Sometimes the places we think we know well, we really don’t. For decades we have driven along Portland’s Eastern Promenade, enjoying the views out over Casco Bay, sometimes stopping briefly at the circular drive by the Fort Allen Park gazebo to check out the flashing light of distant Portland Head Light.
Fort Allen was a hastily created earthworks designed to deter any British advance into Portland Harbor in 1814. The earthworks in this four-acre park are clearly visible today.
We recently visited one beautiful spring morning and, escaping the cocoon of the car, set out on an end-to-end walk of the Eastern Prom from the cannon retrieved from the battleship Maine, sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898, to the Charles Loring memorial near the East End Community School.
Not only is this two-mile round-trip walk absolutely beautiful, with its far-reaching views up and down Casco Bay and its vast array of flowering shrubs and magnificent trees, but the walk is thought provoking as well. Many memorials dot the green hillsides and shaded lanes along the road. After two hours of exploring we had a ton of questions and wanted to know more, from the founding of Portland to what happened at those far off places like Midway and Guadalcanal, where the men of the heavy cruiser Portland, whose mast stands vigilant over Fort Allen Park, served so gallantly.
Portland Harbor offers a different perspective on every visit. Will you see a gigantic oil tanker in port unloading at the South Portland pipeline? On our visit the magnificent red hull of the Kometick filled the horizon near Spring Point Ledge Light. The unique three-masted wooden schooner, Raw Faith, sat at anchor off the East End Beach. An American flag unfurled in a freshening breeze above the ramparts of Fort Gorges. The red, white and yellow Casco Bay Lines ferries shuttled back and forth between Peaks Island and Portland.
Scattered between the U.S.S. Portland memorial and the Loring memorial are many other memorials and tributes. Opposite Quebec Street, 30 yards down on the grass, you will find a cobblestone enclosure surrounded by short granite posts. Underneath the stones are buried 21 soldiers captured by the British at the Battle of Queenston Heights in Ontario during the War of 1812. On their return to Boston for prisoner exchange they died in a hospital in Portland. Eight of the graves are designated as unknowns. Have you ever heard of that battle, or know where Queenston is? We didn’t – and looked forward to doing a little “Googling” that evening.
Opposite the eastern end of Congress Street rises a 20-foot tall granite memorial within a black wrought iron circular fence. The words Machigonne, Casco, Falmouth, Portland adorn each of the four sides of the lower portion and represent the various names of the land (provinces) administered by George Cleeves in the early 1630s.
If you are looking for some tasty goodies to sustain the rest of your walk, venture up Congress Street a few blocks. Colucci’s Market captures the close-knit local flavor of Munjoy Hill, and had a great Wednesday lunch deal going – full turkey dinner for $5.99. Great aromas pulled us into the Rosemont Market for chocolate zucchini bread, and a large jar of gingered carrots for future enjoyment. The Hilltop Coffee shop occupies the other side of the building.
The shaded avenue of chestnut and maple trees along the Promenade is majestic. Paved sidewalks along both sides of the road lead out to the Loring memorial overlooking the B&M Baked Beans factory adjacent to Back Cove. A lone sycamore tree, with it distinctive camouflage-like scaly bark, and a few ash trees also line the sidewalks. Purple and white lilacs dot the hillside, along with some uniquely shaped cedar trees.
How wonderful had our walk been? After finishing up some in-town chores and appointments we stopped back again in the late afternoon for another hour of exploring. During early evening the alpenglow colors of the various hues of green leaves are stunning, as if you have left the earth behind and been transported to some magical emerald land. The air pulsates with the green of land and the blue of sea and sky.
More people dotted the hillsides than earlier in the day. Kids and parents gathered for evening ball games on the playing fields. The whole area radiated an end-of-day happiness and joy, and allowed us to enter and absorb the rejuvenating energy. The extraordinary yellow-green leaves of late spring rustled in the gentle breeze. Happy dogs tussled with panting owners. (Or maybe it was panting dogs tussling with happy owners?)
Lovers held hands, tai chi and yoga practitioners meditated on the hillside. Lobster boat engines throbbed far out toward Great Diamond Island. A beautiful white wooden hulled sailboat headed out under sail toward blue water – could it possibly have been the iconic Schooner Bowdoin of Arctic lore? Never again will we just be able to sit in the car and watch, we will have to get out and participate in the vibrant life cycle of Fort Allen Park and the Eastern Promenade.