Thursday, May 20, 2010

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse Getting Some TLC

Earlier this week, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle, New Hampshire, was surrounded by scaffolding. This represents the beginning stages of a much-needed facelift for the beloved icon, also known locally as Fort Point Light.

The last time the lighthouse received a new coat of paint on its cast-iron exterior was in 1998, when the Coast Guard hired a contractor to remove the lead paint and to repaint the tower inside and out. In 2001, Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse (FPHL), a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF), was granted a license to care for the lighthouse. Since then, volunteers of FPHL have painted the stairs and woodwork inside the 48-foot tower, along with providing educational tours for more than 12,000 visitors. Under the group's care, the 1903 oil house near the lighthouse was restored, and the 84-foot walkway leading to the tower was rebuilt in 2006.

In the past couple of years, peeling paint and rust have began to plague the structure, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. FPHL's board of directors decided that it would be best to hire a contractor well versed in preserving historic structures to carry out a thorough repainting, at a cost of $30,000. The bulk of the funds have been raised through small donations at open houses and other events, memberships, and sales of souvenirs. New England Lighthouses Lovers, another chapter of ALF, donated more than $3500 to the project.

Performing the work is the J.B. Leslie Masonry Company of South Berwick, Maine. ALF was a recipient of a Maine Preservation 2009 Honor Award for preservation work at Pemaquid Point and
Cape Elizabeth lighthouses, carried out in both locations by Leslie.

As the work began, Bob Trapani, executive director of ALF, commented, "In a single day, the appearance of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse was transformed into an active work site with scaffolding enveloping the light tower, but this historic moment -- a few years in the making -- was only made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in raising vital funds and public awareness for the popular beacon's care."

Ross Tracy, chairman of FPHL, said, "The many seasons of hard work and gifts from our generous donors have culminated in the painting of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. This high-visibility project lets the public see our preservation efforts first hand and, hopefully, illustrates the power of volunteers and the unwavering dedication to their historic cause. I think past keepers like Joshua Card and Elson Small would be pleased with the work of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and the American Lighthouse Foundation and would be proud to know that it was their service and labor that was the motivation for today's preservation accomplishments."

"The staging around the tower, which will help facilitate much TLC on the light's exterior," Trapani added, "is also symbolic in nature. It speaks to the vigilance of its modern day keepers, and to the generosity of visitors to the lighthouse and the local businesses who help support the mission of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. Without this kind of effective teamwork, the history unfolding at the lighthouse today would not have been possible."

The work will be completed over the next few
weeks, leaving the lighthouse in like-new condition. The constant assault of wind, waves, and salt air guarantee that the preservation of the lighthouse will always be an ongoing project.

Top photo by William Marshall
Aerial photo by Jeremy D'Entremont