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Monday, June 17, 2019

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light

Just imagine: this Lighthouse was built while George Washington was President!  It is still an active lighthouse and you can visit it!


Portland, Maine is famous for many things:  restaurants, breweries, hiking, cycling, weather, beauty and lighthouses!  When you visit Portland, enjoy a day taking in all that the coast of Maine has to offer, just a short distance away!  Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth Maine are the beacon of beauty and use our guide to make the most out of your day!


All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light

1.  Getting there from Portland


Located just minutes from the Old Port in Portland Maine this is an easy place to visit either by car or bicycle. Enjoy the view once you arrive in Cape Elizabeth because the homes and scenery when you near the park are almost as spectacular as what you will soon see!

Note there are multiple lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth and to get there using GPS enter "Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth" if not you may end up at Two Lights State Park nearby (where the Two Lights Lighthouses aren't even located!).

There are companies that offer guided cycling trips to lighthouses, such as Summer Feet Cycling who have a "5 Lighthouse Bike Tour" for a reasonable price from the Portland waterfront and takes in about 30 miles of riding.  We saw the group at Fort Williams Park when we were there and they were very pleased with the quality of their tour.

Schedule a lighthouse cruise with Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tours from Portland to see a different perspective of the area and hear the narrated history while you view them!

Experience what it is like to visit Fort Williams Park and the Portland Head Light lighthouse by viewing our live visit in the video below!





2. History




Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the Portland Head Light in 1849 when he wrote his famous poem "The Lighthouse."  Did he write this prose when seated near the lighthouse or while he was sitting in his childhood home in Old Port:

 "Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
  Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
  Shines on that inextinguishable light!"


All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light


It is hard to imagine, but the inspiration for his poem was already located at the entrance to Portland Harbor for over a half-century.  The city of Portland took its name from the headland where the lighthouse now stands, but Portland, which was known as Falmouth until 1786, was America’s sixth busiest port by the 1790s. There were no lighthouses on the coast of Maine when 74 merchants petitioned the Massachusetts government (Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time) in 1784 for a light at Portland Head, on the northeast coast of Cape Elizabeth, to mark the entrance to Portland Harbor. The deaths of two people in a 1787 shipwreck at Bangs (now Cushing) Island, near Portland Head, led to the appropriation of roughly $700 for a lighthouse in June 1789. Construction began in August 1789 after being commissioned by the legendary Revolutionary War hero and President-to-be George Washington himself.

The project was delayed by insufficient funds, and construction didn't progress until 1790 when Congress appropriated an additional $1,500, after the nation's lighthouses had been ceded to the federal government.

The Goddard Mansion which predates Fort Williams, was designed and built for local businessman John Goddard, briefly a volunteer army colonel at the start of the Civil War in 1861. Acquired by the army in 1900, the mansion was used as Officers' Quarters and later included an Officers' Club. Seriously deteriorated by the time of the Cape Elizabeth's acquisition in 1962, the interior debris was burned in a controlled fire in the 1980s, and the walls were fenced off in 2009.

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light


During the early days of his career, American artist Edward Hopper would spend summers in Cape Elizabeth, and he had become fascinated with lighthouses and went on to depict these tall structures in several images.   It was in the summer of 1927 that he painted the watercolor depicting the Portland Head Light entitled Lighthouses and Buildings, Portland Head, Cape Elizabeth, Maine and it can be seen today at the Boston Museum Of Fine Arts.  We love visiting museums, like our recent visit to the Ringling in Sarasota, Florida!

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light


TIPS:


1.  Your best photo op of the lighthouse without railings will be by going up the cliff walk trail to left of the lighthouse. For the best photos, we recommend a selfie stick with a remote.  This is our favorite for versatility.  Set your camera to a timer shot to steady your hand and make the angle exactly what you want.  For the most dramatic photos at the Portland Head Light, a windy day will provide the dramatic shots of waves crashing into the shore, but may not be the best for your selfie images!  Click the photo below to learn more about our favorite telescoping selfie stick/tripod!




2. If you can walk around to right pathway, enjoy viewing the back of the homes along homes along this trail.  This is Delano Park.  To see it first hand, when you exit the park, turn left and a short ways you will see several numbered roads on left for Delano Park but be reminded that it is private property.  This was a rather unique late 19th century “planned” community There are some beautiful large old shingle style homes.

3. The physically challenged can view the lighthouse from fences vantage points on right side on left the path is gravel wide put may have some short inclines that elderly may find challenging.

4.  Dress in layers since temperatures can change and winds fluctuate based on the time of day and location in the park.

5. Look for elder ducks along the shore.  Watch and you may see one diving for mollusks or crustaceans.  Count how long they stay under water!

6. Look at the colorful buoys in the water near the lighthouse.  These are lobster traps.  Maybe you'll see some fishermen come along in their boats and pull up the traps.

7. Take a dip in the water on warm days to the far left of lighthouse.  Located on the north side of the entrance road is a small rocky beach, Ship Cove, with a great view of Ram Island Ledge Light located in Casco Bay. At low tide a small sandy beach appears. On a hot summer day, you might be tempted to dip a toe into the water - but be prepared it’s very cold!  Across from the parking lot at the beach there is a swing set that children will surely enjoy. Picnic tables and benches are available to sit, relax and listen to the lapping waves onto the beach.

8.  There are not formal bathrooms at the park, only portable toilets are available throughout.  Bring hand sanitizer!

9. Want to go inside the lighthouse? Maine Open Lighthouse Day is a popular annual event, and is a rare opportunity to climb and learn about over two dozen historic Maine lights.

10. Bring your dog since there are some great off leash areas to the right of the lighthouse!  They are set away from the rest of the park if you are wary of dogs!

11. When you get to Portland, LTD recommends visiting the Victoria Mansion for a Unique experience!  Click here to read our review which includes restaurant recommendations for Portland!


All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light


Eating


1.  Take a picnic!  There are many picnic tables throughout the park with fabulous views of the lighthouse and rocky coast. 

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light

2.  Food trucks are present throughout the park.  Enjoy a reasonably priced lobster roll at Bite Into Maine, and if you're brave, try Maine's original drink, Moxie!


All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light



3.  Visit a nearby restaurant in outside of the park! You can leave and reenter since there is not a entrance or parking fee. We recommend The Good Table which is not not too far from Fort Williams. Also, same distance in South Portland in The Saltwater Grille.


Nearby Activities:


1.  On your way back to Portland, visit the Visit Bug Light Park for great view of Portland.  Enjoy the nice lighthouse up close, fantastic views of Portland and the harbor, and a cool replica monument to the Liberty Ships built there during WW2.

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light



Take a quick stop in the Bug Light museum to hear stories from the docents and see a copy of the letter that residents they had nine days to vacate their family homes in order to make room for the shipyard in 1940.

All You Need to Know to Visit The Queen of Coastal Lighthouses in Cape Elizabeth, Maine: The Portland Head Light

2.  Drive through Cape Elizabeth and find Bette Davis' home on Zeb Cove Road.  She was born in Lowell, MA and The traditional Shingle Style home is set on a prime lot that includes 900 feet of water frontage.







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