Since 1807, the Portland Observatory has offered spectacular views of Portland’s busy harbor and served as a beloved symbol of the city’s rich maritime heritage. Named a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the Portland Observatory is the only known remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States. The Observatory is located at 138 Congress Street, on Munjoy Hill in the East End of Portland.
Guided ToursGuided tours of the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States offer spectacular views of Portland, Casco Bay, Back Cove and Mt. Washington. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, the Portland Observatory (1807) is owned by the City of Portland and operated as a museum and historic site by Greater Portland Landmarks. Guided tours focus on maritime history, the purpose and importance of the structure, and changes in Portland over the last two centuries. Tours are offered Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. Educational and entertaining for the whole family. Don’t forget your camera! (Allow 45 minutes)
AdmissionAdults – $10.00 Seniors, students & AAA – $8.00 Children 6-16 – $5.00 Portland Resident Adults – $5.00 All children under 6 and members of Greater Portland Landmarks – FREE Family Rate (2 adults and up to 5 paying children from the same household) – $30.00
Sunset Tours at the ObservatoryEvery Thursday evening, July 16 – September 3, 2015, 5:00 – 8:00 pm. Tours are self-guided, docents are available to answer questions. Regular admission applies. History of the tower. Imagine the world of 1807 as you ascend the wooden tower floor by floor. Feel the hand-pegged boards react to your steps. The wooden walls protect you from the weather as they did the mariners of yesteryear. Experience climbing the stairs in Captain Lemuel Moody’s footsteps. As you tread the creaking stairs, gaze out the windows upon the harbor the captain saw over 200 years ago. Imagine the captain looking through his telescope at the top of the tower spotting a ship on the horizon. Excitedly, he raises the signal flags announcing a brigantine arriving in port! Today, as then, flags flap in the breeze and the salty sea air invites you to breathe deeply of an authentic New England maritime experience. Captain Lemuel Moody (1768-1846), ordered construction of this octagonal, 86-foot high tower to serve as a communication station for Portland’s bustling harbor. In 1807, ships entering the harbor could not be seen from the docks of Portland until they rounded the point of land at Spring Point Ledge. With his powerful telescope, sea captain-turned-entrepreneur Moody identified incoming vessels as far away as 30 miles. For a fee, he alerted subscribing merchants by hoisting signal flags identifying their vessels. He coined the phrase “signalizing” to describe his system. The Observatory was built on Munjoy Hill at the eastern end of the Portland peninsula, which was a cow pasture at the time. Moody built his house and other buildings near the tower. The complex included a banquet and dance hall as well as a bowling alley. From the time it opened in 1807, the Observatory was a tourist attraction drawing local residents and travelers alike. During your visit, you will discover “thermometrics,” Captain Moody’s system of recording the weather for local mariners and the weekly newspaper. You’ll hear how in 1799, the captain and his crew, aboard the schooner “Betsey,” were boarded by French privateers, robbed and held for ransom. This encounter with pirates may have been what inspired Captain Moody to return to shore life. And of course, the captain’s method of signalizing will be explained in detail. The tower ceased its signalizing operations in 1923, and has been owned by the City of Portland since 1937. In 1936 the Portland Observatory was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and in 1939 the tower was restored as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs of the Great Depression. The Portland Observatory, which has served the community for more than 200 years, is the only remaining historic maritime signal station in the United States. As an intact survivor from the Golden Age of Sail, the Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, became a National Historic Landmark in 2006, and was named a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 2006 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1994, years of seeping moisture and an infestation of powder post beetles threatened the structure. Architectural and historical preservation authorities came together to devise a plan for saving this historic building. Greater Portland Landmarks chartered the Portland Observatory Restoration Trust (PORT) in 1997 to raise funds for the ailing structure’s ambitious restoration. More than 600 donors contributed to PORT, including the City of Portland, corporations, charitable foundations, families and individuals, as well as students from eleven local elementary schools who gave more than $5,000 through KidsPORT. PORT raised $1.28 million for the 1998-2000 restoration, which returned the building to its former glory. Currently, Greater Portland Landmarks operates the Observatory as a museum and historic site, offering educational programs and seasonal guided tours. Interpretive exhibits explain the tower’s history and preservation. We invite you to observe Portland Harbor from the tower-top webcam, view our photo gallery and explore our educational resources for teachers and researchers. The Portland Observatory Museum is a must-see when you visit Portland, Maine. ______________________________________________________________________101 links Portland Observatory http://portlandlandmarks.org/observatory/