Freeport is Maine’s best-known shopping destination, drawing millions every year to L.L. Bean and other retailers for bargains and fun. And while South Freeport offers watery access to these inland attractions, boat-owning visitors may want to consider the area’s aquatic diversions before venturing into Credit Card Land.
South Freeport sits on the northwest bank of the Harraseeket River, which flows into Broad Sound and Casco Bay. Boaters who choose to venture beyond the confines of the anchorage between Pound of Tea and Bartol islands in the Harraseeket will find a world of boating opportunities.
The area is ready-made for small sailboats, skiffs, dinghies, canoes and kayaks, and there’s a convenient launch ramp at Winslow Park and Campground, near the mouth of the Harraseeket. A second put-in for small vessels is next to Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster.
The harbor opens up just beyond Pound of Tea. Crowded with moored pleasure boats and a fair number of lobster-trap buoys, the Harraseeket is well protected and calm throughout much of the boating season.
Most of the moorings are owned and rented out by one of 3 facilities along the northwest shore: the Harraseeket Yacht Club, Strout’s Point Wharf Co. and Brewer South Freeport Marine. The last is easily the most active facility on the waterfront.
On the opposite side of the river is Wolfe’s Neck State Park. In 1969 this area of more than 200 acres was given to the state by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence M.C. Smith of Freeport. The park offers miles of easy hiking trails and camping and picnic facilities. There are no official landing spots or docks along the park’s riverside shoreline, which is bordered by expansive mudflats. If you choose to beach a small boat here at high tide, make sure you want to stay for a while. There is also a small gravel beach adjacent to deep water located on the Casco Bay side of the park where landing could be made in a dinghy or other small craft.
Freeport’s early history was focused primarily on shipbuilding and fishing.
Continuing north along the Harraseeket River gives boaters a glimpse into what the Freeport area looked like before the outlet invasion. However, playing the tides is essential. At low tide the river peters out to vast mudflats and a tiny trickle at the northeast end of the harbor. From midtide onward, however, a big channel on the east side of Bartol Island fills up and creates a nice piece of protected water for dinghy sailing and a fast-moving channel to points beyond.
Use an incoming tide to explore upriver. South Freeport changes rapidly from a busy harbor with cottages and facilities along the shore to a landscape of farms, homes on large chunks of acreage and fields. Where the river narrows and makes a sharp westward turn, you’ll find Pettengill Farm, a 140-acre, 19th-century preserve maintained by the Freeport Historical Society (FHS). A granite outcropping along the shore makes a convenient landing from which to access the farm.
According to FHS executive director Randall Thomas, Freeport’s early history was focused primarily on shipbuilding and fishing. In fact 150-foot barks, brigs and schooners were once built and launched along its banks. The settlers who built the Pettengills’ saltbox-style house in about 1810 were farmers who saw those saltmarshes as ready-made hay fields. They erected dikes to wall them off from the tides during harvest time.
Pushing farther upriver, the Harraseeket channel winds through the saltmarsh. The head of navigation is the 140-acre preserve known as Mast Landing Sanctuary. Maintained by the Audubon Society (www.maineaudubon.org), Mast Landing once served as the place where timber from Maine’s interior was brought for shaping into spars for ships. The preserve also contains the remains of hydro-mill and its associated dam. A brickyard, woodworking shop, grain-grinding operation, associated stores and warehouses all once huddled on the tiny mill stream that now flows freely into the Harraseeket estuary.