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A Guide to the Historical Side of Portland, Maine

The Portland Headlight Lighthouse in South Portland Maine / Portland Headlight
Written by Lauren Saccone

Portland, Maine is a town suffused with culture and natural beauty, making it an ideal spot for a picturesque vacation. It’s also a locale that’s rich in history; whether you’re interested in the significant military history of the area, want to know more about the maritime tradition that continues to this day, or just want to learn about where this town first got its start, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at this guide to the history-related things to do in Portland, Maine, and get ready for a trip that will bring the past to life in ways you never imagined.

Victoria Mansion

historic Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine

This elegant and striking home looks rather out of place in Maine; in fact, its dramatic style draws from Italian villas! This four-story mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 by Ruggles Sylvester Morse, and is a must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in architecture and interior design. The inside of the stately building is just as breathtaking, with jaw-dropping chandeliers, a romantic staircase that would be right at home in a classic Hollywood film, and plenty of divinely decorated bedrooms and antechambers. You’ll learn about the history of the building and area in a sumptuous setting that pays homage to a bygone era.

Wadsworth-Longfellow House

Literary fans will love spending time at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, which was the childhood home of famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A stark contrast from the Victoria Mansion, this tour gives you a much better idea of how average, everyday people lived in the area. The house is exquisitely preserved and provides a fascinating look at a singular time and place in history. You’ll learn an awful lot about Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow and how he came to be an American literary icon. But, you’ll also walk away with a deeper understanding of how Portland, Maine helped shape him through his formative years.

Tate House Museum

Head on a trip back to 1755 with a visit to the Tate House Museum! A National Historic Landmark, this colonial Georgian home has been exhaustively maintained down to the tiniest details. Explore the architecture that still stands tall hundreds of years after it was originally built. Learn all about the daily life of people trying to eke out a living in bygone days and explore the lush and verdant herb garden, which still thrives to this day. There are tours you can take to learn all the ins and outs of the Tate House Museum, and special events occur regularly, so be sure to check the calendar before booking a visit.

Friends of Fort Gorges

Fort Gorges Maine

Off the coast of Portland, Maine is a singular building: a fort that appears to float in the deep blue water. Known as Fort Gorges, this spot was first built in 1858. Its history is intriguing because despite the impressive look of the building, it has never been used. No troops were ever stationed there, as by the time it was completed, the technology it was based on had become entirely obsolete. While it never had a chance as a military outpost, Fort Gorges has found new life as a unique military oddity — the entire area has been converted into a park. To get there, you’ll need to schedule a private tour (and hire a boat — there’s no other way to reach the fort). Even those who aren’t normally interested in military history will find themselves drawn to this truly singular spot, and it’s definitely one of the mandatory things to do in Portland, Maine.

Neal Dow House

Famed politician and prohibitionist Neal Dow built this home back in 1829. From it, he served as mayor, enacting prohibition laws and stridently speaking out against the evils of alcohol. Upon his death, the building was bequeathed to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union; today, it still serves as their headquarters. This home offers a fascinating look at the life of one of Maine’s most polarizing politicians. Almost the whole house remains intact from is era, providing visitors with an unsurpassed look at what life was like when Dow was mayor and Prohibition reigned supreme.

 

Have you visited any of these historic sites in Portland, Maine? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

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Lauren Saccone

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