Freeport, ME (FRE)
Best known for its numerous stores, boutiques and restaurants, Freeport is one of the most popular shopping destinations in eastern New England.
23 Depot Road
Freeport, ME 04032
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 11,382
- Facility Ownership: L.L. Bean
- Parking Lot Ownership: Town of Freeport
- Platform Ownership: Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), State of Maine
- Track Ownership: Maine Central Railroad Company/Springfield Terminal Railway Company
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Located just miles from the island-dotted waters of Casco Bay on Maine’s Southern Midcoast, Freeport is best known for the numerous stores, boutiques and restaurants that make it one of the most popular shopping destinations in eastern New England. The Amtrak stop, which opened for service on November 1, 2012, is located a few blocks east of Main Street and is adjacent to Freeport Village Station, a busy shopping center. It consists of an ADA compliant concrete platform with tactile edging. It also contains heating elements to minimize snow and ice build-up during the cold Maine winters. A simple gabled canopy shelters waiting passengers from inclement weather while bright lighting helps create a welcoming environment.
Across the street from the platform, the old Hose Tower building has been renovated to serve as a Transportation and Visitor Center. Freeport-based L. L. Bean, which owns the structure, leased the property to the city for $1 a year and also agreed to pay for improvements to the ground floor. The center includes a passenger waiting room, restrooms and a tourism office run by FreeportUSA where arriving passengers can obtain information about local attractions and shopping.
When the Downeaster Service was planned in the late 1990s, Freeport and Brunswick were envisioned as the two northern stops, but funding was only available to upgrade the tracks and build the platforms and stations between Boston and Portland, Maine. The extension northward was finally made possible through the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR) with funding distributed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo was on hand in Brunswick to kick-off the expansion project in August 2010.
The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA), which serves as the business manager for the Amtrak Downeaster, applied for the HSIPR grant in 2010 and was subsequently awarded $35.3 million, later supplemented with an additional $3 million. The state of Maine contributed approximately $3 million to the project. The funds were spent on the rehabilitation of 30 miles of track between Portland and Brunswick, as well as improvements to three dozen at-grade road crossings, wayside signals and culverts in the right-of-way. New platforms at Freeport and Brunswick were paid for by the state, and their design and construction were overseen by the Maine Department of Transportation.
On May 14, 2012, Joseph Szabo was again on hand, along with Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt and local officials, to dedicate the completion of the two platforms. After a ribbon cutting and remarks at each stop, a Downeaster trainset was opened to the public in Brunswick for tours.
Modern Freeport is composed of four historic villages: South Freeport, Porter’s Landing, Mast Landing and Freeport Corner. While the first three were located on the Harraseeket River that leads to Casco Bay, the latter was founded as an inland community and today forms the commercial heart of Freeport. Although the Maine coast had been settled in the 17th century by English colonists, Freeport was not officially established until 1789 when it separated from North Yarmouth to the south. That year, the community could finally count enough families to support its own church. Accounts vary, but it seems that the town’s name was chosen in recognition of the fact that its harbor remained free of ice during the winter.
Mast Landing drew its name from nearby stands of white pine favored by the British Navy for use as ship masts. Porter’s Landing served as the main port of Freeport Corner after a road was completed between the two villages in 1770. South Freeport boasted busy shipyards and became the largest of the villages due to its good deep water access. Unlike its maritime relatives, Freeport Corner was focused on agriculture and trade since it was located at a crossroads. Each community was basically self-contained, with grist and saw mills and other conveniences. The area—and all of modern Maine—remained under the control of Massachusetts until Maine was created in 1820 under an act signed by President James Monroe.
Ship building, fishing, canning and coastal trade dominated the local economy until the arrival of the railroad in 1849, which would most benefit Freeport Corner since it became a stop on the line between Portland and Kennebec. Over the ensuing decades, the inland village came to dominate the commercial interests of the town and transformed itself into a regional manufacturing center. The Kennebec and Portland Railroad, later reorganized as the Portland and Kennebec Railroad (P&K), completed a line between Portland and the state capital at Augusta in 1851. The Maine Central (MEC), chartered in 1856, would lease the P&K in 1870 and purchase the line four years later.
In acquiring the P&K, the MEC gained entry into Portland, a terminal for the important Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M), which by the end of the 19th century was the dominant railroad in the far Northeast. The MEC would reach the apogee of its influence around World War I, when its system stretched from Portland up to northeastern Maine and eastern Vermont and even across the border into southern Quebec.
Freeport’s first wood frame depot, sited at the crossing of the tracks and Bow Street, burned down in 1910 but was replaced the next year with a one story building capped with a double-hipped roof with dormers. Wide eaves supported by large brackets protected passengers from rain and snow. A projecting trackside bay with windows on all three sides allowed the station master to survey the tracks and monitor traffic on the line. By the middle of the century, federal funding priorities had shifted towards airlines and automobiles, and railroads struggled to compete. MEC passenger service ended in September 1960, and the fate of Freeport’s depot remained unclear until it was purchased by the Boothbay Railway Village Museum in 1964 and moved to its campus in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Today visitors can walk through the building to get an idea of the layout and activity of an early 20th century depot.
Referred to as the “Pine Tree Route” after the region’s dense forests, the MEC further opened the state to tourists who came to spend the summer in seaside cottages and resorts. In the 19th century, many railroads and trolley lines owned and operated resort hotels to encourage tourism and ridership. Freeport was part of this trend with the 1903 construction of Casco Castle.
Built of wood, the 100 room hotel was known for its soaring, crenellated stone tower, a beacon to tourists arriving from Portland by steamboat or on the trolleys of the Brunswick-Yarmouth Street Railway. A moat and suspension bridge added an air of fantasy to the main building, which in addition to hotel rooms contained a large dining room, ballroom, parlors for socializing and a bowling alley. Guests and day visitors were attracted by the rides and games, picnic grounds, lush formal gardens and a private zoo featuring monkeys, bison and even a peacock. On moonlit evenings, sailboats plied the waters of the Harraseeket River. Just as soon as it rose to popularity, Casco Castle fell out of fashion. Within a decade the resort closed and a devastating 1914 fire destroyed all but the stone tower. Today it remains a landmark for boaters coming in from Casco Bay.
Hay, potatoes and other crops continued to be important to Freeport Corner’s economy, but in the late 19th century it also gained a manufacturing sector centered on shoe production. The MEC, through its connection to the B&M, provided vital links to major regional markets. H.E. Davis Shoe Company opened in Freeport about 1881 and was soon joined by another shoe company owned by E. B. Mallet, Jr. Acclaimed as one of the town’s greatest benefactors, Mallet had inherited almost $1 million from his uncle. In addition to the shoe factory, which he rebuilt next to the railroad tracks in 1898, Mallet opened a granite quarry, grist mill, saw mill, brick yard, logging operation and other businesses. Many of the shoe factories remained in operation until the late 1960s when more than a dozen companies closed within a few years, thereby ending an important chapter in Freeport’s history.
The most famous businessman to come out of Freeport is probably Leon Leonwood Bean, whose initials, L.L. Bean, today represent an apparel and sporting goods company with annual sales of more than a billion dollars. An avid hunter, Bean hated when his feet got damp on trips through the woods. To solve this problem, in 1911 he designed a boot with a rubber bottom and leather body—the “Maine Hunting Shoe.”
With the success of this product, L.L. Bean was able to expand his product line, which he described to sportsmen through informative catalogs peppered with advice and recommendations. Within a few decades, shipments from the company warehouse kept the staff of the Freeport post office busy year round. Always committed to the customer, in 1951 L.L Bean opened his store to the buying public 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day. Today, a giant sculpture of the boot that launched a business is located outside the flagship store and is a popular background for tourists’ photos.
Natural areas also abound around Freeport, in part thanks to local conservationists Eleanor Houston and Lawrence M.C. Smith who donated hundreds of acres for public use. On a peninsula between the river and the bay, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park offers trails through white pine and hemlock forests and views towards Googins Island, famous for the ospreys that nest there. Near Mast Landing, the Audubon Sanctuary presents walks through a tidal marsh, apple orchard, fields and forests. Amateur archaeologists might notice the foundations of old saw, textile and grist mills that once lined Mill Stream, while birdwatchers are fascinated by the nesting woodcock, great blue heron, broad-winged hawk, hairy woodpecker and other birds that visit throughout the year. In winter, residents take advantage of the opportunity for cross-country skiing. Nearby, Pettengill Farm offers flower lovers the chance to luxuriate amid the vibrant colors and fragrances of wild roses, lilacs, dahlias, hollyhocks and other seasonal charmers. An 1810 saltbox house, typical of early vernacular architecture, features unique etchings of ships and sea creatures on its plaster walls.
Amtrak does not offer ticketing or baggage services at this facility, which is served by six daily trains. The Downeaster Service is financed primarily through funds made available by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
- 25 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 100 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- High Platform
- Quik Trak Kiosk