible for casual readers. That means you'll find plenty practical tips and photographs with just a smattering of quirky heritage to keep things interesting!

Jim has traveled extensively, soaking up and photographing lighthouses all across the world, with a particular emphasis on the USA, Canada and Northwestern Europe. He presently works for a maritime engineering company in Northern England but never misses an opportunity to get back on the road!

View all articles
Leave a reply