Portland is a rejuvenated city that combines modern and historic buildings and districts with a thoughtful sense of what makes the city unique and lends it character. Walking tour brochures, available at the convention and visitors bureau, guide the visitor to Portland landmarks, the historic sites and buildings in downtown Portland, and the Old Port Exchange, reconstructed after the fire in 1866 and given a facelift in the early 1990s. This charming Victorian-style area of shops, galleries, and restaurants features cobblestone streets and old-fashioned gas street lamps, all contained in about a twelve-block area.
Northeast of Monument Square along Congress Street, interesting sights include the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, and the Neal Dow Memorial. The Wadsworth-Longfellow House, the first brick house in Portland, was built in 1786 by General Peleg Wadsworth, grandfather of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow lived there during his childhood, and the house, which contains personal possessions of the Wadsworth and Longfellow families, has been restored to the 1850s period. The Neal Dow Memorial, a mansion built in 1829 for a prominent Maine politician, prohibitionist, and abolitionist, contains the Dow family's furniture, paintings, and china. Victoria Mansion, southeast of Monument Square, is an Italianate structure notable for its elaborate woodcarvings, trompe l'oeil walls and ceilings, stained glass, furnishings designed by noted interior designer Gustave Herter, and imported marble mantels. East of Monument Square is Portland Observatory, where flags were once flown to announce the return of ships; an excellent view of the harbor is available from its 86-foot tower. The beautifully landscaped Eastern and Western promenades at either end of the city offer views of Casco Bay's Calendar Islands and the mountains to the west. The actual number of Calendar Islands is disputed; they are so-called because an early explorer declared that the bay "had as many islands as there are days in the year."
Stroudwater Village, one of Portland's oldest neighborhoods, houses the remains of mills, canals, and homes dating back 250 years. In the center of the village is Tate House, built in 1755 by George Tate, ships' mast agent for the English navy and later for the Czar of Russia. The house retains many of its eighteenth-century furnishings and resembles
Portland is the state's cultural showplace. Portland Performing Arts Center showcases the Portland Stage Company, whose seven-production season extends from September through May. Considered Maine's premier professional theatre, their productions range from classic to new. Theatrical performances are also presented by the Mad Horse Theatre Company, which offers cutting-edge works at the Portland Performing Arts Center; Maine Children's Theatre; and Portland Lyric Theatre, which brings Broadway musicals to South Portland in a September to May season. Summer visitors are entertained by a variety of professional theatrical performances as well as musical and other entertainment.
Dance performances are scheduled by the Portland Ballet Company, which has a repertoire of more than 30 ballets ranging from classic to contemporary. Maine State Ballet, based in nearby Falmouth, also presents ballet in Portland.
The nationally acclaimed Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Toshiyuki Shimada, performs at Merrill Auditorium. The orchestra offers classical and pops concerts from October through April, plus "Independence Pops" concerts in July and "Magic of Christmas" concerts in December. The Portland Opera Repertory Theatre (PORT) performs grand opera in the city's Merrill Auditorium during summer and winter. The Portland Concert Association presents dance, opera, musical theater, jazz, and classical music throughout the year. The 1929 State Theatre offers a variety of music performances.
The Portland Museum of Art displays fine and decorative arts dating from the eighteenth century to the present. Featured are works by American artists such as Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Rockwell Kent, Marsden Hartley, Andrew Wyeth, and Hiram Powers, and by such European artists as Auguste Renoir, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt. An extensive glass collection features the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The museum's primary building, designed by I. M. Pei and Partners, strives to capture the quality of "portland light" for the benefit of the art displayed there. Its neighboring buildings are the McLellan House, which dates from 1801, and the L.D.M. Sweat Galleries, a 1911 Beaux Arts structure; both of these buildings display American paintings and decorative arts.
The Museum of African Culture, formerly the Museum of African Tribal Art, is the only museum in New England devoted exclusively to Sub-Saharan African tribal arts. The art and artifacts of its permanent collection total more than 1,500 items. The Institute of Contemporary Art, located on the campus of the Maine College of Art, showcases new trends in contemporary art. The Salt Gallery exhibit features student and professional work in documentary studies/photography. The Children's Museum of Maine offers participatory exhibits for children up to 10 years of age, including a farm, a grocery store, a car repair shop, and a vet clinic. Portland's smaller museums include the Fire Museum, showcasing antique fire-fighting equipment; Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum, which exhibits a parlor car, coaches, and locomotives, also offers 30-minute train rides along Casco Bay; the Portland Harbor Museum (formerly the Spring Point Museum) featuring local history and views of Portland Harbor; and the exhibits of the Maine Historical Society.
The Portland Flower Show, a four-day event held in March offering a taste of spring, is the largest flower show in northern New England. The show features landscaping displays, lectures, floral auctions, and food. Portland's visitors and residents enjoy summer sidewalk art shows, street festivals, and outdoor performances by puppeteers, clowns, comics, and musicians. The Old Port Festival, held in June, is Maine's largest one-day event. Held throughout the Port-land's waterfront district, it features performance and visual artists, concerts, food vendors, crafts, parades, and more. Other June celebrations include the Greek Heritage Festival and the L. L. Bean Paddle Sports Festival. Independence Day is celebrated during a Fourth of July Festival featuring a fireworks display. The Portland Festival of Nations, also in July, celebrates the city's ethnic diversity and features an international bazaar. Maine's largest gathering of performance and visual artists, writers, circus performers, crafts experts, and chefs occurs in mid-August during the Maine Festival in nearby Brunswick. Art on the Porch presents works by more than 30 artisans. The MS Regatta Harborfest, also held in August, is Maine's largest sailing race. A fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis, events include a Gala Charity Auction, and a weekend of activities that include sailboat, tugboat, and powerboat parades, a sailboat regatta, and a shore-side festival at the Maine State Pier in Portland. A variety of agricultural fairs are held in the region during the fall. The Christmas season is heralded by the Light Up Your Holidays tree-lighting ceremony in late November, featuring hayrides and caroling. The year culminates with Maine's official New Year's Eve celebration. Known as New Year's Portland, festivities include theatrical and musical performances of all kinds, plus indoor fireworks and special programs for children.
The American Hockey League's Portland Pirates entertain hockey fans at the 8,798-seat Cumberland County Civic Center from fall to spring. Hadlock Field is home to the Eastern League Double A baseball team, the Sea Dogs, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Cruise lines and helicopter charter services in Portland offer whale watching expeditions.
The Portland region is blessed with an abundance of coastline offering sandy beaches and opportunities for swimming, sailing, camping, whitewater rafting, fishing, and lobstering. The city boasts more than 100 miles of nature and walking trails, including a network of 10 miles of trails that line the bay. The Portland area has 11 professional golf courses and 124 tennis courts. The Portland Parks and Recreation Department maintains an extensive park system, including the Riverside Golf Course, Eastern Promenade, and Deering Oaks Park, designed by Olmsted. Many state parks and ski areas are located nearby.
Portland and its environs offer shopping opportunities of all descriptions. The centerpiece of Portland is the Old Port Exchange, where nineteenth-century buildings and warehouses have been restored and converted to a wide variety of specialty stores. The downtown area is a colorful mix of shops and restaurants in a Victorian setting; side streets leading to the bay contain small shops offering the interesting and unusual. The Maine Mall, located in South Portland, is the largest indoor shopping center in the state, with more than 140 stores. Freeport, 12 miles north of Portland, is home to L. L. Bean, the famous outdoor outfitter. Open 24 hours a day all year round, the store has been so successful that it has attracted more than 125 outlet stores to the area. The 30,000 square-foot Portland Public Market features more than 30 locally-owned businesses selling a wide range of fresh or preserved foods grown or produced in Maine. The city's Arts District, located a few blocks from the waterfront, is home to more than 50 galleries and spotlights Maine's premier artists.
As a tourist center and the home of a sophisticated populace, Portland boasts a wide variety of dining opportunities. The city purportedly has more restaurants per capita than any other city except San Francisco. Hundreds of Portland's restaurants offer traditional "Downeast" fare such as the famed Maine lobster, clams, mussels, and other fresh seafood, as well as ethnic and international specialties. Sidewalk cafes, where diners may enjoy the fresh sea air in a casual setting, are very popular in the city.
Visitor Information: Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland, 245 Commercial Street, Portland, ME 04101; telephone (207)772-5800. State Visitor Information; telephone (800)533-9595