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Articles Blog

Portland, Maine

Karyn Planett

Lobsters and Lighthouses 

“Oh happy Portlanders, if they only knew their own good fortune! They get up early, and go to bed early. The women are comely and sturdy, able to take care of themselves without any fal-lal of chivalry; and the men are sedate, obliging, and industrious. … Probably of all modes of life that are allotted to man by his Creator, life such as this is the most happy.” 

So wrote Anthony Trollope in his 1862 North America.   

Well Mr. Trollope, the respected English novelist of the Victorian Period, truly smacked the proverbial nail on its old head. “What’s not to be happy about?” one asks oneself. Portland’s air is fresh, her seas are bountiful, its history is celebrated, and the city’s future is bright. Portland is one of those destinations you’re most happy to visit and a bit slow to leave.

A Thumbnail Look At Portland’s History 

A captain in the English navy is named as the first European gentleman to try to carve out a community he called York in this rugged countryside draped along Casco Bay. His name, Christopher Levett. The year, 1623. His efforts failed. Ten years later, two guys named Cleeve and Tucker did succeed by putting down roots to form a small fishing village they named Casco. Settlers followed, the town grew, and its name changed to Falmouth then ultimately Portland.            

Over the years, Portland’s prominence increased because this vibrant seaport is 100 miles closer to Europe than competing US ports, saving ships precious time. Even then, time was money. This industrious history is written on the red brick walls of restored warehouses lining the cobblestone streets of the Old Port. 

So Much To See, So Precious Your Time 

The vibrant waterfront is a great place to start with views of the scattered outlying islands. The Arts District is rich with antique stores, galleries and artists’ studios. Congress Street is punctuated with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House at number 485. The poet Henry was third generation in this house that’s said to be the place where he penned The Rainy Day. Victoria Mansion, completed in 1860, was designed by Gustave Herter and still displays approximately 90% of the original household furnishings set against a backdrop of stained glass windows, frescoes, and intricately carved woodwork. Nearby Fort Williams speaks to the chapter in history where it served as part of the coastal defense system.           

Lighthouse buffs will enjoy a visit to Port Head Light, which first shined its mighty beacon in 1791. Breakwater Light, lovingly called “Bug Light” by locals, first shone in 1875 and was the handiwork of Thomas U. Water whose name is also associated with important buildings in Washington D.C.  If these examples don’t satisfy your lighthouse lust, there’s always Spring Point Ledge Light, the caisson-style lighthouse resembling a “sparkplug” yet alerting many a ship captain to the danger of running aground on the treacherous ledge just offshore. And, did you know it was just this rugged coastline that inspired Longfellow’s Wreck of the Hesperus in 1869?

The Portland Freedom Trail highlights the story of the Underground Railroad that spirited escaped slaves north to freedom. Along the Portland Peninsula, you’ll find a walking trail with markers telling of this sad chapter in American history       

Something For The Foodies 

Lobsters, live from lobster beds tended by rugged New Englanders, are offloaded dockside daily. And there’s nothing like a plump, fire engine red lobster dripping in butter to celebrate life. This tender delicacy is probably the reason Bon Appétit magazine called Portland the “foodiest small town in America.” Restaurants and eateries also serve up farm-fresh produce, handcrafted cheeses, hearty chowders and cold beer from local microbreweries. Chocolate lovers gather to photograph Lenny, touted as the biggest and only full-scale chocolate moose in the world. And, for the folks back home, you can them ship live lobsters packed in ice. That’s way better than a fridge magnet. 

Portland’s Famous Citizens 

Well, in addition to Portland’s poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow born here in 1807 and whose works include Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish as well as Paul Revere’s Ride, you’ve got other native sons like Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth and Stephen King. Another local citizen of note is Leon Leonwood Bean, more commonly known of as L.L. Bean who took outdoor gear to new heights. His local store addressed the founder’s goal of providing the finest service possible by keeping their doors open around the clock, 365 days a year starting in 1951.           

And, speaking of shopping, there’s a semi-precious stone called a Maine tourmaline that just might be too tempting to pass up. Discovered in 1820 by two local lads named Elijah Hamlin and Ezekiel Holmes, the tourmaline mines have offered up many fine gemstones. Perhaps leave time to make a gem discovery of your own.