Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Fort Williams - Cape Elizabeth
I was in South Portland yesterday for a haircut, so decided to head over to Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth when I was done, since I haven't been there in ages. Fort Williams is on Shore Road in Cape E. If you're not from the area, I will only add that Cape E is one of the most (if not the most) affluent communities in Maine, and Shore Road is indeed along the road, so I'll leave it to your imagination of what the houses along the way look like. Let's just say it's a drive I prefer to make as a passenger, so I can gawk sufficiently.
Anyway, Fort Williams was in fact a working fort through WWII. After that, most of the batteries were buried, but you can still see evidence of the military past throughout the park. The battery closest to Portland Headlight is now a terrific hill with the great winds for kite flying, an activity my family frequently did there when I was younger. (As a side note, that hill actually isn't that great for sledding. That prize goes to the hill along the entry road.)
The main reason most people end up in the park is Portland Headlight, which is in the picture above. It's the oldest commissioned light house in the country, commissioned by George Washington, blah, blah, blah. It is a really lovely lighthouse, and it guards a particularly nasty section of channel. (If you look to the right of the picture above, you can see the Ram Island light out on a ledge in the water. It's actually much closer than the picture would suggest, and shows just how nasty that channel is, and how much guidance ships require through there.) It's also clogged by tourists and tour buses all summer long.
The rest of the park is somewhat less crowded. It's classic rockbound coast of Maine scenery here, and there are walking paths along the coast, which are actually fairly navigable, considering the terrain.
I did have one disappointing discovery upon my arrival. The castle has been fenced off, and you can no longer go inside! (Ok, so it's not really a castle, it's a mansion that later functioned as the officer's club for the Fort, but I've been coming here all my life, so it's a castle in my mind...) When my mother first moved to Portland in the 70s, there was a still a second floor you can climb up to. By the time I was a kid, the second floor had been knocked down for safety reasons, but you could still walk inside the ruins. Sadly, that's no longer the case, and I was definitely disappointed to have to walk away without a turn through the mansion. This really was the closest thing to a ruined castle that I saw before finally going to Europe, and it has that kind of a presence in my mind.
Finally, two more entries in my random staircase gallery. The first is to a little stone pavilion near the parade ground that's currently used for picnics. The second is at the far side of the parade ground, and once led to a defunct pathway that quickly trails off into nothingness. There was actually another smaller staircase a little further up the hill, but it was so overgrown that I wasn't able to photograph it in such a way that the stairs would still appear. I can totally see them as a fairy path in a story that spring to life once a year on some special fairy festival day.