Maine is famous for its lighthouses and one of the most photographed lighthouses is just a few miles (and a world away) from Portland, Maine. Since 1791, Portland Head Light has watched the craggy shores of Casco Bay roughly five miles from downtown Portland.
I happened to visit this lighthouse in early July and both the history and stunning location make Portland Head Light a find. Located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in Fort Williams Park, this amazing sight is free to visitors. Trails throughout the park look over Casco Bay and visitors can view the stunning blue seas, experience the wind and think back to what it must have been like to be a lighthouse keeper in the late 1700s before modern technology.
During the main tourist season, this lighthouse includes a gift shop with nautical and lighthouse-themed souvenirs, as well as a friendly museum, which for a two dollar fee, traces the history of both the lighthouse and the remains of Fort Williams. The museum, which is the former lighthouse keepers’ home, includes a timeline and an interesting account of what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper. Exploring the museum, I learned that Maine currently has fifty-three lighthouses and the museum includes a current coastal map. From Portland Head Light looking out to sea, as an added bonus, visitors can also see another privately-owned lighthouse which was constructed in 1905.
Memorials are delicately hidden around Portland Head Light including a rock commemorating the wreck and the rescue of the crew of the “Annie C. Maguire” which was traveling from Buenos Aires and crashed along the ledge of the lighthouse on Christmas Eve, 1886. This vessel was traveling in clear weather and the cause of the crash was unknown.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used to walk from Portland to visit Portland Head Light as he was friends with the keepers. It is believed that Longfellow used this lighthouse as the inspiration of his poem, “The Lighthouse”, and I could almost visualize the movement of ships during Longfellow’s time.
A somber memorial also remembers the victims of the U.S.S. Eagle-56, which was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boats just nine miles southeast of the lighthouse in April, 1945. Sadly, this was the greatest loss of U.S. Navy personnel in New England waters during World War II.
Trails are located all through this park (be sure to take the Cliff Walk high above the seas crashing) and come dressed for winds off the Atlantic Ocean regardless of the time of year. I loved looking out to sea and watching flocks of ducks trying to navigate the choppy waters. On the day I visited, sailboats and lobster boats were gliding through the area. Flocks of butterflies were floating above a well-tended monarch butterfly garden, and manicured lawns with colorful flowers surrounded the lighthouse and trails. Picnic tables are everywhere so be sure to bring a snack to take in the spectacular million dollar views.
Lighthouses are a part of the tapestry of New England scenery and Portland Head Light is one of the stars. For visitors to the Portland area, be sure to set aside some time for a visit to Portland Head Light. This lighthouse is a shining beacon of Maine nautical history.
Portland Head Light
1000 Shore Road
Cape Elizabeth, Maine 04107