The Patriarch of Maine's lighthouses marks the state's busiest harbor, boasting a combination of historic significance and beauty, which make it possibly the most visited, photographed and painted lighthouse in the United States. The setting particularly inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who found the tranquil beauty of the lighthouse well suited to writing poetry.
Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 18th century and Portland (known as Falmouth until 1786), had become one of the busiest ports in America by the late 1700s. There were no lighthouse in Maine when, in 1784, merchants petitioned the Massachusetts government for a light to mark the entrance to Portland Harbor. John Hancock was then governor of the Bay Colony and authorized construction. Delayed by insufficient funds, construction didn't begin until 1790 with the original plan for a 58-foot tower revised to 72 feet. President George Washington appointed the first keeper, Capt.Joseph Green leaf.
Repairs were made to the station in 1810, with an outdoor oil shed added. In 1813 a new lantern and system of lamps and reflectors designed by Winslow Lewis was installed; a new keeper's house was built in 1816. A fourth-order Fresnel lens replaced the lamps and reflectors in 1855 and a bell tower was added at that time.
The lighthouse is now owned by the town of Cape Elizabeth. The lighthouse is located on the grounds of Fort Williams State Park, which is open from sunrise to sunset daily. There is a museum and gifts shop at the lighthouse.