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Portland Head Lighthouse

portland head lighthouse

Fort Williams Park,
1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Built in 1791


Marking the entrance to Portland Harbor in Casco Bay, off Shore Road from Route 77 in South Portland, inside Fort Williams State Park.

Portland Head Light Web Cam

Latitude: 43° 37' 24" N
Longitude: 70° 12' 30" W


Historic Stories:

Maine's oldest lighthouse, to one of Maine's busiest ports, Portland Head Lighthouse was erected during George Washington's administration in 1791, as a result of many petitions from merchants after the deaths of two locals in a shipwreck, during a fierce storm in 1787. Its location set atop a rocky cliff on the shoreline marks the picturesque entrance to Maine’s Portland Harbor in Casco Bay.

The beacon's first Keeper, Joseph Greenleaf, was appointed by George Washington in a signed letter, allowing him to live at the location without having to pay rent, but Greenleaf didn't receive a salary for his duties for the first two years, then was given a modest salary. However, two years later he died of a stroke while rowing across Fore River.

Greenleaf's replacement, Barzillai Delano, was a blacksmith by training, but graciously accepted the position and held the job for the next 25 years.

In the early 1800's, after years of complaints from the keeper about water leaks in the house, the superintendent of Massachusetts (this part of current Maine was part of Massachusetts at the time) agreed to fix them and sent a team of carpenters to make repairs. The problem was that when the men arrived, they found the entire year’s worth of oil was being stored in the room they needed to repair, so they had to wait until the following year.

There were four shipwrecks that occurred in the vicinity of the lighthouse, three a very short distance from the lighthouse, and one a few miles south of the lighthouse near Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Two of these, the wreck of the Annie C Maguire, and the wreck of the Bohemian (see Cape Elizabeth light for story) are the most well known and are rather intriguing in their stories.

After the shipwreck of the Bohemian and public outcry, The Portland Board of Trade investigated the rocks and shoals nearby and had bell buoy markers placed as needed. Portland Head Lighthouse's visibility was also examined and improved by raising the tower 20 feet in 1865. A second-order Fresnel lens was also installed to generate a more powerful light.

Portland Head Lighthouse is also known as having four generations of the Strout family in dedicating over 100 years of combined service to the light, including Joshua Strout’s mother’s tenure as housekeeper, at Portland Head Lighthouse. There were many family members of different lighthouses that would be involved in tending a lighthouse, including wives of keepers, or their sons, but rarely there would be four generations of family members servicing at the same lighthouse.

Longfellow wrote "The Lighthouse" and other poems while relaxing at Portland Head lighthouse.
early Portland Head lighthouse 1891

Portland Head Lighthouse 1891
Courtesy US Coast Guard

On April 3, 1875 a fierce storm knocked out the foghorn and temporarily extinguished the lighthouse.



Annie C Maguire Wrecked On Christmas Eve, in 1886

On a foggy late Christmas eve in 1886, the Strout family were preparing for bed.

Suddenly, they were all awakened when the Annie C Maguire ran aground on the rocks nearby.
Annie C Maguire shipwreck by Portland Head light
Wreck of Annie C Maguire
Courtesy of Museum
of Portland Head Light

Joshua and his son Joseph quickly ran out followed by Joshua's wife Mary who carried torches to light the area. The men rigged a ladder as a gangplank between the rocky ledges that separated them from the wreck. One by one, Joshua and Joseph helped each of the 18 survivors to the warm safety of the keeper’s house, as the ship lie wedged on the rocks.

Joshua had been notified a few days earlier to watch out for the vessel as its creditors wanted to seize it. He sent word to the sheriff who came to claim the vessel and had the Strout family remove everything that could be salvaged for the creditors.

Because the ship was so beaten up, the creditors received only $177 at auction. The sheriff searched the ship’s sea chest for special papers and cash, but came up with nothing.

The crew had been discharged a few days earlier and sent home by the British Vice Counsel. Years later it was discovered that the captain, with the help of his wife, had carried the cash, papers, and other items of value in her hatbox during the rescue.

On his 21st birthday John Strout to decided to paint an inscription to commemorate the location of where years ago the Annie C Maguire wrecked on the rocks close to the lighthouse. He painted the words “In Memory of the Ship Annie C. Maguire, Wrecked on this point Christmas Eve, 1886."

The inscription has been periodically repainted over the years.

It has evolved into a more simpler inscription reading “Annie C Maguire, shipwrecked here, Christmas Eve 1886” which displays today for residents and tourists alike. ship annie c maguire painting

For more explicit details on this famous event, select the link "Wreck of the Annie C Maquire" at the top of the page, which will take you to my Lighthouse Stories blog.


Portland Head light along rocky shore

In February 1972 a fierce nor'easter, with winds measuring hurricane strength over 90 miles an hour, caused huge waves that broke a window in the house 25-feet above the rocky ground, ripped down 80 feet of steel guard fence from its concrete foundation, and tore a 2,000 pound bell from its house. The floor of the keeper’s house was covered in mud up to a foot deep.

In 1975 and 1977, there were fierce storms during rare high tides so strong that huge waves washed up to the lantern room and extinguished the light.

In 2013, Portland Head Lighthouse was chosen as one of five New England lighthouses, painted by artist Howard Koslow, for the "Forever" stamp collection sold at all US Postal stations.

sunset at Portland Head lighthouse


Places to Visit Nearby:

Portland is one of the largest seaports in New England, Maine’s largest city, and offers many specialty restaurants, shops, and art galleries at its old port waterfront district and within the city. Portland is also considered the art cultural center of the state with plenty of galleries and museums to visit. You can also follow various urban Portland Trails through the city.

portland lighthouse guiding ship
The lighthouse is located inside the expansive 41-acre Fort Williams Park for hiking along the cliff edges, exploring the old fort or just for picnicking and kite flying in its open areas.

The tower is not open to the public but visitors can explore the Museum at Portland Head Light at the Keeper’s house.

There are many boat tours leaving the Portland waterfront where some pass by the lighthouse. Casco Bay Cruise Lines allow visitors to some of the nearby islands to relax and recharge.

Once on one of the islands, you may find yourself renting a bike to explore or simply hike along the quiet roads.


chair along rocky island seashore

Quiet Rocky Coast
of Peaks Island

You'll also find sailing, whale watching, fishing, lobstering, and other adventure tours leaving the Portland waterfront.

The Portland Discovery not only provides special lighthouse tours, but also trolley tours to navigate around the city. For those that want a unique experience, try a narrated historic tour aboard Maine Duck Tours, where you can ride these amphibious vehicles through Portland and into the water as they pass by Portland Breakwater and Spring Point Light. There are many other boat tours leaving the Portland waterfront where some pass by Portland Head Lighthouse, Spring Point Light, or Portland Breakwater Light.

Portland Schooner sailing For authentic schooner sailing of early 1900s vessels, the Portland Schooner Company provides two-hour windjammer sails out of Portland.

They also provide overnight excursions aboard their unique schooners Wendameen and Bagheera.

You can also sail the Frances, with Maine Sailing Adventures. She is a replica of a working coastal pilot cutter that would have sailed the waters of Maine and New England between 1790 and 1812 as a commercial vessel. They provide sunset and wine sails, and they sail out to Peaks Island.

Odyssey Whale Watch provides whale watching and deep-sea fishing tours. You can also charter special sailing tours aboard a classic 36-foot Hinckley Yawl vessel.

North of Portland lie the towns of Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Freeport where you’ll find the largest boot sculpture in front of the LL Bean store, among 170 other name brand retailers in the area.

Check out Eartha, the world’s largest revolving and rotating 3D globe of nearly forty-two feet in diameter at the DeLorme (Map) Headquarters in Yarmouth. It revolves and rotates as if seen from space. giant Eartha globe

A short distance away you can get back to the outdoors and explore 200 acres of Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, especially if you want to observe ospreys. The park rangers provide one-hour guided tours. There are lots of parks and preserves for those who want to explore the outdoors, and places to shop. 




Driving Directions


Contact Info:
Portland Head Light Museum
1000 Shore Road
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107
(207) 799-2661



Local Boat Tours

Boat cruises and tours mentioned below may offer many types of cruises. While some may offer specific lighthouse cruises that pass by Portland Head Lighthouse, some will pass by the lighthouse as part of special charters, narrated wildlife and historic tours, while ferrying passengers, during sailing adventures, whale watching expeditions, fishing tours, and other types of excursions. Weather is also a major factor in New England, especially on sailing excursions. Contact info is provided to help you plan your special trips ahead of time and to answer questions before you arrive at any of New England’s destinations. Enjoy!

Maine Duck Tours
Ride these amphibious vehicles through Portland and as they also pass by Portland Head and Portland Breakwater (Bug) Lighthouses as part their tours.
177 Commercial Street
Portland, ME 04101
Phone: (207) 774-DUCK(3825)


Portland Discovery
Specific lighthouse cruises like the "Lighthouse Lover's Cruise", and "Sunset Lighthouse Cruise." They also provide a trolley tour of Portland and a lighthouse cruise on Casco Bay for Portland's lighthouses.
Long Wharf
Portland ME
Phone: (207) 774-0808



Lucky Catch Cruises
Lobster boat cruises that pass Portland Head Light. Can also request special excursions.
170 Commercial St.
Portland, Maine 04101
Phone: (207) 761-0941


Casco Bay Lines
Use Bailey Island Cruise to view lighthouses on occasion. Check ahead of time.
56 Commercial Street
Portland, Maine 04112
(207) 774-7871



My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Northern New England: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, provides human interest stories from each of the 76 lighthouses, along with the coastal attractions and tours near each beacon, and contact info to plan your special trips. You'll find over 360 images inside as well.

In the book you'll find more detailed information about the wreck of the Annie C Maguire and the Bohemian that occurred at or near Portland Head Lighthouse, along with lots more attractions.

Look inside!

book northern New England lighthouses and local coastal attractions





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