Whaleback Lighthouse // 1872

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.

Ca. 1950 image courtesy of US Coast Guard.

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.

Fort McClary

Originally called Fort William after William Pepperell, who owned much of the land which is known today as Kittery Point, this fortification was constructed on high ground at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Some sources state that the fort was additionally intended to protect Maine (then part of Massachusetts) from “unreasonable duties” (taxes) that the Governor of New Hampshire was attempting to impose on citizens receiving goods via the river, which straddles the two states. After the Revolution, the fortification was transferred to the United States government, and later renamed Fort McClary, after a New Hampshire native Major Andrew McClary, an American officer killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. None of its original features or earthworks are known to remain from this period.

Map of current Fort McClary structures.

The largest building period at the fort occurred in the 1840s, when the large hexagonal blockhouse was built atop a raised granite block first story. Additional outbuildings were constructed including: a barracks, powder magazine, a rifleman’s house and more. My favorite and relatively hidden structure as part of the fort complex is the caponier (also labeled as a bastion). The structure is subterranean and features massive brick vaulted ceilings. The fort and buildings are part of a State Parks system in Maine.

Lady Pepperell House // 1760

Lady Pepperrell was born as Mary Hirst in 1704 to a merchant in Boston. She married Captain William Pepperell, a merchant and major landowner in what is now southern Maine (but was then part of Massachusetts), in 1723, and settled into their massive gambrel Colonial house in Kittery.

After William Pepperell died in 1759, Lady Pepperell built a dower estate just down the street as her son, William Pepperell Jr., moved into the old family estate. It is believed that Mary Pepperell hired architect Peter Harrison, a British architect who is credited with bringing the Palladian style to the thirteen colonies. His major works in the region include: The Touro Synagogue in Newport, King’s Chapel in Boston, and both the Christ Church and the Vassall-Craigie-Longfellow House in Cambridge.

The home is similar to the Longfellow House in Cambridge with its symmetrical facade, center hall plan, and a two-story central pavilion which is flanked by Ionic pilasters with a pediment above.

The home was eventually sold off and by the 1970s, gifted to Historic New England, who operated the estate as a house museum. It was under-visited and later sold to private owners with intense deed restrictions to preserve not only the exterior, but landscaping and interior spaces.

Sparhawk House // 1742-1967

Often called Sparhawk Hall, this massive Georgian mansion was built at the end of Sparhawk Lane in Kittery, just down the street from the Pepperell House and Lady Pepperell’s dower house. The Sparhawk house was funded by William Pepperell as a wedding gift for his daughter Elizabeth and her new husband Nathaniel Sparhawk.

Sparhawk House ca.1900. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Nathaniel Sparhawk was a merchant from lavish means, but was habitually in debt, so his marriage to the daughter of one of the richest men in the state, re-established himself financially. With a new mansion, and father-in-law to pay off his unsettled debts, Sparhawk continued his business dealings in Portsmouth and Boston. After his safety net that was his father-in-law passed away, he saw himself again in financial difficulties, and declared bankruptcy.

Getty Images photograph of Sparhawk House, undated.

Sir William died in 1759.  Although he had a close relationship with Nathaniel Sparhawk, who often helped him to manage his business affairs, Pepperrell’s will suggests that he didn’t quite trust his son-in-law to provide for his family. The will left many parcels of land formerly owned by Nathaniel to Nathaniel’s various children, but not to Nathaniel himself.  It seems that when Nathaniel went bankrupt, William Pepperrell bought up many of his properties, with the intent of keeping them in the family.  Also telling is the fact that in an age when women lacked a legal identity apart from their husband, Sir William was quite clear that while income from certain properties would go to Nathaniel for “the support of his wife and children,” the property was not his to sell or mortgage, with the will stating that Elizabeth was “required to sign all receipts and to have sole power to bequeath her legacy.”

Ca. 1930 image of Sparhawk House entry. Historic New England image.

By the 1960s, the home was occupied by a Sparhawk descendant, who had difficulties heating and maintaining the large mansion and grounds. Many interior features were sold off to the highest bidder (some preserved for public consumption at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH). The home was razed in 1967. The doorway was saved at the eleventh hour and was gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and is displayed in the Art of the Americas Wing.

William Pepperell House // 1682

The William Pepperell House in the town of Kittery is believed to be the third oldest home extant in the state of Maine. The home was built for William Pepperell (1647-1733), born in Plymouth, England, who later sailed across the pond to what is today known as the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Pepperell was engaged in the fishing industry and later moved to the mainland and had a large gambrel roof mansion built.

The Georgian style home was enlarged by 1723 by William Pepperell Jr. (1696-1759) a leading businessman of the period whose greatest claim to fame was leading the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg during King George’s War. Sir Pepperrell’s large landholdings were lost by his grandson, who remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolutionary War and he fled to England, resulting in the confiscation of the estate by the state.

The original home was the right section, and the left gambrel was added by Pepperell Junior. The street was built up over the years and slightly obscures and diminishes the historical home’s integrity, but it still remains as one of the most intact and significant properties in the state.