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The Kaptain’s Kolumn #2

I ended my previous column with my resignation as keeper of Boon Island Lighthouse in 1874, as I came to the realization that retaining the position on that tiny, vulnerable pile of rocks was not worth endangering the lives of my family.

Captain Joshua K. Card at Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in the early 1900s. (Strawbery Banke Museum)

A short time later, I was informed that the keeper position at my hometown lighthouse, Portsmouth Harbor Light in New Castle, New Hampshire, had become vacant. Although the salary ($500 per year) was far less than I had made at Boon Island, it looked to me like an ideal opportunity, and I snapped it up.

Located on the mainland in a sheltered spot on the Piscataqua River, the station would be a safe place for my family. Since I had lived most of my life in New Castle, the lighthouse was like an old friend.

You can see the keeper in front of the keeper’s house at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station in the 1870s. The structure to the left is the Walbach Tower, a War of 1812 gun emplacement. (National Archives)

The lighthouse in those days was a 55-foot octagonal wooden tower, standing outside the perimeter of Fort Constitution. The keeper’s house was several hundred feet away, outside the fort. The job necessitated lots of walking back and forth, via a long wooden walkway along the shore.

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, circa 1859. The first lighthouse on the site was built in 1771. This one was built in 1804; it was originally 80 feet tall and was later shortened to 55 feet. (National Archives)

I was at the station for the rebuilding of the lighthouse tower in 1878, and for two moves of the keeper’s house–in 1897 and 1906. Some people found the new cast-iron lighthouse tower strange. One local writer called it “a corpulent length of stove pipe,” but I liked it just fine. When it was built, it was the first American lighthouse to be built with lighting apparatus designed to use kersosene (we called it mineral oil), and the government largely relied on my opinion of the new system. I liked it much better than the finicky lard oil we had been using, and kerosene was eventually adopted for all our lighthouses.

Another big change in my years at Portsmouth Harbor was the addition of a fog bell in 1896. I had to wind up the bell’s striking mechanism every couple of hours in thick or foggy weather.

1896 copy
Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and fog bell, circa 1896. (Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses)

I had a great fondness for my light station, and I always enjoyed showing visitors around. I got to know many of the local summer people, who were always sure to stop by for a visit. By 1908, when I was 85, I had been away from the lighthouse only 11 nights in 34 years. In early 1909 I had a stroke that left me partly paralyzed, and I had to retire. I didn’t want to retire, I can tell you, and they practically had to drag me out kicking and screaming.

I died in June 1911 at the home of my daughter. Then how can I be writing this, you ask? Chalk it up to the magic of modern technology and this thing they call the “internet,” I guess you could say.

After I died, a local newspaper reported:

“During a long lifetime, Capt. Card was a conspicuous figure in the town – the most remarkable man, I should say, in that little community. . . . He possessed a huge stock of common sense; was an acute observer, and a shrewd, yet fair minded, judge of his fellow man.

“During a long stretch of years Captain Card was in charge of the New Castle light. In the performance of this exacting duty he acquitted himself with honor. . . . No man stood higher in the estimation of the Lighthouse Board, at Washington, than the keeper of Portsmouth Light.

“Every man, woman, and child in New Castle knew and respected Capt. Card. He loved the town, and the townspeople loved him. His remains rest upon the bank of the beautiful river, the ebb and flow of whose tides for many a long year had entered into the daily routine of his useful and honorable life.”

If you are in the New Castle area, please stop by and visit me at the Riverside Cemetery. I enjoy the company.

Keeper Card Marker_Group
Volunteers and staff of the American Lighthouse Foundation and Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses with friends and supporters for a dedication of a Lighthouse Service marker at Joshua Card’s gravesite in September 2016.

Submitted by Jeremy D’Entremont, March 8, 2018

3 thoughts on “The Kaptain’s Kolumn #2

    1. We all enjoyed reading about the honorable, caring Captain Joshua K. Card’s
      Life. He was a Lighthouse Keeper who witnessed much change. His continued attentiveness toward his precious lighthouses lasted til he could no longer be part of the sea’s beacons.
      His grave marker is a wonderful tribute.

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