The Wood Island Life Saving Station is a historic stationthat sits at the mouth of the Piscataqua River on Wood Island between Kittery Point, Maine and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Officially, the life-saving station is located in Maine. The history of the station dates back to 1908 when the Sugden Brothers of Portmouth, New Hampshire constructed the Life Saving Station and adjacent tool shed for the US Life Saving Service. There previously was a life-saving station across the harbor in New Castle, New Hamphsire, but it was shut down when Wood Island opened. The station at Wood Island features Duluth-style architecture which is thanks to the architect, George R. Tolman. In 1915, the U.S. Life Saving Service was integrated into the U.S. Coast Guard. Officers were stationed at Wood Island Life Saving Station to provide support for ships navigating the rugged shores of Maine and New Hampshire.
Early in World War II, the US Navy acquired control of the Wood Island Life Saving Station to help defend the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s submarine production from German U-Boats cruising the Atlantic Coast. Wood Island was incorporated into the system of coastal defense in 1941. The property served as a tactical observation station and was also used to secure anti-submarine nets that were laid across the harbor to prevent German U-Boat intrusion. The U.S. Coast Guard once again acquired ownership of the site after the war. Early in the 1950s, U.S.C.G. relocated to their current location in New Castle, New Hampshire, which is once more across the harbor. Since then, the Life Saving Station has been abandoned.
The island and station were officially declared surplus property in 1955 and the US Department of Transportation took control before transferring the island to the US Department of Interior. In the early 1970s, the town of Kittery was offered the property during President Nixon’s “Legacy of Parks Program.” The goal was to make Wood Island a place for people to visit and spend time enjoying. Sadly, that did not come to fruition. No work was done on the island and the station fell into disrepair. In 2009, the town of Kittery believed it would be best to tear down the station due to its poor condition.
Many locals did not want the station to be destroyed due to its historical significance. In 2011, the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association (WILSSA) was formed with a mission to save the station and turn it into a museum. WILSSA was eventually granted the rights to the station in order to complete a restoration and make it a public attraction. The non-profit organization has raised $4.7 million dollars so far and has been hard at work. All the buildings on the island are in the progress of being restored in a historically accurate way. Additionally, a new pier, marine railway, and shed were built on the island. A historic rescue boat was also acquired which will be another great addition to the museum. Keep track of the progress at https://woodislandlifesaving.org/