Portland sits on the southern coastline of Maine.
Jutting out into the waters of Casco Bay,
Portland is one of those special cities whose history
and people have long been shaped by the sea.
It’s a city whose character has also been forged by fire.
Native American raiders burnt the first English settlement to the ground in 1676,
and returned with the French fourteen years later to torch it once again.
In 1775, British warships set the city ablaze,
and in 1866, a Fourth of July firecracker set off an inferno,
which left thousands homeless.
But this is a city that refused to lie down,
and today Portland is one of the most dynamic,
and livable small metros in the USA.
Part of the city’s great charm is its working waterfront.
Amble down Commercial Street
and spend a few hours drifting around the many wharves and piers.
Relax with a craft beer and lobster roll as fishermen unload their daily catch,
wooden ships set sail to nearby islands,
and cargo ships glide out to far-off ports.
Follow the salty breezes through the streets and lanes of the historic port district,
where the currents of past and future eddy
amid the old fish-packing plants and locomotive factories of yesteryear.
It was here that Portland’s faithful raised their finest churches,
and where the city’s ship builders and merchants built their stately homes.
Spend an hour or two touring the ornate rooms of Victoria Mansion,
the summer home of 19th century hotelier, Ruggles Sylvester Morse.
In 1940 this Italianate brownstone
was almost demolished to make way for a gas station.
Thankfully common sense prevailed and the historic home
and most of its original interiors were saved.
Time also stands still at the historic home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
one of America’s most beloved poets.
See the hobbyhorse young Henry rode into imaginary worlds,
and the desk where the poet honed his lines,
many inspired by the woodlands and wharves of Portland.
Head west along Congress Street to the Arts District,
an area teeming with creative enterprises.
At the centre of it all is the Portland Museum of Art.
Starting life in 1908 at McLellan House,
over the decades the collection swelled and new buildings were added.
Just like Longfellow,
many of the artists whose works feature here were inspired by the Portland’s coastline,
including one of the giants of American art,
In Portland, the ever-present cry of gulls is a reminder that the sea is never far away.
Head east along Congress Street to Eastern Promenade,
visionary parklands that have provided Portlanders with a place
to stretch their legs and take in the Atlantic breezes since 1836.
Over the centuries, Portland has been of great strategic importance,
and the coastline once bristled with cannon.
Cross the mouth of the Fore River to South Portland
and peer through the gun ports of Historic Fort Preble,
which saw service from the Civil War, right up until the 1950s.
Just below the fort is the Spring Point Ledge Light,
one of the smaller and more unusual of Maine’s 57 active lighthouses.
While just a few miles south on Cape Elizabeth,
stands one of New England’s most beautiful, Portland Head Light.
Commissioned by George Washington in 1791,
the lighthouse has been home to many characters,
including one lighthouse keeper’s parrot who would screech as bad weather approached,
“Start the horn, start the horn, fog rolling in”.
The lighthouse is part of Fort Williams Park,
where you’ll find even more historic defenses,
as well as the eerie ruins of the old Goddard Mansion.
Once you start exploring this coastline, it’s very easy to just keep on going.
Around every headland there’s a new beach, bay, state park or town,
places that beckon paddlers, anglers, seadogs and dreamers,
and those happy to simply soak up the colours and scents of New England.
Seven miles south of Portland is Scarborough,
where families have been returning to sleepy havens like Higgins Beach for generations.
From here, let the bend of Saco Bay sweep you further south
to the neat-as-a-pin-town of Saco.
At the local museum,
learn about the little mill town that became a textile giant that helped dress the nation
Right at Saco’s front door is Ferry Beach State Park,
100 acres of trails, tupelo trees and time-stopping vistas.
And if you’re dreaming of a little salt-weathered,
old-school, New England perfection,
drop anchor at Cape Porpoise.
Once you’ve come this far,
it’s hard to resist the impossibly pretty docks
and historic ship-builder’s homes of Kennebunkport.
A long-time favourite with US Presidents,
this resort town serves up some of the best eating,
classiest shopping, and most beautiful coastlines in Maine.
On your way back to Portland, be sure to grab a ticket,
and take a ride at the Seashore Trolley Museum,
the largest collection of streetcars in the world.
A visit here is more than just a ride, it’s a tribute to craftsmanship,
engineering-know-how, and a time when people stopped to talk to strangers.
Portland, Maine, is very much a tribute to those ideals too,
for this is a place where life is as it should be.
It’s a place where history, nature, creativity and community are in tune,
creating more than just a city, but a song by the sea.