Wood Island is one of the most recognizable structures in Portsmouth Harbor besides Whaleback Lighthouse and the Portsmouth Harbor Light. It is the visual embodiment of a little known but fascinating coastal history that hides in the shadows of larger historical events and trends.
Before there was a Coast Guard, many coastal areas and places along the Great Lakes sprouted Lifesaving Stations in an effort to stem the loss of life during shipwrecks. In an age of increasing shipborne trade and changing technology, close to shore wrecks were causing an alarming loss of life. From humble beginnings, the U.S. Lifesaving Service was created to provide rescue to ship's crews and passengers.
Wood Island is home to one of the few remaining Life Saving Stations that were built along the coast. The Sugden brothers of Portsmouth built the structure in 1908 to replace one that had been requisitioned by the military on Jerry's Point in Newcastle, NH. The station and its service was folded into the newly commissioned US Coast Guard in 1915 but continued its purpose until 1941 when it was integrated into the Portsmouth Harbor Defense system. During World War II the island played a central role in the anchorage and observation of the anti-submarine net that stretched from Fort Foster to Fort Stark. The island and its structure were considered surplus property in 1951 and by 1973 the deed, with some restrictions, was returned to the Town of Kittery.