Portland Observatory and Signal Tower - Portland, ME
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member YoSam.
N 43° 39.930 W 070° 14.897
19T E 399359 N 4835478
Quick Description: Signaling ships was the opening purpose, but weather data, visual observations of the sea and surrounding are were also available.
Location: Maine, United States
Date Posted: 3/16/2014 8:19:10 AM
Waymark Code: WMKBRD
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
Views: 3

Long Description:

County of site: Cumberland County
Location of marker: 138 Congress St., Munjoy Hill, inside Portland Observatory, Portland
Markers erected by: Greater Portland Landmarks

Marker Text:
In March 1807, Lemuel Moody bought one-half acre plot on the crest on Munjoy Hill from Enoch Jones of Bath, Maine. He planned to build "a marine lookout" to identify ships entering Portland harbor and to provide other useful information to ship owners and merchants. Such maritimes signal towers already existed in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and England. In order to raise capital, he founded the Portland Monument Ground Association and sold shares to investors.

While the purpose of the tower was immediately praised, its appearance was not. The local newspapers of the time coined the name "Brown Tower," with one writer complaining: "One cannot abide the brown Tower because it is not brick." As its importance to the city quickly became apparent, the tower was celebrated. According to Observatory historian John Moultron, the general view was that it was "pleasing to the eye for the same reason that a Grand Banks dory is: function and form are fortuitously joined."

While its design may resemble that of a lighthouse, the Observatory served an entirely different purpose. Its lantern housed the telescope used to sight incoming ships and its flagpoles displayed the signals flags to alert ship owners, mariners' families, and waterfront workers to prepare for the ship's arrival.

The Observatory stands over 85-feet tall from street level to the orb. The orb is 210-feet above sea level at mean high tide.

The tower is 32-feet in diameter at the base, tapering to 15-feet at the top. Each of the 8 sides slopes inward 7.7 degrees.

The interior lantern deck is 8-feet wide; the open deck around its perimeter is 3-fet wide.

There are 103 steps from street level to the top floor of the Observatory.

The foundation of the Observatory is above ground. The tower is held in place by 122 tons of stone rubble resting on a cradle of 14-inch square cross beams.

The Observatory served as a communications link between ship and shore. Captain Lemuel Moody, who manned the tower from its opening in 1807 until his death in 1846, devised a thorough -- and somewhat complicated -- signaling system using flags, balls, and pennants displayed in various combinations from two and later three staffs. He used the signals to communicate to the merchants on the wharves a mile away exactly which ships or types of ships were coming in and how far out they were. This allowed ship owners to secure wharf space and arrange for the workers needed to offload the cargo. Over 110 captains, owners, and companies paid yearly fees for this valuable service. Moody's system also included signals for shipwrecks, vessels requesting towboats, and battle ships.

Moody's powerful telescope had a magnification of 65 times, and on a clear day he could see vessels 30 miles out at sea. His notes of ships' distinguishing features, including type of ship, number of masts, figurehead, and ornamental carvings, allowed him to make accurate identifications.

Signaling continued from the Observatory from 1807 to 1923, when modern communications and navigational aids, such as the telegraph, rendered signal towers obsolete. The Portland Observatory is the last remaining maritime signal tower in the United States

Around the tower deck, on the compass points are markers for visual observations. Those marker texts:
WEST
Look down Congress Street and you will see the eastern Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the city, where Lemuel Moody and many of his family members are buried. Located adjacent to the cemetery is the North School (1867), which now serves as housing. The building stands at the corner of Congress and India Streets. These streets have been two of Portland's main corridors for over 200 years.
Further down Congress Street toward downtown Portland, you may spot the copper dome and gilded weathervane of City Hall (1909-1912) standing out on the city's skyline.

North/Northeast
Looking northeast, you will see the route that the Observatory's "sticks of fine timber" took as they floated down the Presumpscot River around Martin's Point to a landing spot at eh foot of Munjoy Hill.
You also will see Turkey's Bridge, which connects the Portland peninsula to Falmouth. There has been a bridge at this site since 1796.
Below on Congress Street, you will see the steeple of the St. Lawrence Congregational Church (1897). Although it is no longer used for religious purposes, efforts are underway to restore the historic landmarks as the St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center.

South/Southwest
Look to the southwest and you may see vessels bound for Portland Harbor. After passing by Portland Head Light (1791) in Cape Elizabeth, they continue through a narrow channel past Cushing Island and travel along the South Portland shoreline as the head toward Portland's Commercial Street wharves.
During Moody;s tenure atop the Observatory (1807-1846) he would have seen many types of sailing vessel, including clipper ships, early steam ships, and tug boats. Today you may spot huge oil tankers docking at the Portland Pipe Line or massive cargo and container ships heading for one of the harbor's many marine terminals. Lobster boats, fishing trawlers, and pleasure craft join the passenger ferries and cruise ships that make Portland their port-of-call.

Address and /or location:
138 Congress St., Munjoy Hill, inside Portland Observatory, Portland, ME 04101


Who put it there (Sponsor): Grater Poretland Landmarks

Date (Erected or Dediated): Unknown

Visit Instructions:
1) A new photo taken by you. Make it a quality one. You do not have to be in it, nor your hand held.
2) Some new insight to the history, and/or your personal experience finding the site.
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