Artist's former Freeport home, gallery now an inn, cafe

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FREEPORT — While spending most of his career in construction and sales, Bill Hamlen never considered working in hospitality.

But it only took a real estate listing to provide inspiration.

The listing was for an 1840s farmhouse on 5 acres along Route 1, previously owned by painter Tom Crotty, who died in 2015. 

“I was looking for any place in Maine that called out to me,” Hamlen said. “And this just made sense … (but) I just kept thinking about how to make a living.”

Hamlen purchased the property in 2016 and turned Crotty’s home into an inn called The Orchard House and Cafe. Some of Crotty’s memorabilia is displayed throughout the inn, including his artwork and books from his personal collection. 

The location – 1159 U.S. Route 1 – is ideal, Hamlen said. 

“I needed to get out of the city,” he added. “I had been in Boston for 12 years and I don’t know if I would call myself a country boy, but I like to have acreage and feel like you’re in the country, while still having the common conveniences of a downtown and a Portland nearby.”

Hamlen grew up in Connecticut before moving to Boston, but said he’s been visiting family in Maine since he was a kid. 

“I kind of feel like I’m coming home,” he said. 

The five-bedroom, five-bathroom inn, complete with living and dining space for guests, opened for business in October 2017 with a staff of one.

“For the time being, it’s just me,” Hamlen said. This is doable, he added, because his apartment, where he lives with his 13-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, Belle, is connected to the inn on the second floor of Crotty’s old gallery. 

He will, however, hire staff once he’s finished converting Crotty’s Frost Gully Gallery into a coffee bar – which he expects to open in early 2019 – and later, a restaurant serving breakfast in the morning and pizza at night.

“My plan would be that hopefully, one or two entities of that would stay permanently,” Hamlen said. “If I find that pizza isn’t doing well based on the market up here, I’ll still have the breakfast. Maine people love breakfast.” 

But first, he plans to build a 40-space parking lot at the left-hand side of his property to accommodate guests and future patrons of his restaurant. 

Paying homage to the inn’s name, Hamlen will plant his own 12-tree apple orchard in the front yard for guests to enjoy after the snow clears. 

Business throughout the winter, Hamlen said, was sporadic, with many guests visiting from Europe. But he’s getting ready for what he expects to be a busy summer. 

“Freeport is a destination,” Hamlen said. “To be a little out of town and not in the hoopla of it is great.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Bill Hamlen with his dog, Belle, outside The Orchard House and Cafe on Route 1 in Freeport. He purchased the property, previously owned by painter Tom Crotty, in 2016 and opened for business last October. 

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