By Jeremy D’Entremont, ALF President and FPHL Executive Committee Member
It was a big year for our chapter of ALF, as we resumed tours at Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and celebrated the 250th anniversary of the light station. When the first Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse was built back in June 1771, it was the very first lighthouse north of Boston in the American colonies. We commemorated that fact in several ways.
In June, we held a public Zoom event celebrating the 250th anniversary, with many special guests representing the Coast Guard and the lighthouse preservation community. The event included the premiere of a new music video featuring Pat Heffernan performing his original song, “The Portsmouth Harbor Light.” It also featured the unveiling of a 250th anniversary portrait of Portsmouth Harbor Light Station by acclaimed New Hampshire artist Debbie Mueller.
Later in the summer we offered two books on our website — a new edition of the classic “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” by Connie Small, and “The Light at Fort Point” by FPHL founder Jeremy D’Entremont.
After a 2020 season with no tours of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we resumed tours this year with a new twist. Tours were by advance reservation only, with no more than eight people per tour. We offered five of these one-hour tours per week for most of the 2021 season, and they were a hit with visitors and volunteers. Most tours were sold out.
Michelle Shaw, Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses chairperson, reflected on the 2021 tours, saying, “This past season was very different for us at Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. Instead of greeting visitors with weekly open houses, we opened up the lighthouse for scheduled, private tours. This was an incredibly wonderful experience! We had groups of eight people at a time and offered three tours on Sunday afternoon and two tours on Friday evening.”
Shaw went on to note, “It was so great being able to spend more time with our visitors and really take our time retelling the history and stories surrounding the lighthouses. We received a lot of positive feedback from those who came out to tour the lighthouse, they really enjoyed having more time for a tour as well. It’s too soon to know exactly what direction we will go in this coming season, no matter which way we go, I look forward to being back again in the spring to continue sharing our beautiful lighthouse.”
On a sad note, Jim Pope, one of the last surviving keepers of Whaleback Lighthouse (circa 1959- 62) and a good friend to our organization, passed away in September. He was also a tugboat captain out of Portsmouth for 25 years. Jim enjoyed “holding court” during some of our events, telling people about his adventures as a lighthouse keeper.
Another highlight this year was the visit of a U.S. Lighthouse Society tour group in October. Also, this year’s U.S. Lighthouse Society’s annual Christmas ornament featured Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse as a commemoration of the 250th anniversary.