Portland Observatory

#8 in Best Things To Do in Portland, ME
Portland Observatory picture
KenWiedemann/Getty Images

Key Info

138 Congress St.

Details

Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
4.2scorecard
  • 3.5Value
  • 2.5Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

For some of the best views of the harbor, head to the historic Portland Observatory, the country's last standing maritime signal tower. Built in 1807, the octagonal, 86-foot high tower was commissioned by captain Lemuel Moody as a communication station for Portland's harbor, but it wasn't built as an altruistic measure. Moody charged ship owners an annual fee of $5 to alert merchants (who he also charged) of ships arriving. He could spot them from as far as 30 miles away with his telescope. Before the observatory was built, ships couldn't be seen from town until they came around a point of land and were practically in the harbor. Moody offered an advantage to both paying captains and merchants, while also making a tidy profit for himself.

Eventually, the two-way radio made the need for the tower obsolete, but the Moody family had a good run, operating it until 1923. After some years of neglect the observatory was donated to Portland and in 1984, Greater Portland Landmarks took over and restored it. Recent visitors said the views from the observatory are not-to-be missed and its history is fascinating.

The observatory is open from late May through early October from 10 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. In July and August, it is open until 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6 through 16. For more information, visit the observatory's website.

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