Earlier this summer, we enjoyed a few days in Portland, Maine, a beautiful seaside city on Casco Bay. One of the highlights of our visit was a guided tour of the Portland Observatory.
Built in 1807 by Captain Lemuel Moody and one of the oldest marine signal stations in America, the seven floor tower was used commercially until 1923 when it was abandoned. It is not technically considered a lighthouse because, although it does light up at night from the interior rooms, it does not emit light outward. In the late 1930s, the tower was used as a lookout in World War II. The location of the observatory, and the unique octagonal shape, offered numerous views of the harbor. The Observatory went through several restorations throughout the 20th century and finally opened as a museum in 2007.
Guided tours are offered several times a day and include climbing 104 steps to six floors and the final observatory balcony. Each floor includes distinct exhibits:
- 1st floor: The admission desk and small gift shop with local artists and souvenirs from Portland.
- 2nd floor: A scaled model of the construction of the observatory and historical timeline of its construction.
- 3rd floor: A telescope identical to the one used in the tower and display of silhouettes of vessels coming into port and the identification flags for various ships.
- 4th floor: An exhibit featuring the biography of Lemuel Moody, the builder, and his hand drawn maps of Casco Bay. He built the tower, family home, stables and recreational spaces and charged local residents to spend recreational time on the property.
- 5th floor: The timeline and history of the Great Fire of July 4, 1866 fire that destroyed most of the city.
- 6th floor: Sixty five feet from the ground, the main display is the flag locker which stored all of the flags for the various ships. Learn about the various coding system for ships.
- 7th floor: Visitors have now climbed is 104 steps up from the sidewalk. Take a seat on the interior benches to observe the views or climb out onto the balcony to see great views of Casco Bay and beyond.