Tour: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

By: Sue Geyer, GSA Currier Museum of Art, Class of 2010

Several of us GSAs had the opportunity to get a tour of the Portsmouth Lighthouse in New Castle. Our guide, Jeremy D’Entremont, a volunteer with Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, was fabulous! He was so knowledgeable with a lot of depth and very easy to listen to. His stories really made it come to life!

Here is some feedback from the folks attending:

The lighthouse visual signal is a fully automated Fresnel lens. Sunday’s tour of the Portsmouth Lighthouse didn’t look promising as Mother Nature continued to provide rain to alleviate our extensive drought. To our great pleasure we had Jeremy as our guide and he provided an enlightening and entertaining tour of this historic lighthouse situated next to Fort Constitution in beautiful New Castle. It has been guiding ships since 1771 from its 48 foot high tower and still stands proud and beautiful in this third version. Automated since 1960, there have been a number of lighthouse keepers, and many were related. I highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity. ~Kathryn

The first lighthouse was a pre-revolutionary wooden structure located several hundred feet closer to what was then Fort William & Mary. It was the first lighthouse built on a British military facility north of Boston. All signs of this wooden structure built by the British are long gone. The only records of this are drawings. The existing lighthouse is a cast-iron structure with a brick interior wall. So carefully built so as to seem like the brick surface is curved to fit the cast iron exterior. ~Joe

Enjoyed the Portsmouth Lighthouse Tour very much, especially our guide Jeremy. Loved hearing stories of the great men and women who worked in this lighthouse, as well as others. Never been inside a lighthouse before so was a unique experience. ~Roz

Our appreciation of NH’s small yet historically significant coast was so increased by the tour guide’s extensive knowledge base and presentation in clear, comprehensible language while needing at times to define some nautical terms. The stories of everyday life keeping the “light ablaze” for maritime traffic included not only the employed keeper, but also his spouse and family contributions to the task. The strong currents, occasional fierce storms and dense fog, persistent wind/water damage to the buildings were described along with the bouts of loneliness and the social distance from friends/neighbors…a hearty existence indeed! Jeremy’s devoted interest in and evident enthusiasm for his subject made for a memorable experience for we landlubbers! ~Muriel & Bob

We were so fortunate to have lighthouse historian and author, Jeremy D’Entremont, share the history and lore of the Portsmouth Lighthouse. The current standing iconic white lighthouse at Fort Constitution at the mouth of the Piscataqua River is the third version from the first one established in 1771. That one was the 10th of 11 lighthouses in the American colonies, and the first north of Boston. Over the years the keepers and their families left their individual marks. Among the stories shared was that of the last full-time keeper of the lighthouse, Elson Small, who served from 1946 to 1948. Just as keeper wives before her, Elson’s wife Connie assisted him and was indispensable in helping to keep the light burning from sunset to sunrise each and every day. Besides being a partner keeper to her husband, she was an avid baker, baking a pie or cake every day and frying donuts in the morning. Connie passed away at 103 in 2005. She chronicled her life at the lighthouses they served at during their marriage, illuminating the night as the wife of a lighthouse keeper in her book, the Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife in 1986. ~Marilyn

Great tour! I really enjoyed hearing about the history of the actual building and the various iterations it went through. Jeremy told us about how the current lighthouse was built inside the standing wooden one in 1878 and never missed a day of operation. ~Sue

Thanks again to Jeremy for a great experience! Note, currently they are doing tours by reservation only. For more information: or