Take a virtual tour of White Island

Don't be afraid of waves or heights!

Jim Cerny, story and photographs

White and Seavey's Islands from a map by Elizabeth Shurtleff.
White Island with its lighthouse is one of the more prominent islands at the Isles of Shoals. It is connected to Seavey's Island by a rocky neck (known as a tombolo to geologists). White Island is in New Hampshire and is one of the State parks, with ownership transferred from the federal government, though the government still maintains the navigational instruments. Dennis Robinson wrote an interesting account of the ownership transfer and the maintenance that goes with it. White Island has been in the news in recent years thanks to the efforts of groups like The Lighthouse Kids to raise money for restoration work. The huge April, 2007, spring storm did considerable damage to White Island, which is still being restored.

Seavey's Island is the site of the tern restoration project, a successful effort to gets terns breeding again at the Shoals. Scientists spend the summer in the keeper's cottage on White Island, monitoring the project. The island contains NOAA weather instruments (called a "buoy" even though they are actually some 30 feet above sea level) and the data are accessible online.

Few people have the opportunity to visit White Island, first because it is a difficult landing and, second, because there are no public facilities. In late May, 2009, I had the good fortune to accompany several State officials aboard the M/V Uncle Oscar on a trip to the Island. What follows is a virtual tour based on that trip.

White Island with lighthouse and keeper's cottage.

The marine railway landing site.

Lighthouse � see detailed image of window below.

Lighthouse top, the lantern room.

Lower window on the east side of the lighthouse, showing damage to the white parging coating over the bricks as a result of the April, 2007, storm. This is about 40 feet above sea level.

The side of the keeper's cottage interior to the island, with associated outbuildings.

Rugged outhouse near the keeper's cottage, on the southwest edge of the island.

Sun flare, looking up at the lighthouse.

The spiral stairs leading up. The only light is from the open door and several small windows. The steps are triangular in shape and the handhold is a rope against the wall.

The modern beacon, an LED unit, quite unlike the traditional Fresnel lens.

View of the keeper's cottage and Seavey's Island beyond that, from the beacon room at the top  of the lighthouse.

Another view of the keeper's cottage and Seavey's Island, showing the rocky tombolo that connects them.

Ted Austin, Director of the NH Division of Parks and Recreation, in the beacon room at the top  of the lighthouse, with Appledore (left) and Star (right) in the distance.

View to Star Island, with hotel at the left (northern) end. In the foreground is the steep eastern ledge of White Island, producing huge breaking waves in major storms.

View of privately owned Lunging Island, with the distinctive shape of 690-foot high Mt. Agamenticus on the horizon.

Stairs leading down.

The contrast of blue water and light pegmatite rock ledges, for which the island is named.

Detail of the pegmatite rocks, showing the coarse crystals.

There is much accumulated debris on the island, not noticeable at first glance.

Tern soaring over Seavey's Island. The structure is an enclosure for observing the terns.

Tern resting on a ledge.

Emily, daughter of the tern researchers, offering a reminder of Celia Thaxter's childhood on White Island when her father was the keeper.

These images are just the latest in a long history of images of White Island. The first lighthouse was built in 1820, the one for which Celia Thaxter's father, Thomas Laighton, was the keeper. Then in 1859, it was replaced with the current lighthouse, becoming a very popular motif for photography, postcards, and paintings, made distinctive in part by the covered walkway between the lighthouse and the keeper's cottage. The current appearance is unusual, as the walkway was demolished in the big storm of April, 2007. Several examples follow in chronological order.

White Island circa 1855, the original lighthouse. (Library of Congress).

Painting by Harrison Bird Brown (1831-1915), undated.

White Island in 1901. (US Coast Guard)

Other articles in our occasional coverage of the Isles of Shoals include:

July, 2009