Located off the coast of the Portsmouth Harbor, the Whaleback Lighthouse actually is located within the boundary of Kittery, Maine. The light seen today is actually the second Whaleback beacon that was located on the rocky island off the coast. The first was built in 1829 and was so poorly built, keepers often wondered during storms if the entire building would collapse into the sea. The reason for its poor construction was that when the new construction went out for bid by the Federal Government, the contractors under-bid all other interested (and more qualified) contractors. By law, Congress was forced to accept the lowest bid with no regard to the bidder’s qualifications or competence, and somehow, the structure survived intact for over forty years.
Due to mounting concerns for the former lighthouse to fall into the sea at any moment, a new lighthouse tower was finally erected in 1872 for $75,000. The new 50-foot tower, 27 feet in diameter at its base, was constructed of granite blocks. General James Chatham Duane, an engineer, was involved with the design. The granite came from Biddeford, Maine. In 1878, a metal structure was built on the side of the tower to house a fog signal which ran on coal power. During the winter of 1888 (a very poor weather season), the fog signal was in operation for about 974 hours, consuming 16,895 pounds of coal. The fog signal structure was painted red by the light keeper assistant regularly.
In June 2007, Whaleback Lighthouse, deemed excess by the Coast Guard, was offered at no cost to eligible entities and was awarded to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF) in November 2008. Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, a chapter of ALF, manages Whaleback Lighthouse and raised funds for its restoration.