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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Submitted by Jeremy D’Entremont, March 8, 2018
Jeremy D’Entremont is the author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles on lighthouses and maritime history. He is the president and historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and founder of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, and he has lectured and narrated cruises throughout the Northeast and in other regions. He is also the producer and host of the U.S. Lighthouse Society podcast, “Light Hearted.” He can be emailed at Jeremy@uslhs.org