PORTLAND, Maine — It happens most clear days. As dusk approaches, people start wandering into Fort Sumner Park atop Munjoy Hill to watch the sun go down.
Dog walkers, parents with strollers and lovers, hand-in-hand, all appreciate the view. Cameras and phones come out. Kisses are exchanged. Mostly, folks stare west with their own silent thoughts.
From the grassy, 1.25-acre park on North Street, City Hall, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Back Cove, Interstate 295 and Kennedy Park are all visible. So is Maine Medical Center. On clear days, Mt. Washington appears in the distance. The peak is 100 miles from town.
In 2017, friends of the park banded together and halted a proposed condo that would have blocked the beloved view. They brought their fight to City Hall and the council voted unanimously to limit any development that would impede the panoramic lookout.
Sunset gawkers have come to the park to see the orb’s final, golden rays for almost a century. The city bought the land and created an official park in 1934. It’s namesake military installation, Fort Sumner, was originally built on the site in 1794. It kept watch over Back Cove while Fort Allen — which is now also a park — looked out over Portland Harbor. A trench system connected the two forts. It was named for then Massachusetts Gov. Increase Sumner.
The fort was abandoned after the War of 1812. In the 1820s it was the site of the city’s first gymnasium. Nothing of the fitness center or military installation remain. Soldiers no longer patrol the battlements, on the lookout for approaching enemies. Instead, Portlanders keep watch on the western sky as another day fades into a golden dusk.