Portland Observatory Restoration – Portland ME


“Captain Lemuel Moody (1768-1846) ordered construction of this octagonal, 86-foot high tower to serve as a communication station for Portland’s bustling harbor. In 1807, ships entering the harbor could not be seen from the docks of Portland until they rounded the point at Spring Point Ledge. With his powerful telescope, Moody, sea captain turned entrepreneur, identified incoming vessels as far away as 30 miles. For a fee, he alerted subscribing merchants by hoisting signal flags identifying their vessels. He coined the phrase “signalizing” to describe the system.

The Observatory was built on Munjoy Hill at the eastern end of the Portland peninsula as it offered the best view of the Atlantic Ocean. Moody built his house and other buildings near the tower. The complex included a banquet and dance hall as well as a bowling alley. From the time it opened in 1807, the Observatory was a tourist attraction that drew local residents and travelers alike.

The tower ceased its signalizing operations in 1923, and has been owned by the City of Portland since 1937. In 1936 the Portland Observatory was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and in 1939 the tower was restored as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs of the Great Depression.

The Portland Observatory is the only remaining historic maritime signal tower in the United States. As an intact survivor from the Golden Age of Sail, the Observatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, became a National Historic Monument in 2006, and was named a National Civil Engineering Landmark in 2006 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.”

Source notes


Project originally submitted by Andrew Laverdiere on March 23, 2014.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

138 Congress St
Portland, ME 04101

Coordinates: 43.66536, -70.24825629999998

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