Portland landmarks: Portland Observatory

Published: April 23, 2024

Perched majestically on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, the Portland Observatory stands as a testament to maritime history and ingenuity. Built in 1807 by Captain Lemuel Moody, this octagonal tower served as a crucial communication station for Portland’s bustling harbor, offering a competitive edge to ship owners who subscribed to Moody’s services.

At the time of its construction, ships entering the harbor were invisible from the docks until they rounded Spring Point Ledge. Moody’s powerful telescope, positioned at the tower’s pinnacle, could identify vessels up to 30 miles away. Subscribing merchants received alerts by hoisted signal flags, enhancing the efficiency of Portland Harbor.

The Observatory remained a working marine signal tower under Moody’s family until 1923, when advances in communication technology rendered it obsolete. Falling into disrepair, the tower was donated to the City of Portland and underwent restoration, opening to tourists in 1939.

In 1984, Greater Portland Landmarks assumed management, opening the tower for regular tours. However, in the 1990s, the tower faced serious moisture damage and an infestation of powder-post beetles. Through collaborative efforts, including the City of Portland and concerned citizens, the Observatory was restored once again and reopened in 2000.

Today, the Portland Observatory stands as the only remaining historic maritime signal station in the United States. Designated as a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2006, it offers visitors a glimpse into Portland’s rich maritime history.

Managed by Greater Portland Landmarks, the Observatory welcomes visitors for guided tours from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. From the cupola’s balcony, on clear days, one can enjoy sweeping views from the seaward horizon to Mount Washington inland.

The Portland Observatory stands as a beacon of Portland’s maritime past, a reminder of the ingenuity and perseverance of those who built and operated it. It serves as a living monument to the Golden Age of Sail and continues to educate and inspire visitors from around the world.

If you’re planning to visit Portland, put this landmark on your itinerary!

The Observatory is opening May 10 this year. Get more information and plan your visit on the Portland Landmarks website:

Here’s a condensed version of the upcoming season schedule…

  • Special Pre-season Schedule: May 10 — May 19
  • Weekends Only: 10:00 am — 3:30 pm
  • Guided tours every 30 minutes from 10:00 am — 12:00 pm
  • Self-guided, timed entry tours from 1:00 pm — 4:00 pm
  • Mother’s Day Special: Moms get free entry on May 12
  • Regular Season: May 24 onwards
  • Weekday Daytime Hours (Wed, Thu, Fri, Mon: 10:00 am — 3:30 pm, Tue: 1:00 pm — 3:30 pm)
  • Weekday Evening Hours (Mon — Wed: 5:00 pm — 8:00 pm)
  • Weekend Hours: 10:00 am — 4:00 pm (Guided tours in the morning, self-guided tours in the afternoon)
  • Admission:
  • Adults: $10
  • Seniors/Students/Military: $8
  • Kids 16 and under: $5
  • Portland residents: $5