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Maine's Portland Head Light

An East Coast historic lighthouse, built more than two centuries ago, still casts a friendly light.

Maine's Portland Head Lighthouse, image
Photo caption
First lit in 1791, this beloved lighthouse still beckons visitors and warns sailors.

Commissioned by George Washington and heeded by centuries of sailors, Portland Head Light remains a bright spot for seafarers and sightseers along the rocky coast of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The light now blazes with electricity—not whale oil—but the sight of the conical tower rising above the wild surf has barely changed since the 19th century.


Visitors today can see old lenses and maritime memorabilia in the former keepers' quarters, a red-roofed duplex now converted into a museum. Boat tours in busy Casco Bay show off the lighthouse the way it was meant to be seen: from the water. Take a walk around adjacent Fort Williams Park and you'll want to take pictures from every possible angle.

Each September, about 280 visitors are allowed to climb the 80-foot tower during Open Lighthouse Day. The rest of the year, tourists can only look up at Portland Head—the oldest lighthouse in Maine and a Washington legacy that continues to shine.

Photography by Alan Copson/JAI/Corbis


This article was first published in Summer 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.