Digest>Archives> March 2002

Isles of Shoals Lighthouse Placed on Doomsday List

By Timothy Harrison


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A vintage view of Isles of Shoals Lighthouse, NH.

Remember that you read it first in Lighthouse Digest. What I am referring to is a story that I wrote for the January 1994 issue of this magazine when I was present at the ceremony transferring the ownership of the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse from the Coast Guard to the State of New Hampshire.

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This interior photo of the tower at Isles of ...

At that time I wrote a warning to our readers about the State of New Hampshire’s poor track record with historic properties such as Fort Constitution, which is one of the most hallowed and historic sites in the United States and where the transfer ceremony took place. The fort is the site of the first overt act of the Revolutionary War. The fort, which was given to the State of New Hampshire by the Federal government, is in ruins. In fact many of the buildings that once stood there were allowed to deteriorate to the point that they eventually collapsed.

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This close up of the exterior of the base of the ...
Photo by: Sue Reynolds

Apparently the State of New Hampshire enjoys all the pomp and glory that goes with having historic properties, but once they get them, they care little about maintaining or restoring them, as is the case with Isles of Shoals Lighthouse, which is also referred to as White Island Light.

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The cracks on the exterior of New Hampshire’s ...
Photo by: Sue Reynolds

However, in this case it’s the seventh grade students of the North Hampton School near Portsmouth, NH who are leading the way to try to save this historic lighthouse from being lost forever. It was their actions that got us to include the lighthouse on our “Doomsday List of Endangered Lighthouses.” They have taken on a worthy project as the keepers of tomorrow.

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These seventh grade students from New Hampshire’s ...
Photo by: J. Dennis Robinson

At that 1994 transfer ceremony U.S. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire who had worked so diligently to have the ownership of the lighthouse transferred to the state said at that time, “This is a great day for the state of New Hampshire and the ongoing battle to save our nation’s lighthouses.” He went on to say, “We need more lighthouses, because there is so much fog in Congress.”

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United States Senator Judd Gregg receiving a ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

Apparently the New Hampshire Parks Department has been in the fog since 1994.

The State of New Hampshire is now claiming that it was never told it would be responsible to maintain the lighthouse once the station was given to them. They thought they were only responsible for the keeper’s house and not the tower.

Writer, J. Dennis Robinson tracked down the former New Hampshire Parks Director Wilbur LaPage who was in charge at the time of the transfer to the state. He told Robinson, “I can tell you for a fact that our discussion with the U.S. Coast Guard would have been very different if I had thought for a minute that we would be responsible for the tower. I am 100% sure that this was excluded from the discussion.” However, LaPage was not even present at that 1994 transfer ceremony. I know, I was there. I even wrote in Lighthouse Digest that I was amazed that LaPage didn’t bother to show up for this historic event. He was busy elsewhere, as was stated at the ceremony.

Apparently New Hampshire officials have been sleeping since 1994. Otherwise they would know that other similar transfers since that time always included the tower, with the Coast Guard’s responsibility being only to maintain the light in the tower as an active aid to navigation. Also, maybe they should have read the deed. The whole purpose of the Coast Guard program of transferring light stations is to allow others to maintain and restore these historic properties. The Coast Guard does not have the money to maintain historic buildings, their job is maintaining aids to navigation, law enforcement, search and rescue and environmental concerns and their even more important job of patrolling and protecting our coasts and ports from terrorists.

In an interview with J. Dennis Robinson that appeared in Seacoast NH.com, New Hampshire Parks Director Richard McLeod said he does not have the funds to save the lighthouse and that it should be transferred to a government or non profit agency that can bear the costs.”

Perhaps the State of New Hampshire should follow the lead of lighthouse groups around the country that are saving lighthouses by clever methods of fund raising and volunteerism.

In the meantime the seventh grade students of the North Hampton School under the guidance of Sue Reynolds will continue to lead the way to save the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse. They’re drawing attention by calling politicians, reporters, and anyone that will listen. They are even launching their own web site.

Maybe the only chance for saving the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse is with the seventh grade class from North Hampton School.

This story appeared in the March 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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