Isle of Shoals Light

Aug. 27, 2019

Isle of Shoals Light (Whit Island Light), White Island in the Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire


Station Established: 1790
Year Current Tower(s)First Lit: 1865
Operational? YES
Automated? YES 1987
Deactivated: n/a
Foundation Materials: SURFACE ROCK
Construction Materials: GRANITE/BRICK
Tower Shape: CONICAL
Markings/Pattern: WHITE W/BLACK TOWER
Relationship to Other Structure: SEPARATE
Original Lens: SECOND ORDER, FRESNEL 1859


Capt. John Smith discovered the rugged, storm-swept Isles of Shoals off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire in 1614. The first settlers were Robert, John. and Richard Cutts who came across the seas from Wales to build their huts on the islands. Later Sir William Pepperell established the fishing industry there and laid the foundation for a fabulous fortune. The Pepperell Mills at Biddeford, Maine, stem from this beginning and Sir William was closely associated with Gen. George Washington and Gen. Knox during the Revolution. The largest of the island group was originally called Hog Island, but this was later changed to Appledore. This island contains about 4 acres and its greatest elevation is 75 feet above the sea. In 1641 the 40 families living on the island incorporated it into a town and here the first church in the Province of Maine was erected, under the direction of the Reverend John Brock. The town flourished through its fisheries and enjoyed an extensive trade with the Spaniards. In 1670, during trouble with the Indians, the inhabitants moved to Star Island, for greater protection.

Smutty Nose, earlier known as Haley’s Island, lies close to Appledore and at low tide Cedar and Malaga Islands are connected with the latter by a breakwater, built, it is said, by Captain Haley with the proceeds from four bars of silver found among the rocks. He also erected a salt works, built a rope walk and set up a windmill. Each night he kept a lamp lighted from the sunset to sunrise to aid the mariners into the harbor formed by the breakwater. Notwithstanding this aid to navigation, the ship Sagunte from Cadiz was wrecked on the southeast point of the island on January 14, 1813, and stones marking the graves of those lost can still be seen.

It was on Star Island that Captain Kidd was said to have buried some of his treasure. During the colonial period, the Indians swept down upon Star Island in their canoes and killed or carried off every inhabitant except a Mrs. Moody, who hid herself and her two children under the rocks. Unable to keep them quiet, the mother killed them with a knife she was carrying rather than let them fall into the hands of the Indians.

The first Isle of Shoals Lighthouse was erected on White Island, 51/2 miles off the coast of New Hampshire in 1821. It was a stone tower with the lantern about 90 feet above the water. In 1835 Capt. Henry D. Hunter of the United States Revenue Cutter Jackson inspected it and reported "The lanthorn is old and wants a new one. The whole establishment is dirty and in bad order."

Thomas B. Laighton, who was defeated for Governor of New Hampshire in 1839, sold his business in Portsmouth and became keeper of the Isle of Shoals Light. Five years before, he had purchased Appledore, Smutty Nose, Malaga, and Cedar Islands, across the boundary line in Maine, from Capt. Samuel Haley. When Laighton retired as keeper in 1847, he had built a large hotel, the Oceanic, on Star Island. During the Civil War, because of the danger from blockade runners and Southern gunboats, the lighthouse was entirely rebuilt of granite, with walls 2 feet thick. One night in 1873, Louis Wagner, knowing that the men were away from Smutty Nose Island, rowed all the way across from the mainland to rob fisherman Houtnet’s residence. Caught and recognized by the women, Wagner killed two of the three females on the island. Then he returned to his dory and rowed back to the mainland. Later he was captured, tried, and hanged.

Today the white conical tower rises 58 feet above ground and 82 feet above the water, and the 170,000-candlepower second-order incandescent oil-vapor light, flashing white every 15 seconds, is visible for 15 miles. An air diaphragm horn blasts for 3 seconds every 30 seconds during fog.