Your first glimpse of Portland’s blend of seaport history and the city’s modern flair is the Ocean Gateway Visitors Center. Intended to resemble a ship’s bow, this 5,600-ft architectural beauty lives up to its name by putting you out into the Port of Portland. Watch the boats pass by as you gaze out the floor-to-ceiling walls of windows. Giving you a 180 degree view of Portland’s waterfront, this is a must for sea lovers.
Take a step back into American literary history with the childhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of the American classic “Paul Revere’s Ride”. Finished in 1786, this National Historic Landmark is the first Portland home constructed entirely of brick and the area’s oldest existing structure. Longfellow’s literary beginnings flourished in this three-story home as he went on to become the most famous poet of the mid-nineteenth century. Portland’s influence on Longfellow resonated throughout the years and emerged in “My Lost Youth”:
“Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me…”
The Longfellow home’s beautiful brick exterior will leave you in awe with its pride in craftsmanship that has stood the test of time.
Sea Captain Houses
Along the historic neighborhoods of Portland, you will see architecture rich in centuries of seaport history. At the helm of those voyages were the storied “sea captains”. Grizzled from the wayward voyage, captains would venture back home to Portland after being away at sea for months, even years at a time. Nestled amongst the city’s neighborhoods are homes harkening back to the late eighteenth century. Featuring high vantage points and “widows’ walks”, sea captains’ homes often romanticized the idea of a captain’s lady waiting along the top rails of their home searching the seashore in vain for her mariner’s sail. Strife with Victorian-era style, the neighborhoods of Portland take you back to a time when much of the area’s commerce was birthed in the sea and the men who commandeered the waves lived in opulence.
Littered with jutting shorelines and historic lighthouses, Casco Bay is the origination of Portland. Settled as a port city, the bay has been the area’s lifeline to the international trade and commerce market. You can still see the influence the sea has locally with the numerous commercial shipyards and massive vessels flowing through the Port of Portland. Outside of the Port, Casco Bay features seven lighthouses, twelve major islands and six historical forts. Throughout the area, you will see some of the 850 different species that call Casco Bay home. Gazing out into the bay, you will likely view Humpback Whales splashing atop the tranquil New England harbor or sea turtles swimming just below the surface. Casco is known for its abundance of lobster, who are attracted to the estuary’s naturally high salt content. The rich marine life is what has made Maine internationally famous and a top destination for travelers.
Portland Head Lighthouse at Fort William Park
As one of six historical military forts situated throughout the Casco Bay area, Fort Williams once acted as a barrier for approaching troops by protecting Cape Elizabeth. Encompassing 90 acres of picturesque seashore, the park is home to the Portland Head Lighthouse. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Portland Head Lighthouse has been lighting the way for mariners since 1791. Originally standing 72 feet tall and lit by 16 whale oil lamps, the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters have been updated numerous times over the years. Today, the lighthouse towers over 100 feet above the splashing water below and you will be impressed with the breathtaking views from this iconic piece of maritime history. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its rich history will be nothing short of impressive. Enjoy the park’s unabridged seaside view as the mighty Atlantic lays out before your eyes. As the most photographed lighthouse in the world, the Portland Head Lighthouse will be sure to give you a lasting memento of your trip to Maine.
Joining both old and new, the downtown Portland waterfront offers an eclectic mix of restaurants, museums, boutiques and cafes cozied around centuries-old architecture and history. Continually earning national honors for food and culture, downtown offers a multitude of distinctively New England fare. Grab a steaming bowl of fresh New England clam chowder at one of the highly-regarded restaurants, stroll down the brick-paved sidewalks and watch the Atlantic waves splash away the day.