1903 oil house restored

In 1903, funds were allotted for the building of two small brick buildings in New Castle, NH, for the storage of kerosene — one at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station and one at Jaffrey […]

In 1903, funds were allotted for the building of two small brick buildings in New Castle, NH, for the storage of kerosene — one at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station and one at Jaffrey Point (also known as Jerry’s Point) near a small navigational light on a breakwater at Little Harbor. Both of these buildings still stand. Their utilization for the storage of kerosene ceased in the 1920s as the lights were electrified, and both oil houses were eventually abandoned to the elements.

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The oil house was painted bright red for some years in the 1950s and ’60s.

Funded by a grant from the New England Lighthouse Lovers, the oil house at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station was partially renovated in 2004. Now, thanks to funding from open house admissions and other events, the oil house has been thoroughly restored, inside and out.

Bob Trapani, Jr. executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation (parent organization of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses) commented, “It’s really exciting news that the oil house at Portsmouth Harbor Light Station is now restored. This building, though small, continues to play an important role in the history of the station. The oil house was once a storage place for the fuel that was used in the beacon’s lighting apparatus, and today it will house interesting interpretive panels that will ‘illuminate’ the beacon’s history in our minds and hearts.”

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Volunteers, including Dave Garabedian (L) and Mike Roush (R), scraped and painted the oil house woodwork in April.

The restoration work, which included replacement of missing and damaged roof slates, the installation of a new copper ridge cap, and the repair of cracks and replacement of missing mortar inside and out, was carried out by the J. B. Leslie Company of South Berwick, Maine. Missing mortar was replaced by natural cement, matching the original material used.

Jim Leslie and his crew are well versed in the restoration of lighthouses and related buildings. “As brick oil houses go, the building is pretty standard in size and is very similar to others. What makes it unique is its interesting location, down on the beach. The tides and weather made it a challenge, particularly since some of the work was carried out in the winter months.”

One of the last touches of the restoration, the scraping and painting of the exterior woodwork, was carried out by volunteers of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses this spring. Cindy Johnson, operations manager for Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, commented, “It was great to see so much effort for such a little structure. It was a real team effort!”

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“From a preservation standpoint,” said Bob Trapani, Jr., “Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses is to be commended for not only restoring this important component of the light station, but emphasizing it as well within the overall educational and adaptive reuse aspects associated with their stewardship of the site. Well done, FPHL!”