Portland Head Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It is one of the most picturesque and most frequently photographed lighthouses in the United States.
Portland Head has historically served as a barrier between Portland and the surrounding area. Residents of Cape Elizabeth were enthusiastic about America’s independence from British domination. The fledgling town of Cape Elizabeth stationed an eight-man watch at Portland Head in 1776 to alert locals of impending British attacks. Eventually, a lighthouse would be erected on this point.
The General Court of Massachusetts provided $750 to start building a lighthouse in 1787. When the United States government assumed responsibility for all lighthouses in 1790, Congress appropriated $1,500 to complete the project. Once completed, the lighthouse stood 72 feet tall from base to lantern deck, with 16 whale oil lights. On January 10, 1791, it was lit for the first time. A light keeper’s home was also built adjacent to the lighthouse.
After the crash of the 295-foot steamer Bohemian on Alden’s Rock in 1864, which killed forty persons, Congress appropriated $20,000 for “additional aids to navigation to facilitate the entrance to Portland, Maine, by suitably marking Alden’s Rock and Bulwark Shoal.” The Lighthouse Board decided that raising the height of the Portland Head Lighthouse by twenty feet and installing a second-order Fresnel lens in the lantern room was the best solution after a thorough assessment. This was also a significant development since raids on ships entering and exiting Portland Harbor became prevalent during the American Civil War. Ships at sea would be able to see Portland Head Light as quickly as possible with this elevating and improved lens.
Except for the repair of the whistle house in 1975 after it was heavily damaged in a storm, the station has remained relatively unchanged. The white conical tower of Portland Head Light, which is connected to a home, stands 80 feet tall with a focal height of 101 feet. The Borough of Cape Elizabeth owns the grounds and keeper’s home, while the US Coast Guard owns and maintains the beacon and fog signal as a contemporary assistance to navigation. On April 24, 1973, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Portland Head Light. In 2002, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the lighthouse as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Today, the lighthouse can be found just off Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. There is free parking near the lighthouse. The tower itself is not open to the public, but there are plenty of viewpoints to take in its beauty. At the former keepers’ residence, there is an award-winning museum. It has several lighthouse lenses as well as interpretive displays. A seasonal store with quality lighthouse and Maine-related goods is also available on the site. Picnic spots, hiking trails, sports and recreation grounds, historic structures, and unrestricted views of the ocean are all available at the ninety-acre Fort Williams Park.
The lighthouse is one of 5 Greater Portland & Casco Bay Lighthouses To Check Out. You can also find other great spots to explore in Maine at goxplr.com/map/maine!
- Originally constructed: 1791
- First lit: 1791
- Construction: Rubble stone with brick lining
- Tower shape: Conical
- Height: 80 ft (24 m)
- Focal height: 101 ft (31 m)
- Markings: White with black trim
- Characteristic: Flashing white 4s Lighted continuously
- Range: 24 nautical miles (44 km; 28 mi)
- Status: Active
- NRHP number: 73000121
- Address: 12 Captain Strout Cir
- Town: Cape Elizabeth
- State: Maine
- GPS: Lat 43.62307 Lng -70.20809
- Parking notes: Portland Head Lighthouse is located within Fort Williams Park. Fort Williams Park is open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk. There is no entry charge, however, donations are welcome. There is a cost for parking in the park’s premium spaces from April 1 to November 15. In the Overflow Lot, there is free parking.
- Parking directions: HERE
- Location directions: HERE