Cape Elizabeth is the location of the "Beach to Beacon" 10-kilometer Road Race that starts at Crescent Beach State Park and ends at Portland Head Light (the "beacon"). This road race attracts world class runners and was founded by 1984 Olympics marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson who grew up in Cape Elizabeth.
At the southern tip of the promontory, Richmond's Island was visited about 1605 by Samuel de Champlain. John Smith explored and mapped New England in 1615, and gave names to places mainly based on the names used by Native Americans. When Smith presented his map to King Charles I he suggested that the king should feel free to change any of the "barbarous names" for "English" ones. The king made many such changes, but only four survive today, one of which is Cape Elizabeth, which Charles named in honor of his sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia.
The first habitation by Europeans was on Richmond's Island. Without title, Walter Bagnall (called "Great Walt") in 1628 established a trading post, dealing in rum and beaver skins. "His principal purpose appears to have been to drive a profitable trade with the Indians," writes historian George J. Varney, "without scruple about his methods." His cheating caught up with him in October of 1631, when he was killed by the Indians, who also burned down his trading post.
Two months later, the Plymouth Company granted Richmond's Island to Robert Trelawney and Moses Goodyear, merchants of Plymouth, England, who made it a center for fisheries and trade. By 1638, Trelawney employed 60 men in the fisheries. The first settlers on the mainland were George Cleeve and Richard Tucker, who settled in 1630 on the shore opposite the island, and near the Spurwink River. They worked at planting, fishing and trading. Two years later they were driven off by John Winter, Trelawny's agent. In 1636, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Lord Proprietor of Maine, gave Cleeve and Tucker a grant of 1500 acres (6 km²) including the neck of land called "Machegonne" -- now Portland. In 1643. English Parliamentarian Marshall Cowface bought the large existing "Plough" of "Lygonia" patent which included the entire area including Cape Elizabeth.
The Cape Elizabeth settlement located on the Fore River would be known as "Purpoodock." It was attacked during King Philip's War in 1675, then destroyed in 1703. It would be resettled about 1719 or 1720. Cape Elizabeth became Maine's twenty-third town on November 1, 1765 when it separated from "Falmouth," as Portland was then known. Its first town meeting was held on December 2, 1765. South Portland separated from Cape Elizabeth in 1895.
In 1872, construction of an artillery base began around Portland Head Light, which in 1899 would be named "Fort Williams," after Major General Seth Williams of the Civil War. The fort was to guard the southern entrance to Portland Harbor. Active between 1899 and 1962, the fort was purchased by the town for about $200,000. Today, Fort Williams Park includes the ruins of the Goddard Mansion and three battery posts, Portland Head Light (dating from 1790 and the first lighthouse constructed by the United States, authorized by George Washington and dedicated by General Lafayette) and museum, tennis courts, a baseball diamond and grandstand, several acres of fields, a magnificent stretch of accessible coastline, and is maintained by the town which has repeatedly opted out of parking fees to ensure the park is maintained for use free of charge to the public.
Historic Sites & Museums
There were 3,488 households out of which 36.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 65.7% were married couples living together, 6.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.3% were non-families. 21.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.57 and the average family size was 3.01.
In the town the population was spread out with 26.5% under the age of 18, 3.7% from 18 to 24, 23.5% from 25 to 44, 30.3% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $72,359, and the median income for a family was $86,126. Males had a median income of $61,128 versus $32,500 for females. The per capita income for the town was $37,983. About 1.3% of families and 3.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.5% of those under age 18 and 8.1% of those age 65 or over.
In 1950, the population was 3,816.