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Portland Head Light: The Most Visited Place in the State of Maine, United States

Updated on September 11, 2014

Portland Head Light Travel Guide | History | Facts | Picture

What is the best place to see in Maine, USA? There is a famous place you must see named Portland Head Light. Do you want to visit a rocky coast area where a beautiful lighthouse is standing near to coast? Lighthouse is a structure of flashing light over sea at night. Sailors or fishermen need light from lighthouse to direct their ship into the right direction. Have you ever seen any lighthouse in your life?

In U.S. there are numbers of them but the Portland Head Light is a unique construction all over the U.S. It is a historical lighthouse located near Cosco bay, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The hundreds of thousands of people visit this historical lighthouse each year. It is currently under control of Fort William Park. When you visit this historical lighthouse, don't forget to see the park too. No doubt, in New England region this is truly an amazing place to discover the historic lighthouse.

Image Credit: cliff1066™

Construction time of Portland Head Light

Portland Head Lighthouse construction began in 1787 by the order of George Washington. He was the president of the United States at that time. So it is clear that the Lighthouse was under control of the U.S. government.

Four years needed to finish the construction. On January 10, 1791 it was fully completed. The tower of the lighthouse was built of full rubblestene. Portland Head Light stands 80 feet above ground and 101 feet above water.

Picture of Portland Head Lighthouse

Image Credit: Lizard10979

Lighthouse Lamp as Home decor Item

Lighthouse lamps are beautiful and you can use them as home decor item. Place a lighthouse lamp on drawing room, it would be awesome then.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Table Lamp with Linen Shade
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Table Lamp with Linen Shade

Is not it a beautiful lighthouse table lamp? I personally like it shape.


Builders of the Historical Portland Head Lighthouse

George Washington appointed and instructed two local masons who took cover of the whole construction in early 1787.

Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols - local masons from Portland town built this historical lighthouse successfully.

The original plan of building the lighthouse was 58-foot tower but later it changed; now it is 72 feet tall.

Look! Portland Head Lighthouse is Beautiful

Image Credit: madmiked

Keepers of the Portland Head Lighthouse

The first keeper of the lighthouse was Capt. Joseph Greenleaf, who was a veteran of the American Revolution. He was approved as a keeper by President George Washington. Capt. Joseph Greenleaf was not paid to work as keeper at first but he had right to fish, farm and live in the keepers house. Though later he was paid an annual salary of $160. He died in October 1795.

Many lighthouse keepers were appointed, such as -

Richard Lee (1840–1849)

Joseph W. Strout (1904–1928)

Frank O. Hilt (1929–1944)

Robert Thayer Sterling (assistant 1928-1944, principal keeper 1944-1946)

Archie McLaughlin (Coast Guard, c. 1946)

Armand Hood (Coast Guard officer in charge, c. 1963)

Marion Danna (Coast Guard Assist. Light keeper 1980-1983)

Birthplace of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Do you know who Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is? He is a famous American poet who was born in the Portland city. Being a local writer, he spent most of his time in this State of Maine. He loved the Portland Head Lighthouse, used to visit this beautiful place frequently and being inspired by it, and wrote a marvelous poem called "The Lighthouse." Here it comes:

"The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,

and on its outer point, some miles away,

the lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,

A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Even at this distance I can see the tides,

Upheaving, break unheard along its base,

A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides

in the white tip and tremor of the face.

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,

through the deep purple of the twilight air,

Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light,

with strange, unearhly splendor in the glare!

No one alone: from each projecting cape

And perilous reef along the ocean's verge,

Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,

Holding its lantern o'er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands

Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,

Wading far out among the rocks and sands,

The night o'er taken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return

Bending and bowing o'er the billowy swells,

And ever joyful, as they see it burn

They wave their silent welcome and farewells.

They come forth from the darkness, and their sails

Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,

And eager faces, as the light unveils

Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

The mariner remembers when a child,

on his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink

And when returning from adventures wild,

He saw it rise again o'er ocean's brink.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,

Year after year, through all the silent night

Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,

Shines on that inextinguishable light!

It sees the ocean to its bosum clasp

The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace:

It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,

And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

The startled waves leap over it; the storm

Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,

And steadily against its solid form

press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din

of wings and winds and solitary cries,

Blinded and maddened by the light within,

Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,

Still grasping in his hand the fire of love,

it does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,

but hails the mariner with words of love.

"Sail on!" it says: "sail on, ye stately ships!

And with your floating bridge the ocean span;

Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.

Be yours to bring man neared unto man."

Things you need to have with you when you visit the Lighthouse

Panasonic Lumix ZS20 14.1 MP High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera with 20x Optical Zoom (Black) (OLD MODEL)
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 14.1 MP High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera with 20x Optical Zoom (Black) (OLD MODEL)

You are going to visit a historical place so take pictures as many as you want.


Books were written relate to Portland Head Lighthouse

"Famous New England Lighthouses" was written by the popular author and historian Edward Rowe Snow in 1945. He earlier wrote a book called Portland and Vicinity where he mentioned that two carriage drivers' bodies were swept away when they took a group of people to watch Portland's waves during a storm.

In 1935, Robert Thayer Sterling (journalist) wrote a book called "Lighthouses of the Maine Coast and the Men Who Keep Them."

Portland Head Light

Image Credit: cloud2013

Lighthouse books - Read these in order to discover about lighthouse

If you like reading book like me, I hope you would like to read this book as well.

The World's Greatest Lighthouses
The World's Greatest Lighthouses

Find the world's greatest lighthouses in this book.


Chronology of the Portland head lighthouse

The project of building the lighthouse started in 1787 and ended on January 10, in 1791 by Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols.

As construction was being late, on august of 1790, Alexander Hamilton allocated a sum of $1,500 to complete the lighthouse construction.

Capt. Joseph Greenleaf was chosen as the lighthouse care taker on January 10, 1791.

Barzillai Delano took care of the lighthouse from 1796 to 1806.

At cost of $2,100, contractor Winslow Lewis installed a new lamp and reflector lighting system for the lighthouse in 1813.

Barzillai Delano died in 1820 and his son, James followed his father occupation and served lighthouse from 1854 to 1861 respectfully.

Nothing is durable much so the lamps and the lens of the Portland Lighthouse. In 1850 new lamps and reflectors were installed.

A fourth-order Fresnel lens and bell tower were installed at the station in 1855.

In 1864, Second-order Fresnel had to install by lighthouse keeper.

In 1869, Joshua Freeman Strout became keeper of the Portland head lighthouse and paid $620 per year annually. Later his wife Mary became assistant keeper until 1877.

A hurricane on September 8, 1869, knocked the fog bell into a ravine, nearly killing Joshua Strout. In the same year on September 8, a massive hurricane hit Portland harbor, Joshua Strout was a lucky man though he was nearly being killed by the hurricane.

In 1883 the second-order lens was replaced by a weaker fourth-order lens. Again on January 15, 1885 second-order lens was installed. At present lighthouse has optic DCB-224.

On December 24, 1886 of Christmas Eve British the Annie C. Maguire struck the ledge at Portland head Light. The Annie C. Maguire was Barque, which sailed from Buenos Aires. It was a tragic accident.

Joseph W. Strout son of Joshua Freeman Strout became principal keeper of the lighthouse in 1904 and he carried out his duty until 1928.

Joshua Strout was the oldest lighthouse keeper and retired from his work in 1904 at the age of 79 but his son Joseph Strout continued his work until 1928.

A parrot named Billy was a well-known member of the Strout household at Portland Head for many years. When bad weather approached, Billy used to tell Keeper Strout, "Joe, let's start the horn. It's foggy!" Billy reportedly became an avid fan of radio in his declining years and lived to be over 80.

Many keepers appointed and they retired as well after serving their valuable duties as keeper such as Frank O. Hilt who became principal keepers in 1929 then Robert Thayer Sterling from 1944 to 1946.

During World War II, to avoid guiding German submarines, Portland Head light was extinguished from June 1942 to June 1945.

Thayer Sterling was the last lighthouse keeper in the history of the Portland lighthouse. After he retired U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse in early 1946.

On April 24, 1973 Portland Head Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places in United State.

When bad weather approached, Billy used to tell Keeper Strout - Joe let's start the horn. It's foggy

Rocky Coastal Area of Portland Head Light

Image Credit: Pinchof 2.0

Would you like to visit Portland Head Light?

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Why Maine needed a lighthouse?

There were several reasons to build the Portland head lighthouse. One of the reasons was for American Civil War. During the civil war Portland Harbor was an important place for Maine citizens, through this harbor, raids on shipping in and out were taken.

Ships needed to anchor at Portland harbor as well as many ships demanded to have direction at night sailing. It was said, Portland would be the most popular commercial area in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Also people knew that Maine would be a separate state in 1820 so later Maine was separated from Massachusetts and now Portland Head light has great affect on Maine economic condition.

Lighthouse Watch - Would you like to wear this watch?

Presently I have only one watch but that is not like the one you see over here.

Whimsical Watches Women's S1210012 Lighthouse Black Leather Watch
Whimsical Watches Women's S1210012 Lighthouse Black Leather Watch

If your girlfriend like lighthouse then it is a perfect gift for her birthday.


What to see and do at Portland head Lighthouse?

The most important sight is the lighthouse, you would be there to see the white conical tower of the lighthouse, and it is very beautiful. Also you must visit -

The Museum

Fort William

Fort William Park

Goddard Mansion

Gift shop

Most travelers take bus and boat tours to the lighthouse. The Museum and Gift shop are open 10 A.M to 4 P.M. In 1992, The Museum at Portland Head Light was opened in the former keeper’s house. The museum is based on the history of the lighthouse and Fort Williams. The museum is open from June through October. Inside the historic museum, you would see lighthouse lenses and pictures, so wish you good luck, enjoy your time and see the beautiful things there.

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    • tazzytamar profile image


      4 years ago from chichester

      I love that necklace :) this was very interesting!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      4 years ago

      Pinning this.

    • Emma-Weisz profile image


      5 years ago

      A very refreshing read.... beautiful lens! Portland is just awesome.... :)

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Lighthouses are almost always romantic. Lovely presentation!

    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Very lovely photos.

    • Chrystalia profile image


      5 years ago

      Some Beautiful pictures of the Portland Light, and great information--especially one of my favorite poems!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Beautiful lighthouses!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very lovely lens, I admire lighthouses and all this cool stuff! :)

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      5 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi great lens, and pictures. Blessed by Squid Angel flinnie.

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Great pictures, beautiful lens. Blessings!

    • cinstress profile image


      5 years ago

      I like visiting there too... nice lens

    • sheilamarie78 profile image


      5 years ago from British Columbia

      Nice place to visit! If you go off season, you won't have to fight the crowds.

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 

      5 years ago from Washington KS

      I'd love to visit there. Wonderful lens!!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens about a lovely place to visit, thanks!

    • Tawice profile image


      5 years ago from Maine, USA

      I have made it to a few lighthouses in Maine, like Pemaquid Point Light House and Owls Head but have not made it to Portland's lighthouse yet. I will eventually. Great article.

    • gaga6599 profile image


      5 years ago

      Very beautiful pictures!

    • LornsA178 profile image


      5 years ago

      I always love to see light houses, they are one of my favorite places. I love your pictures too!

    • JennyReis profile image


      5 years ago

      It looks like a great place o visit! I will go there sooner or later.

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @crstnblue: Thank you and you are welcome.

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @MarcellaCarlton: Thank you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've never been to Maine, but this does look like an interesting place.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Lovely Lens with incredible pictures. I love the history behind it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very nice lens!

      Thanks for sharing & keep writing! :)

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @ajgodinho: Landscape of coastal area with lighthouse is absolutely amazing to watch. Thanks for your comment.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love landscapes and especially ones with lighthouses. Most of them have a lot of history attached to them so it makes it interesting. The Portland Head lighthouse is beautiful!

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very very much and you blessed my lens, so glad now :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      There's something so cool about lighthouses. Would love to visit this one.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      Back to bless this.

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: The state Maine is great as well as the Portland head light.

    • takkhisa profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @LaraineRoses: Cool! Thanks for Angel Blessing and i hope you would visit Portland Head Light soon.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 

      6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I enjoyed my virtual tour of the Portland Head Light. Although we have visited many lighthouses, we have never had the opportunity to visit this one. Lovely lens! Angel blessed!


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