Freeport's History: Living and Full of Vitality
Freeport, said by some to be the "Birthplace of Maine," has a rich and vital history, whether or not its claim to be the location where Maine's statehood was born is valid.
Most visitors and residents alike are familiar with the Bean family, or at least with Leon Leonwood Bean, who founded the empire that is now L.L. Bean, Inc. But Freeport's history goes back much farther, to 1789, just after the American Revolution, when the town of Freeport had grown to where it had enough families to support its own church, and so was separated from North Yarmouth and incorporated as its own town.
Freeport was home to a local fishing fleet, as well as a shipbuilding area. Farming and a growing number of local shops also formed the local economy in 19th century Freeport. The original owner of Brewster House, Jarvis A. Brewster, was an active member of the community during the latter part of that century, owning a small dry goods store (left) on Main Street, between the Congregational Church and Jameson Tavern, where a corner of the current L.L. Bean flagship store now stands. Brewster also served as a Selectman and as Treasurer for Freeport.
A somewhat older contemporary of Brewster, E. B. Mallett, Jr. (below right, for whom Mallett Drive is named; Mallett Drive is the road between Main Street and I-295 at Exit 22), was the entrepreneur who really kicked the Freeport economy into high gear. Mallett had inherited a fortune from a wealthy uncle, and used the funds to build a shoe factory in Freeport, employing 100 men. To this he added a brickyard, grist mill, saw mill and granite quarry, employing many more local workers. He also built homes in Freeport for his workers, some of which still stand along Depot Street.
In the early 1900's L.L. Bean and G.C. Bean ran the Walkover Shoe company, across Main Street from the present L.L. Bean stores. According to My Story by L.L. Bean (1960), frustrated with shoes that "were no good," he designed the boot that would become known as the Maine Hunting Shoe, and had it assembled. An interested customer bought and liked it, and the empire was born.
As My Story puts it, in 1911 the business was in the basement, with a three page catalog. By 1914 improvements to the shoe had been made, and L.L. Bean had "invented and patented numerous items that made the Maine Hunting Shoe unexcelled." By 1920 L.L. Bean was in a wood frame building at its present location, and has been open 24 hours per day since 1951.
This, too, is just the tip of the historical Freeport iceberg. Freeport's residents have included sea captains, arctic explorers, and more. For more of Freeport's history, visit the Freeport Historical Society. In addition to books and maps of historic Freeport, they are happy to answer questions, research old photographs and records, and will provide a walking tour you can take, so you can visit some of the sites. Works in progress are guided tours, ghost tours, and much more!
Information on E.B. Mallett, L.L. Bean, and Freeport history, courtesy of Freeport Historical Society.