Freeport is more than just the Outlet Capital of Maine. It’s a town in Cumberland County, Maine, referred to as the Birthplace of the State of Maine. Meetings that eventually lead to Maine’s separation from Massachusetts in 1820 took place in Freeport’s Jameson Tavern. In 1940, the writers of Three Centuries of Freeport said the claim was invalid, but it remains widely popular, even on the state tourism site.
The town was once a part of North Yarmouth and originally called Harraseeket, after the Harraseeket River; settled about 1700, it was incorporated as Freeport in 1789. The town’s name is believed to be after the fictional London merchant, Sir Andrew Freeport, in The Spectator by Joseph Addison.
Freeport’s location at the head of tide on the Harraseeket River made it a center where timber was shipped for use as masts. The estuary was dammed providing water power for a gristmill, and sawmill , manufacturing and woodworking. South Freeport was the largest of the waterfront villages and had four shipyards. Other businesses included fishing, canning, and farming.
Freeport’s BIGGEST claim to fame, however, is that it’s the birthplace and now home of retail and mail order giant, L.L. Bean. In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean, an avid hunter and fisherman, developed a waterproof boot – the Bean Boot – that he sold to hunters. Bean prepared a 4-page mail order circular and set up a store in the basement of his brother's Freeport clothing store. The store quickly became popular and in 1951 it started 24 hours a day operation – in effect today at its Freeport retail store. Bean was also selling his boot through the mail-order catalog. When defects in the design led to a high return rate, he honored his money-back guarantee, corrected the design, and continued with sales.
The main streets were pretty empty the day Grenville and I visited, but we heard this is not the case in summertime.