Jim Cram is executive director of the Freeport Historical Society, which has owned Pettengill Farm since 1975. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

FREEPORT — Jim Cram smiled as his pickup truck rolled down the dirt road toward Pettingill Farm on a recent morning.

“It’s just remarkable,” the Freeport Historical Society executive director said Sept. 27 as his eyes scanned the sun-lit field leading up to the old white farmhouse and slopes down to the Harraseeket River.

“You’re out here, and it’s exactly the way it was 200 years ago,” Cram said.

Pettingill Farm sits on 140 mostly undeveloped acres, which includes trails. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

There’s no telephone pole or wire stretching out there, no plumbing, no electricity. Definitely no WiFi.

The last person to live there, Millie Pettengill, “was living out here in her 80s with a well and an outhouse,” Cram said.

“It was your classic saltwater farm, where they originally harvested hay off the salt marsh. … That kind of subsistence farming was pretty tough.”

The home was built circa 1800 by Aaron Lufkin, a mariner from Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the saltbox style popular in his region. Charles Henry Pettengill purchased it in 1877 for his son, Wallace, and Wallace’s wife Adelaide, according to Freeport Historical Society.

It ultimately ended up in the hands of Wallace and Adelaide’s two surviving children, Frank and Millie, who spent the rest of their lives there. The unmarried duo worked the farm, caring for the animals, milking the cows, gardening and haying, and canning clams from the salt flats.

The circa 1800 house has remained almost the way Millie Pettengill left it when she moved out in 1970, after a lifetime lived there. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Frank died in 1960, and Millie remained in the house by herself until 1970, when at age 88 she moved out and spent her final decade in a nursing home.

Environmentalist Eleanor Houston Smith purchased the property and gave it to the Freeport Historical Society in 1975. Cram praised the foresight of Smith, and the historical society’s Sally Rand, to preserve the property from development. “Otherwise, there would be this big circular loop through here, and 25 very nice houses,” he said. “It wouldn’t be this.”

Still, the society had some work on its hands.

“When it was given to us, the place was just totally run down,” Cram said. “Scary run down. So ever since then, we’ve been finding the money to restore it and maintain it.”

The crumbling foundation was repaired, the fireplace was rebuilt, and the ceilings and windows were replaced.

And unwelcome intruders were eradicated.

“You know, $6,000 for powderpost beetles; it’s never-ending,” he said.

Maintaining the property costs about $5,000, not including any work that might need to be done on the house itself. Outside of some paint jobs and minor interior wall plastering, the house remains largely untouched.

Cram wouldn’t mind seeing some conservative improvements done, so long as they hold true to the house’s character.

“I would rather see this brought more to the way it was when Millie lived here, which wasn’t pristine plaster, but it wasn’t this, either,” Cram said, pointing to the strips peeling off the walls and ceilings. The sign reading “LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH” is there for a reason.

But some prefer it as-is.

“Sgraffiti” etchings, like this of the War of 1812 vessel USS Lawrence, line the house’s bedroom walls. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

“People have said, ‘the best thing you’ve done here is to do nothing,'” Cram said. “Is to maintain it, preserve it, keep doing the things that need to be done.”

The “sgraffiti” – pictures etched into the plaster – are a testament to that. Delicately-detailed drawings of 19th-century vessels, done by an unknown hand, line the upstairs walls.

Sgraffiti exists in a lot of places, but this is supposedly one of the greatest displays,” Cram said.

Former State Historian Earle Shettleworth said Sept. 27 that the house’s setting “evokes a really important theme in coastal Maine life in the 18th and early 19th centuries, which is the saltwater farm. The fact that you would have farming going on immediately adjacent to … coastal locations, and you would have families who were engaged in both farming and maritime pursuits at the same time.”

Freeport’s shipbuilding and seafaring culture is a significant aspect of its past, and “certainly this historic property really reflects those important historical themes in Freeport’s history,” Shettleworth said.

This sculpture along Flying Point Road in Freeport advertises the 44th annual Pettengill Farm Day, to be held Sunday, Oct. 6. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

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