Wood Island Lifesaving Station to be restored, converted into park and museum
SEACOAST — Renovation and restoration work has begun on the Wood Island Lifesaving Station in Portsmouth Harbor. Built in 1878, it’s located right off the coast of New Castle’s Coast Guard Station.
“It’s a very historic building, a rare building,” said Sam Reid, who is spearheading the restoration project. “It needs to be preserved and we are eager to do that.”
The lifesaving station has been vacant for decades. In serious disrepair, it will likely take three summers to complete the work. Owned by the town of Kittery, there have been several attempts to tear the station down. But local history buffs wanted to save this part of history and they have secured permits to restore the building and reopen it as a park and museum.
Pre-dating the U.S. Coast Guard, these lifesaving stations that dotted the coastline housed surfmen who watched the coastal waters for mariners in distress. Often called “storm warriors” these men took wooden rowboats out into the cold waters, risking their own lives to save others from shipwreck or storms. Wood Island surfmen are credited with saving more than 186,000 lives.
Wood Island was taken over by the U.S. Navy during the Second World War and was finally decommissioned in 1948. Since then, it’s been abandoned.
“It’s very rotten,” said Arron Sturgis, of the wood structure.
Sturgis, who works for Preservation Timber Framing, says the station was built to withstand severe weather and it has great structure. But it’s also filled with asbestos. A major part of the work will be put into getting rid of that and the lead paint.