Portland Observatory

We were very excited when we got a call from Greater Portland Landmarks asking us to look at the Portland Observatory railing. Portland Observatory was built on Munjoy Hill in 1807 by Captain Lemuiel Moody as a communication station for Portland Harbor. Though the Observatory ceased being a signal tower in the 1920’s, it still stands as a museum and historic site, offering guided tours throughout the summer, and welcoming cruise ships into Portland Harbor.

Now, we weren’t only excited because of the view from the top:


View from the top of Portland Observatory

Nor were we only excited at the prospect of actually working indoors in February for a change. (although it did make the job very attractive!)   It was a challenge. The Observatory is seven stories of enclosed irregularly semi-curved  staircases, no two of which are alike. To fabricate a continuous railing for each staircase required a bit of thought.

We started by removing the existing wooden railing…very carefully. We needed the old railing to maintain its shape so that we could pattern our slope and curves from it.


Existing wood railing, removed

The existing mounts were left in place and reused to create as little disturbance as possible to the building.

The railings were made up of two pieces: a length of flat bar topped with half-round stock to create a period-appropriate profile that was comfortable in the hand. Each section essentially had to be made twice; the flat bar was formed to the pattern, and then the half-round cap was formed to the flat bar.


Bending the flat bar to the pattern

Because each railing was made in one long piece, some of the layout and transport became very interesting.


Two sections of railing loaded and ready to transport

It wasn’t until the job was complete that I realized that there was no way to take a picture of it. By the time you could frame one part of the curve, it went around a corner and you missed the three other curves and twists at the end.


Top of railing


Bottom of railing