Looking North Marker
Less than 1,000 feet west-northwest of the Portland Head Light is a series of markers facing north, south, and east. Arranged in a small circle, these three markers tell the profound and multifaceted history of the surrounding area, including Portland, Casco Bay, and Cape Elizabeth. These three markers in the middle of Fort Williams Park are packed with detailed and easy-to-read historical information regarding the area. However, for history enthusiasts looking for a quick, yet comprehensive story about Portland, the Looking North Marker contains all of the important information you need to know. For example, did you know that Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city except for San Francisco? Or, do you know why Portland’s motto is “Resurgam” (I will rise again)? The Looking North Marker stands as the entryway into the fascinating history of Portland, containing detailed facts about the Portland Observatory, Colonel John Goddard, the Liberty Ship Memorial, the city’s history, and much more.
Backstory and Context
Information Featured on the Looking North Marker
The Looking North Marker provides the most essential tidbits of information pertinent to the town, and it gives visitors a complete overview of Portland, the local history, and some of the most significant historical sites in the area. To start, the marker displays some interesting facts about Portland, including the city’s population (65,000), number of languages spoken in Portland schools (40), art events each year (2,000 with over 50% free to the public), and the average summer temperature (82 degrees).
The marker goes on to explain the significance behind Portland’s motto: “Resurgam,” or “I will rise again.” As explained, this motto refers to Portland’s resilience after four catastrophic fires ravaged the city from 1690 to 1886. The last fire destroyed 2,000 buildings and left 75 percent of the town’s population homeless.
By continuing to read the marker, visitors can also explore a variety of important people and sites, such as the role of the Cape Cottage Theater, Colonel John Goddard’s wealth and influence in Cape Elizabeth, the Liberty Ship Memorial, and the Portland Montreal Pipeline.
The rest of the marker displays information and images related to Portland’s history and significance. Visitors will learn that Portland’s early name, according to the local natives, was “Machigonne,” and that the first European settler, Christopher Levett, was granted 6,000 acres by the English King to start a settlement in Casco Bay in 1623.
Lastly, the Looking North Marker also explores the many coastal fortifications that gave security to the area following the War of 1812, the importance of the booming fishing industry in the area, and Portland’s role as a home base for the North Atlantic Fleet of the U.S. Navy between 1940 and 1945.1
Looking South Marker and Looking East Marker
Right next to the Looking North Marker, the Looking South and Looking East markers provide further historical information on the area, including Casco Bay and Cape Elizabeth. The combination of these three markers provide a profound and wide view of the entire area.
On the Looking East Marker, visitors can learn about the history of the Ram Island Ledge Light, the Maine Lobster industry, the history and origin of Casco Bay, and the local wildlife, such as with the Sea Ducks.2
The Looking South Marker, in essence, focuses on the founding and significance of Cape Elizabeth, especially in terms of notable residents and the area’s acclaimed agricultural prowess. For example, Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, and John Ford all lived in or were born in Cape Elizabeth. Cabbage grown in the area was considered the best in the state, and in the late 1880s, a ton of this cabbage would cost $10 (that’s the same as $232 today).
Visitors can also learn about the great American artist Edward Hopper, the Lightship Service and the establishment of floating lighthouses since 1820, and local shipwrecks, such as the infamous Annie C. Maguire shipwreck.3