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Opening Day Ceremonies for Lightship Portsmouth Museum

Friends History

Opening Day Ceremonies for Lightship Portsmouth Museum

Friends History

The Friends of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum were founded as an unincorporated group of local citizens on October 24, 1962. A number of the original “Friends” were instrumental in relocating the Shipyard Museum from the Shipyard to its current location at 2 High Street. The Friends were subsequently incorporated in 1979 and obtained 501(c)(3) status from the IRS in 1994.

The Friends were originally created to promote and support the Shipyard Museum. In 2019, the Museum Curator requested that the Friends add the Lightship Portsmouth Museum to the Friends portfolio of support which the Friends did in 2020.

Initially, the Shipyard Museum had only two paid staff, its first Director, Marshall W. Butt, and his secretary Alice Hanes, and the Museum relied upon volunteer Docents drawn from the Friends to manage the actual day-to-day operations. By 1983, the Friends had logged over 40,100 in volunteer Docent hours and had welcomed more than 780,675 visitors to the Shipyard Museum. The City has thanked the Friends on various occasions for the contributions made by our organization.

Over the years the Friends have provided funding to restore artifacts, create new exhibits, provide storage for artifacts not on display and acquire new items for the two Museums. The Friends have also provided Docents for tours and to staff the ticket/welcome desk and the gift shop and have run a Lecture Series for the Shipyard Museum. In 2020—2021, and notwithstanding the challenges posed by COVID, the Friends funded the restoration and conservation of two very rare Civil War uniform jackets (including an extremely rare Union Navy jacket), funded external restoration projects on the Lightship Portsmouth (including the custom fabrication of period-correct ensigns/flags and jackstaffs and the acquisition of new signal flags and halyards), funded acquisitions for the interior of the Lightship and persuaded the City to repaint the exterior of the Lightship. 

In recognition of the contributions made by the Friends, since at least 1988, the City Ordinance has provided that Membership in the Friends entitles one to reciprocal admission rights to all of the City’s museums.

Mission Statement: The Friends of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum promote, support and encourage public interest in the programs of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and of the Lightship Portsmouth Museum through service, contributions and educational programming.

What locals refer to as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is actually known to the US Navy as the Norfolk Naval Shipyard even though it is in Portsmouth, Virginia. This is because there is a Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine on Seavey Island which used to be claimed by Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 2001, the US Supreme Court confirmed the correct state boundary between New Hampshire and Maine and the New Hampshire version of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard "moved" to Maine.

Mission statement

Much more detail about the Shipyard Museum and the Lightship Portsmouth can be found at the Museums’ website Be sure to check out the “online Learning” section of the website for each of the Shipyard Museum and the Lightship Portsmouth.

Shipyard Museum History
Lightship History

History of the Shipyard Museum

Conceived of in 1949, the Shipyard Museum was originally located on the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and called the Shipyard Museum. It opened on March 27, 1950.  In January 1963, the Shipyard Museum was loaned by the Shipyard to the City. The City, in turn, leased the Museum to the newly created Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum, Incorporated. The Directors of this entity were appointed by the City Council and consisted of prominent local citizens, most of whom were members of the Friends. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum opened on January 27, 1963 at 2 High Street. The first Director and curator of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum was Marshall W. Butt, one of whose descendants is still involved with the Friends. In August 1972, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum entity was dissolved by the Court of Hustings for the City of Portsmouth and all of its assets were ordered transferred to the City of Portsmouth. While the Shipyard Museum still has a wonderful collection of Shipyard artifacts, unfortunately, in 2018, as part of a nationwide effort affecting many maritime museums, the US Navy took back many of the originally loaned artifacts.

The Shipyard Museum was the first, and is the oldest, of the City’s five museums.

History of the Lightship Portsmouth

The Lightship Portsmouth was constructed at the Pusey and Jones Shipyard in Wilmington, Delaware in 1915. Commissioned in 1916, its first duty station as an active aid to navigation was off the Virginia Capes. Designated the Charles, it served there from 1916 until 1926. The ship’s longest duty assignment was from 1926 until 1951 off Cape Henlopen, Delaware, when she was designated Overfalls. It was during this time that the former U.S. Lighthouse Service was absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. After two years of service in World War II on that same station, the ship received new engines and upgrades to its superstructure. The ship’s final station was off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at a station called Stonehorse Shoal, when her hull name was changed to Stonehorse. In 1963, the ship made a brief transfer to nearby Cross Rip Shoal, but after an engine failure, she was decommissioned and retired early in 1964. This is when the City of Portsmouth acquired the Lightship and installed her on the riverfront in the London Street slip as part of a waterfront revitalization plan to attract tourists and celebrate the city’s maritime and Coast Guard history installation links. The Lightship opened as a museum with the designation Portsmouth in the spring of 1967. The Lightship is currently listed as a National Historic Landmark. 

Friends Board of Directors and Officers 


Gary K. Bahena


Robert Fogel

Director/1st Vice President:

Stephen B. Milner

Director at-Large

Lavern Harrell

Director/2nd Vice President:

Stephen E. Poole

Director at-Large

Keith Abernathy


Jeannie McCoy

Museum Representative 

Dr. Alexander Benitez

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