The Portland Observatory in Portland, Maine

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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. 

Travel Tips:

  • Open from Memorial Day weekend through mid October. Information on admission rates (AAA discounts and family rates) here
  • Special events include Sunset Tours and Lantern Tours in December.
  • Guided tours run for 45 minutes and start every half hour. The museum is not air conditioned. 
  • The museum is not handicap accessible and strollers are not allowed;  it’s 104 steps from the street to the top.
  • Public restrooms are available across the street at the fire station.
  • On the street parking (pay close attention to the signs) is available. More information on parking here

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.

Looking for more fun in Portland?  Check out our post featuring the nearby Victoria House. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter

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6 Comments

  1. As a former sailor, I always enjoy stories about lighthouses along the New England coast. I never made it as far as Casco Bay, thought it remains on my bucket list. Thanks for the pictures – so inspiring.

  2. This is one more thing in Portland to add to the list of interesting things to see in the city that holds many surprises for a great getaway. Thanks again .

  3. As a New Englander, I definitely haven’t spend enough time in Maine yet! I will definitely be adding the Portland Observatory to my list to visit later this fall. Happy to hear they’re open through mid October.

  4. I have never been to Portland, but it’s definitely on my list. I would love to visit the observatory, it looks like an interesting activity to do.

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