FREEPORT — First there came E. B. Mallet Jr. in the 1880’s, then L.L. Bean in the early 1900s. They were the two great entrepreneurs of Freeport who changed the town forever.
We decided recently to snowshoe up to the E.B. Mallet granite quarry adjacent to the Lower Mast Landing Road to check out one of the many businesses Mallet created in town.
Mallet was a favorite of a rich uncle who never had any children of his own, but had plenty of nieces and nephews. When his uncle died, Mallet thought he might inherit a bit of the vast fortune, maybe at best $20,000. Imagine his shock when he was told that his uncle had left him the majority of the estate: $700,000.
He started immediately reinvesting in Freeport, creating a large shoe factory, grist and sawmills, and housing for his many employees. He discovered a vast deposit of high-quality granite just south of where the green water tower near Bow Street Market sits today. Much of that granite was used in his various construction projects. It was such a high grade that it was used in crafting statues, ornaments and gravestones for locales as far away as Michigan and Wisconsin.
The abandoned Mallet Quarry today is part of a peaceful, 35-acre town-owned parcel protected by a conservation easement held by the Freeport Conservation Trust. The main trail through the property is a blue-blazed loop with a short spur leading up to the quarry, and another short spur leading up to the Mast Landing School on the north end of the property. The forest is a mixture of hardwoods and evergreens and open enough to allow much off trail exploring. The trail system is 1.5 miles long.
Park on the Lower Mast Landing Road a third of a mile south of Bow Street. You will see pink flagging tape on tree branches at the trail head, and a big snow-covered pile of wood chips. A short trail blazed in florescent green leads to the loop trail. If you follow the loop trail in a clockwise direction (the left fork) you will come to the quarry much sooner than you would taking the right fork.
There are many oddly shaped blocks of granite covered with mounds of snow on the floor of the quarry. The largest discarded block was 15 feet tall and marked with lines of drill holes where it had been cut from the quarry wall. Where two sides came together it looked like the gray bow of a huge ship bearing down on us. We felt like kayakers in front of the majestic Titanic.
Ground seepage had created rows of overhanging ice on the quarry walls. In the afternoon sunlight it was dazzling. The moist sheer walls glistened a wet silvery sheen. Each tongue of ice contained a different soft hue; milky white, gray, green, turquoise. The largest ice creation was a two-tiered staircase punctuated with 10 long icicles off to the side stretching down 8 feet to the powdery snow that had fallen off the ice and settled onto the talus slope below. Our imaginations ran wild, with ice creations looking like walrus tusks, others like whale baleen, and another like white organ pipes.
In one spot our snowshoes punched through a snow bridge between two boulders, exposing the dark snow-free reaches underneath the slanted rocks. The unmistakable aroma of a skunk wafted up, and we decided to move on from its winter lair with great haste.
Near the road the forest floor is flat, but as you approach the area of the quarry the terrain is steeper. The hillside east of the quarry is dotted with red pine. We were there in the late afternoon, and found ourselves often staring up into the bushy green tops of large white pine. The soft golden glow of fading sunlight captured in the treetops had a definite spring look to it, despite the encroaching evening chill seeping through the woods. We felt great joy in the magic of the melding and merging of the seasons.
We found many small shelf mushrooms clinging to trail-side trees throughout the preserve. A delicate cone of fresh snow covered each top, while the smooth bottoms of the mushrooms radiated a soft peach color, looking much like a bowl of orange sherbet.
The preserve, with its mixture of apple trees, birch, pin cherry, poplar, hemlock, and fir is an excellent birding locale. We saw plump robins flitting about the lowlands, and heard the unmistakable cry of pileated woodpeckers nearby. Chickadee songs mixed with nuthatch calls. Raucous blue jay and crow calls tried to outdo them all.
Since 1977 the Freeport Conservation Trust has protected 45 properties and 1,500 acres of land. See its website for preserve descriptions, directions, and printable maps.