1903 oil house in need of some TLC

During the early days of lighthouses in the United States, oil used to fuel the light (whale oil, lard oil, and various other oils) was often stored inside the lighthouse. […]

During the early days of lighthouses in the United States, oil used to fuel the light (whale oil, lard oil, and various other oils) was often stored inside the lighthouse. By 1890, all except a few lighthouses in the United States were using kerosene. The volatile nature of kerosene necessitated the construction of separate oil houses, which were usually built of fireproof materials such as brick, stone, iron plate, and concrete. Congress issued a series of small appropriations for the construction of separate fireproof oil houses at many light stations. Installation of these structures began in 1888 and was completed about 1918.

The oil house at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station was built in 1903.  After many years of abandonment, it was renovated in 2004 by the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses with the help of a grant from the New England Lighthouse Lovers, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation.

The oil house is in a very vulnerable location on the rocky beach outside the granite wall of Fort Constitution, around 60 feet from the lighthouse. The little brick building takes a beating in storms, and it’s in need of a full restoration as these photos clearly show. The ridge cap on the roof is in need of replacement, and many of the roofing slates are missing or broken. Much repointing of the brickwork is needed, inside and out.

Restoration of the oil house is one of our priorities for the near future.