Wood Island Life Saving Station

Kittery, Maine
The Wood Island Life Saving Station at the entrance of the Piscataqua River is a historic maritime landmark with a rich and varied history.
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About This Location

The Wood Island Life Saving Station, situated at the entrance of the Piscataqua River on Wood Island between Kittery Point, Maine, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a historic maritime landmark with a rich and varied history. Officially located in Maine, this station has played a pivotal role in coastal safety, military defense, and now, historical preservation.

The history of the Wood Island Life Saving Station traces its origins back to 1908 when it was constructed by the Sugden Brothers of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the U.S. Life Saving Service. This station replaced a previous life-saving station in New Castle, New Hampshire, which was decommissioned upon the opening of the Wood Island station. The station’s architecture is characterized by its Duluth-style design, a testament to the work of architect George R. Tolman. The station was staffed with officers tasked with providing support and assistance to ships navigating the challenging and rugged shores of Maine and New Hampshire.

During World War II, the U.S. Navy took control of the Wood Island Life Saving Station to help safeguard the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s submarine production from potential threats posed by German U-Boats along the Atlantic Coast. The station served as a tactical observation post and played a crucial role in securing anti-submarine nets placed across the harbor to protect against U-Boat intrusion. After the war, the U.S. Coast Guard once again assumed ownership of the station.

In the early 1950s, the U.S. Coast Guard relocated its operations across the harbor to New Castle, New Hampshire. This transition marked the beginning of the Wood Island Life Saving Station’s period of abandonment.

In 1955, the island and station were officially declared surplus property, and the U.S. Department of Transportation assumed control before transferring ownership to the U.S. Department of the Interior. In the early 1970s, during President Nixon’s “Legacy of Parks Program,” the town of Kittery was offered the property with the goal of transforming Wood Island into a recreational destination. However, these plans did not materialize, and the station fell into disrepair.

In 2009, faced with the deteriorating condition of the station, the town of Kittery contemplated demolishing it. Local residents, recognizing the historical significance of the Wood Island Life Saving Station, rallied to prevent its destruction. In 2011, the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association (WILSSA) was established with the mission to rescue the station and transform it into a museum.

WILSSA was eventually granted rights to the station, and since then, the non-profit organization has made remarkable progress in restoring the station and its buildings in a historically accurate manner. The association has raised $4.7 million for this endeavor and has also added a new pier, marine railway, and shed to the island’s infrastructure. Additionally, a historic rescue boat was acquired to become part of the museum’s exhibits, further enriching the site’s historical narrative.

Today, the Wood Island Life Saving Station stands as a testament to the dedication and passion of those who worked tirelessly to preserve this piece of maritime history. It is a symbol of the community’s commitment to safeguarding its heritage. Visitors can track the progress of the restoration and learn more about the station’s history at https://woodislandlifesaving.org/.

While the station may not be easily accessible from the mainland, it can be best viewed from the Fort Foster pier. Ample parking is available at the park, with a parking fee during the summer season. During the off-season, the gates are open, and no fees are collected, making it a perfect time to visit and appreciate the ongoing restoration efforts at this historic site.

Location

Address: Wood Island, Kittery, Maine
Place GPS Coordinates: 43.063926, -70.697571
Parking GPS Coordinates: 43.063926, -70.697571
Parking Notes: The Wood Island Life Saving Station can be best seen from the mainland by walking out on the Fort Foster Pier. Ample parking is available at the park. Parking fees are charged at Fort Foster State Park during the summer.

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