Another View of History: Blueprints and Technical Drawings

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As we inventory the collection at the Portsmouth Historical Society, we come across another group of primary sources that give us a

view of historical places.  We have blueprints and technical drawings of Fort Butts, Muscle Shoal Bed Lighthouse, Portsmouth High School, Pearson Yacht building and the Glen Manor property.  We may discover more as we go through all the storage drawers.  What blueprints and technical drawings give us is another view – maybe an inside view – of what things used to look like.  They provide dimension and details that we would not get from a map or a photograph.  Looking at blueprints we start with the legend to ground us in what kind of information we can find.

Out of the Attic: Do we have a Civil War Cavalry Sword?

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Possible Civil War Cavalry Sword belonging to a lighthouse keeper.

The sword in this picture has been laying on the top of a display case in the Portsmouth Historical Museum.  It has been somewhat out of sight, so it is a good candidate for our Out of the Attic theme this year.  It had an acquisition number written on it which refers to some old museum records. According to the record. It was a:

“Civil War sword (that) belonged to Sheridan Smith, Calvary man. His horse was shot out from under him and for recognition he was made keeper of the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse. This is how they came to this section from Norton MA.”

Is this true? How can we determine that?

An on-line search revealed that historical records for the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse list a Thomas and Andrew Smith as lighthouse keepers – Not Sheridan Smith. Was Sheridan a middle name?


Mussel Shoal Light – near Mt. Hope Bridge area.

The 1880 Federal census lists ”Thomas S. Smith” as a resident of Portsmouth and a “Lighthouse Keeper”.  We learned that his wife’s name was “Roseanne.” Does the “S” stand for Sheridan? We noted that the census lists one of his sons as “Andrew.”

Thomas Smith died in 1881 and it appears that his son Andrew took over the role as lighthouse keeper.

A Veterans Schedule from 1890 lists Roseanne as the wife of Thos. S. Smith (Alias) “Thomas Sheridan.” It also says he was in the Cavalry.

Is this a cavalry sword? It is similar to images we have seen of a typical Civil War Cavalry Sword found online.

It appears that may indeed be a Civil War Calvary Sword that belonged to Thomas Sheridan Smith. Was his horse shot out from under him? That is more difficult to prove.  Maybe someone in Smith’s family has more of the story.

Research by Richard L. Schmidt of the Curator’s Committee

Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse

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Treacherous shoals are marked by this 1901 lighthouse near Hog Island.  There was a small light boat on the spot that the Old Colony Steamship Company used to aid their vessels.  A larger boat, the Eel Grass Shoal Lightship, LV 12, was used beginning in 1886.

This 1901 Lighthouse replaced a light boat on the Hog Island Shoals. (Image G. Schmidt collection)

Light Keeper’s Quarters

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Plans in the PHS collections.

The plans of the Musselbed Shoal Light show the quarters for the lighthouse keeper.  The keeper led an isolated life.  Most keepers held the post for only a short time.  A few of them lasted as long as ten years.

Plans for Musslebed Shoal Light

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The plans for the later Musselbed Shoal Lighthouse are part of the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society. These are plans for the 1877 lighthouse. Ice floes moved the entire structure of the original lighthouse.    The stone pier was enlarged to protect the structure, but this house was also damaged by ice and hurricanes.  The fog bell was mounted on the roof.

Plans for the Musselbed Shoal Light in PHS collection