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Thrust out into the Atlantic like a fist of granite, the rocky headland of Cape Elizabeth is one of the most romantic locations in all of New England. It was here that artist Winslow Homer chose to spend his summer capturing the dynamic interplay of rock and wave in his many celebrated seascapes, and it was here that President George Washington chose to site one of America’s first lighthouses-the eminently photogenic Portland Head.
Now Routes 207 and 77 make a nice scenic detour around the Cape between Old Orchard Beach and Portland.
Portland Head Light
Tapering gracefully from the granite headland of Cape Elizabeth, the whitewashed conical tower of Portland Head Light is Maine’s oldest lighthouse and arguably its most picturesque (only Pemaquid Point, farther up the coast, can rival it).
Commissioned by George Washington in 1787 and completed in 1791, the rubblestone tower is one of four colonial-era lighthouses that has never been rebuilt. The tower has been in continuous operation ever since, literally rising and falling in prominence depending on the times (at one point in the late 1800s, it was shortened 20 feet, only to be raised again shortly thereafter). Now a remotely operated second-order Fresnel lens still guides shipping traffic into Portland.
Visitors can learn more about the light and see artifacts relating to its storied history at a small museum in the keeper’s house (1000 Shore Rd., 207/799-2661, www.portlandheadlight.com, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily late May–Oct.; weekends only mid-Apr.–late May and mid-Oct.–late Dec.,$2 adults, $1 children 6–18, free children under 6). The lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort William Park, home to a former military fort (since decommissioned), and now home to 90 acres of grassy fields and beachfront, with several tennis courts and playing fields.
South of Portland Head, the delicate Prout’s Neck trails into the sea in a jumble of rocks and surf, home to a hundred or so homes of sturdy Mainers. One of those homes was once the Winslow Homer Studio, the home where one of New England’s most famous artists lived off and on for 25 years. Homer is famed for his moody oil paintings that frequently chose their subjects from the surrounding drama of water and wave.
The house was acquired by the Portland Museum of Art in 2006, and the institution has been promising to restore it for visitors for years. Currently, however, the project remains on hold; check back with the museum (207/775-6148, www.portlandmuseum.org) for updates. Until then, guests will have to content themselves with ambling around the Neck by themselves, painting pictures in their own minds. Park at Scarborough Beach (Black Point Rd.) or stay at the Black Point Inn (below).
For flavors and sauces that take you straight back to Italy (even if you’ve never been there), take a tour through Anjon’s (521 US Route 1., Scarborough, 207/883-9562, 11:30:am–9 p.m. daily year-round). Low-key, it’s not-with wine cork-covered walls and a bar fresco of Venice—but thankfully then again, neither is the food. Take your choice of sausage gnocchi, veal piccata, or the homemade tiramisu, and you won’t be disappointed.
© Michael Blanding and Alexandra Hall from Moon New England, 2nd Edition