July 25, 2013

In Freeport, one old house, many stories

A film documentarian unravels the shifting narrative around Freeport's Pote House, a family ancestor's home that has lodged itself into local legend.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT – To an 18th-century passer-by, the scene must have seemed surreal.

click image to enlarge

Film producer Frank Pote, who is undertaking a documentary about the Captain Greenfield Pote House, the oldest house in Freeport, talks about the project near the house Monday, July 15, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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A gravestone of Captain Greenfield Pote is set on the ground of a cemetery near the Captain Greenfield Pote House, the oldest house in Freeport. Photographed on Monday, July 15, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Behind teams of oxen straining in their yokes, hulking sections of clapboard walls and timber beams lay lashed and ready for their final climb. It was a house, divided into three sections for a journey that would become local legend.

More than two centuries ago, before the British colonies erupted in revolution, prominent merchant Capt. Greenfield Pote ordered his humble home moved from present-day Falmouth Foreside to a spit of pastureland on Wolfe's Neck in Freeport.

According to local lore, the captain, so vexed by a fine from British rulers for setting sail on the Sabbath, was said to have fled Falmouth in a fit of frustration, said Frank Pote, 60, a family descendant and Freeport resident who is producing a documentary about the house and the family.

"This move is an action of defiance, not just (men) in the square talking about it," said Frank Pote, a longtime television producer.

"I felt it was time to do something," he said. "It all needs to be documented, so why not start here?"

There is no doubt that one of Freeport's oldest houses has stories to share about the history of the region and the people who settled it. And Frank Pote's effort to uncover and document the history is being welcomed by fans of the house and local history.

But local historians and researchers are more skeptical about the attributed motivation for Greenfield Pote's move, and say the story is a prime example of the melding of historical fact with popular fiction.

Greenfield Pote was, in fact, fined in April of 1765. However, documents gathered from original land and property records show that evidence of the home in present-day Freeport did not appear until 1787, more than two decades later, according to researchers for the Freeport Historical Society.

"It looks more like (moving the house) was a slow fume rather than a sudden temper tantrum," said Ned Allen, collections manager at the Freeport Historical Society, who said skepticism of history's rosiest traditions is a healthy habit. "It's been one of those great stories of Freeport."

Original property records from the era show that Pote first built the home in 1761 in present-day Falmouth. Pote continued to live in the home after it was moved to present-day Freeport.

Pote, like other sea captains, would spend months at a time traveling to Europe and the Caribbean trading lumber, salt and other goods. When Freeport formally separated from what had been old North Yarmouth in 1789, he was among the original signatories of the town's founding documents, and served on the first elected governing body for the freshly minted municipality.

The Pote House has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970.

Remarkably, it looks much as it did after Greenfield Pote put the pieces together on Wolfe's Neck. There have been no major additions to the structure's footprint, and its long, sloping roof, marking it in the "saltbox" style, still points toward the glimmering Harraseeket, viewable from above the pasture, as it was years ago.

Ursula Baier, 84, who helped usher the property onto the historic registry, said the interior maintains much of its layout and features, including original woodwork and beams.

Some interior fireplaces have been covered over, and insulation and exterior coverings have been replaced or updated from the days when seaweed and eel skins were once used for weatherproofing. Clapboard siding and shake roofing have been replaced over the years, and some modifications have been made to accommodate electrical service and an oil-burning heating system.

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Film producer Frank Pote, who is undertaking a documentary about the Captain Greenfield Pote House, the oldest house in Freeport, talks about the project near the house on Monday July 15, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Film producer Frank Pote, who is undertaking a documentary about the Captain Greenfield Pote House, the oldest house in Freeport, examines a gravestone near the home Monday July 15, 2013.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

 


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