Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth is home to the oldest and probably the most recognized lighthouses in Maine. Portland Head was commissioned by George Washington in 1878 and completed in January of 1791. Up until that time, although Portland was the sixth busiest American port, there were no lighthouses along the coast of Maine.
The stone lighthouse was built by local masons Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols. The original plan was for a 58-foot tower, but when it was realized that the light would be blocked from the south it was decided to make the tower 72 feet in height instead. Bryant resigned over the change, and Nichols finished the lighthouse in January 1791. Initially whale oil lamps were used for illumination.
In 1855 a fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the lamps and reflectors that were updated in 1850 and a fog tower with a 1,500-pound bell was installed. Following the 1864 wreck of the Liverpool vessel Bohemian, the tower was raised 20 feet and a new second-order Fresnel lens was installed. In 1958 the second-order Fresnel lens was replaced by aero beacons and again updated in 1991 with its current DCB-24 aero beacon.
The Museum at Portland Head Light opened in the former keeper’s house in 1992. The museum focuses on the history of the lighthouse and nearby Fort Williams.
Named after Brevet Major General Seth Williams, Fort Williams grew to be a tremendous military asset during World War II. Besides protecting the shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, the infantry and artillery units provided the Harbor Defense for Portland. After the war, many of the forts in Casco Bay were closed, including Fort Williams, which traded in its defense of the coast for caretaker status and Army Reserve accommodations. Fort Williams was officially closed as a military installation and deactivated on June 30, 1963.
The park also offers picturesque views of Ram Island Ledge Light and the islands of Casco Bay. The park has numerous picnic sites with cooking grills. A covered picnic area is also available by reservation from May to October.
For More Information about Lighthouses Along the Coast of Maine, Visit:
Online at Maine Light House Directory for profiles and photos.