The Freeport Historical Society is based right downtown, an easy stop while shopping in the outlet center. Photos by Mary Ruoff

Freeport Historical Society makes it easy for visitors to the outlet mecca to learn about the seacoast community’s rich history, whether you want to take a break from shopping, combine it with historical tourism or bypass the stores altogether.

The organization is just a few doors down Main Street from outdoor and clothing retailer L.L. Bean’s flagship store and campus, which anchors the shopping destination north of Portland. Side-facing Harrington House (circa 1830), the society’s headquarters, looks out on a lawn with benches, garden beds and a brick walkway linking Main Street with free parking west of the thoroughfare (there’s more to the east).

A banner on the brick building’s façade touts “The Mast Landing,” the society’s current exhibit. Showing through Dec. 20, it tells the story of one of three maritime villages in Freeport’s Harraseeket Historic District along the wide, tidal river of the same name.

Harrington House is only open Tuesday through Friday, but even when it’s shuttered, visitors can steep themselves in local history. The organization has a saltwater farm preserve that’s open daily and has installed large placards about town that make up the Freeport Heritage Trail.

Perched above the Harraseeket estuary a few miles from downtown, tranquil Pettengill Farm (no facilities) has trails, woods, fields, orchards, gardens and a lovely shaded picnic spot overlooking the early 1800s saltbox farmhouse. Never updated with electricity, plumbing or central heating, the home has rare wall etchings of seafaring scenes upstairs. Though only open for events (see box), it’s fun (and fine) to peek in the windows. Pick up a self-guided farm tour at the society’s headquarters or download it from the website.

Placards all around town mark the Freeport Heritage Trail.

Also at the website is additional information about the Heritage Trail, including a downloadable map (click on “Tours”). Most sites are downtown or nearby in the village; several are outlying, including spots on Wolfe’s Neck near the state park of the same name.

Trail stops include the site of the 1756 Means Massacre, when Native Americans killed a farmer and his young son, injured the farmer’s wife, and captured her sister; Old Town Hall and the current one, a former school; and late 1800s employee housing built by a businessman whose ventures included shoemaking, once a major industry here.

Mast Landing, near Pettengill Farm, is a Heritage Trail stop. The hamlet’s name hails from its origins as a departure point for tall pines that England claimed for ship masts during Colonial times. Starting in the late 1700s, the Dennison family built the locale into a prosperous commercial center with shipbuilding, brickmaking, shops and mills. The family’s story is a major focus of the society’s current exhibit. Displays include Joseph and George Dennison’s 1821 militia drum – peer through a small hole to see the makers’ mark.

Another highlight: a scale model of Mast Landing’s impressive two-level, dam-powered mill as it looked prior to an 1861 fire. After taking in the exhibit, pick up a self-guided tour of the site and head to Mast Landing Audubon Sanctuary (off Upper Mast Landing Road). The locale looks vastly different than in old photographs enlarged for the exhibit. But you can still walk across the dam. A shaft in a rock is a remnant of the lower gristmill.

Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast and a contributor to Fodor’s “New England” travel guide. 

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