Table of Contents:
A Brief History of Freeport, Maine
By Patricia Anderson
Peary’s Freeport ‘Archipelago’
By J. D. Davis
A Brief History of Freeport, Maine
By Patricia Anderson
The fourth of July has always been well celebrated in Freeport by a parade and speeches, and in 1889 the holiday also marked the one-hundredth anniversary of Freeport’s independence from North Yarmouth. For the occasion, Henry Koopman, native son, writer, and university librarian, read this poem:
Beloved town, with gladness we discern
How fortune smiles on thee at every turn.
And trust that all its present favor brings
Is but the promise of still goodlier things;
Yet on this day, the fullness of thy years
One word the poet brings not free from fears
Dear home town, let men ever call thee so;
Guard well the font from which thy virtues flow,
Only thy homes can rear thee manly sons
And daughters gentle, as thine earlier ones
Can bring thee love like ours from future men.
A land of Homes amid the storms to fall
No fear be thine if thou hast homes for all.
The poem is found in Three Centuries of Freeport, Maine, by Florence G. Thurston and Harmon S. Cross, which was published in 1940, and which gracefully weaves history and reminiscences together and puts into print those things everyone is sure will never be forgotten. That 1889 Fourth of July celebration, like all similar celebrations in Freeport to this day, followed a Main Street route with its focus in Freeport Village where Bow Street enters, and called Freeport Square or Freeport Corner.
When the new town of Freeport was “set off” from North Yarmouth in 1789, it finally had enough families to support its own church. Although settlement had begun in the late seventeenth century, the pace accelerated in the eighteenth century. Access from the Corner to Porter’s Landing was completed in 1770 when the County Road was built from the landing to the Androscoggin River in Durham along today’s Route 136. It was the sea and the character of this stretch of upper Casco Bay, with its deeply indented peninsulas that form the Harraseeket River that made continued settlement attractive. The sea was the highway until the coming of the railroad in 1849; today the sea is the playground as well as home to the local fishing industry. Where ships were once built at South Freeport there is today a flourishing marina; the 1830s fish packing plant has been replaced by Harraseeket Yacht Club.
The three villages which today form the National Register Harraseeket Historic District, Mast Landing, Porter’s Landing, and South Freeport, were for the first half of the nineteenth century self-contained. Timbers cut in the adjacent forests were shipped from Mast Landing at the head of tide of the Harraseeket River. Industries in this small village included a brickyard, a gristmill, a sawmill, and a fulling mill-all powered by the dammed-up stream that fed into the estuary. Salt hay was harvested from the marshes; there was modest manufacturing and woodworking; and there were both a store and a school. Upper Mast Landing Road that connects to present-day Route 1 shows on the eighteenth century Des Barres chart. Headstone carver Noah Pratt lived on nearby Pleasant Hill Road and made many of the early stone in several local cemeteries, carving his interesting portraiture-style stones. The Pettengill saltbox house, on its remaining 140 acres near Mast Landing, is on a true salt water farm. It is owned and cared for by Freeport Historical Society.
Porter’s Landing was the port for Freeport before the arrival of the railroad, and it served as goods conduit as far inland as the Androscoggin River in Durham. Seward Porter’s shipyard, established in 1782, was the site where the famous privateer Dash was launched during the War of 1812. She was built for speed on the coast run to the Caribbean islands. After extraordinary fortune privateering, she set out early in 1815 with three Porter sons and a crew of sixty and was lost with all hands in a gale. In another twenty years, the shipyard was acquired by Rufus Soule, a prolific shipbuilder; his last, the Daniel L. Choate, was launched in 1859. Like Mast Landing, this village had its own industries: a salt-work, a brickyard, and a crab meat factory; and it is also similar in retaining a grouping of Federal and Greek Revival-style dwellings with a cemetery which records names of local families.
The four shipyards in South Freeport, the largest of the villages, capitalized on the deep water, and attracted the necessary artisans and labor force. Fishing, canning, and farming contributed to the economy. The concentration of early to mid nineteenth century houses attest to the prosperity of the villages during this period. The last ship of this era was launched in 1880, with a brief revival of wooden boat building in World War I and World War II. The Casco Castle Hotel and Amusement Park, built 1903, was reached by a newly built trolley line and provided amusements and accommodations for day visitors and vacationers. The wooden hotel burned in 1914, but the stone tower remains a landmark.
Freeport Corner, at least until the coming of the railroad in 1849, was an inland village known as a farming and trading center. Its identity became fixed after the Civil War with the gradual introduction of manufacturing. However, as the architecture attests, there were stores and professional services, as well as many handsome dwellings from the early period. The Harrington House, owned by Freeport Historical Society, was built on Main Street of brick, ca. 1830 by a trader Enoch Harrington, who was in business with his father-in-law, Nathan Nye. Sea captain Josiah Mitchell acquired his father’s house on upper Main Street, built ca. 1804, nine years before his famous voyage on the Hornet in 1866. What began as a trip around the Horn to San Francisco became a tale of forty-three days survival in a long boat that traveled 4,000 miles to land on Hawaii.
Freeport retained the size and feel of a small town while turning out a great deal of manufactured goods during the 1870s and 1880s because much of the work was done at home. Shipments of material for men’s and boy’s clothing came from New York and Boston to be made into garments by women and girls. In the old Oxnard Block there were only twelve employees in the shop; the other eighty worked at home. Life, in fact, was sustained then as now by piecing together several jobs. Perhaps the most colorful examples of this model-and an important developer of nineteenth century Freeport-was E. B. Mallet. Because of a large inheritance, he left Pownal for Freeport where he bought land, built buildings, and developed sources for building materials in granite quarries, a saw mill, and a brickyard, as well as food production in a grist mill, energy in a coal yard, and consumer goods in a general store. The large shoe factory he built launched Freeport into an industry that persists, although in diminished form. His factory buildings were in turn occupied by companies such as A. W. Shaw, where the first telephone was installed in 1904. Mallet, not surprisingly, was given the right to develop the water district in 1891 when he laid 14,400 feet of pipe and installed eighteen hydrants. Mallet was the chairman of Freeport’s celebration of the centennial of Maine statehood in 1920 which included ball games, a free clambake, “pictures” and dancing at the Nordica Theater, and a lecture at the Baptist church by Capt. (later Admiral) Donald B. MacMillan, renowned arctic explorer and graduate of Freeport High School.
The man in charge of publicity for the centennial was Guy Bean, brother of L.L. Bean, and the outstanding entrepreneur of the generation after Mallet. L.L. and G.C. Bean ran the Walkover Shoe Store in the Davis Block, across Main Street from the future L.L. Bean’s. The design of the Maine Hunting Shoe by L.L. Bean set into motion his energetic and practical imagination. Bean was canny enough to understand the importance of the automobile and its effect on sportsmen and at the same time appreciate the possibilities of selling by catalogue. Bean first occupied the upper floors of the Warren Block, the site of the present retail store, before 1920. Many people will still remember getting into Bean’s by the way of an exterior stairway, even at midnight when the twenty-four-a-day policy began in 1951.
Freeport’s awareness of its history crystallized with the founding of the Freeport Historical Society in 1969. The completion of an inventory of historic structures in 1977 and again in 1997 led to the establishment of two National Register Historic Districts, one for part of Main Street and the other for the three historic villages. Many dwellings, churches, the B.H. Bartol Library, old schoolhouses, and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument visually memorialize the industrial era. The old railroad depot is gone, and the car barn and trolley tracks have disappeared as well as many historic houses. For these aspects of the past, the many local photographers and the “savers” who gave archival material to Freeport Historical Society must be appreciated.
PEARY’S FREEPORT ‘ARCHIPELAGO’
By J. D. Davis
Incorporating, with permission, excerpts from the
correspondence file of Admiral Robert E. Peary
in the George J. Mitchell Special Collections,
One hundred years ago -the sixth of April 1909-man first trod on the featureless ice and snow at what we consider the top of our world-the North Pole. This achievement, after years of planning and several unsuccessful attempts, was realized by an American Navy officer, Robert Edwin Peary, his African-American assistant Matthew A. Henson, and four stalwart Smith Sound Inuits: Ootah, Ooqueah, Seeglo, and Eginguah along with their dog teams.
This account, however, is not about that achievement but concerns an unrelated effort by Commander Peary that took place two years earlier in the spring and early summer of 1907. Prior to that year Peary had devoted nearly twenty years to Arctic exploration and had returned home the previous year, 1906, from a rigorous but unsuccessful attempt to reach the Pole.
His ship, the Roosevelt-specially built in Bucksport, Maine for navigating Arctic waters-was undergoing major repairs and improvements for what he knew might be his last assault on the Arctic and the Pole. This work would stretch into the summer of 1908 before Peary, his team, and the Roosevelt could again head northward. These intervening months were a busy time as Peary directed the work on the Roosevelt in a New York shipyard while managing occasional visits to his family on Eagle Island. Now in spare moments he pursued a new venture-buying islands in Casco Bay!