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Day Tripping In Peaceful Freedom

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 26, 2013





Freedom Village Store

Freedom Village Store

It must be cool to live in a village named Freedom.

That was my thought as I set out on a summer Sunday afternoon for the trek to rural Freedom, which borders the state of Maine.

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about Freedom. After all, it was a long drive from my home base in the Laconia area. It was the height of summer with very beautiful weather, which meant there could be oodles of traffic. However, I needed to get out and away for an afternoon and this seemed like a fortuitous story assignment. (I mentioned to The Laker’s editor at a springtime editorial meeting there was a neat little village store in Freedom and maybe it would make a good day trip subject.)

“Why not?” I asked myself. “Why not just get in the car and forget your worries about traffic and the long drive?” (Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly sure where Freedom village was located.)

I set out on Route 11 from Gilford and drove through Alton and Wolfeboro and on to Route 28 north/Center Street (in Wolfeboro) to Ossipee. At the traffic lights next to Hannaford shopping center in Ossipee, I turned left and headed on Route 16 north/White Mt. Highway. A few miles later, I took a right turn onto the Route 25E ramp and a right at the end of the ramp. After a five-mile drive through very pretty rural country, it was a left onto Route 153 N/Green Mountain Road.

Drive a few miles (you will see Bobby Sue’s Ice Cream on the right on this road) and then take a right onto Village Road. (I was deceived when driving Village Road because it appeared to be purely a country road that did not look as if it would lead to a village, but appearances in a rural area can be quite deceiving). Soon I took a left onto Elm Street and found myself in the charming Freedom Village.

By the time I reached Freedom, it was mid-afternoon and very quiet. “What a gorgeous little place,” I thought to myself.

Freedom is the epitome of a New England country village, with a town center lined with whitewashed, beautiful old homes. It is indeed a “blink and you miss it” village, but gorgeous enough to make up in appearance what it lacks in size.

The village church had finished Sunday services and only a few people were to be seen leaving and bidding friends farewell at the front door. Next to the church was the Freedom Town Hall, also closed up on a Sunday afternoon. All the activity was happening around the beautiful building across the street, the Freedom Village Store.

I truly felt as if I had stepped back 100 years or more when I saw and parked in front of the Freedom Village Store. It is architecturally a three-story structure with a Mansard roof and was built in approximately the 1870s. With a light cream paint job and darker trim, the store stands out well among the whitewashed village structures and has a decidedly Victorian architectural style.

This is the kind of place that has always been the hub of village life. It was to early villagers and rural farmers what a big supermarket or department store is to today’s shopper. At the store, one could get gossip, the latest world news, flour, sugar, supplies of all sorts … and for children, there was always penny candy.

When I stepped inside the store, I really did feel like a stranger passing through an 1800s tight-knit community general store. A friendly lady smiled at me from behind the counter and a group of local men and women sitting around a table enjoying coffee and conversation stopped their socializing and glanced at me with smiles of greeting. A very friendly Husky dog wagged his tail and approached to say hello from his napping area behind the counter.

The store had a lot to see and I began my browsing on the right side of the huge room where the work of local artisans and crafters was on display. There were baskets, candles, painted woodenware, and watercolors on display.

At the back of the store, light snacks, baked goods, ice cream, and coffee were for sale and visitors could sit inside or on the back deck where the picturesque Cold Brook dam rushes nearby.

Perhaps the group seated around a table had just left church or perhaps this was their daily or weekly gathering spot. Whatever brought them together, they were having a great time sipping coffee, talking about politics and local news and, from the sounds of their laughter, probably telling a good joke or two!

I browsed the displays of crafts and artwork (as a rug hooking enthusiast, I was happy to see some handmade hooked rugs and mats for sale) and finally made my way to introduce myself to the lady — and the Husky dog — standing behind the counter.

“We are open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she told me. “We are in our fourth year as a non-profit, volunteer-run general store.”

Previously, a businessperson had run the store and sold flowers and other items; but the store closed some time ago. Reopened in August 2009, the new business was the result of the efforts of a group of Freedom citizens who felt the village and its residents would benefit from having a central location where there could be an exchange of ideas, camaraderie, and socializing.

Elm Street is an ideal setting for the business, especially since the building had served as a general store in the past. The building’s owners, as part of the initial planning group, were very supportive of the idea and were eager to see their store space occupied.

It appears that the Freedom Village Store offers a bit of everything, just as general stores did in the distant past. The store offers a place for community events, artisan receptions, a meeting space, and a central location where local organizations can advertise activities and events. The store sells high-quality consigned goods, carefully chosen purchased merchandise, beverages, and food.

“We are a great swap shop,” the lady behind the counter laughed. “If you are looking for a sofa or table, you might find it here if someone has brought it in to donate or swap!”

After my visit to the Freedom store (which, by the way, is open year-round), I strolled through the village area and took some photos of the beautiful old buildings. I could feel any modern-day worries and stresses roll of my shoulders in the peace and quiet and beauty of the setting. One cannot help but slow down the pace when in a place where it is so quiet and tranquil that laughter and chatter from the church group floats over the air and a bird’s song is the only other sound.

I saw a pretty sign near a charming home, with the wording Freedom Gallery — Fine Art and Local Crafts, but noticed it was closed on Sundays. I made note of it and it will be a day tripping adventure for another day.

I decided to see if there was anything else of note in Freedom village and I drove on Elm Street to find, not far away, the town’s historic and very pretty bandstand, located on a rise. Nearby was the Freedom Historical Society.

The historical society building was founded in 1965. The society’s barn was built by volunteers in 1981 and houses a collection of farm tools, machinery, and vehicles that were in use before electricity or gasoline engines. A wonderful collection of old photographs, portraits, maps, and posters are displayed in the meeting room, which also has a growing lending library. In the society’s Allard House (acquired through a bequest of Margie Allard in 1977), there is Freedom memorabilia, mostly items donated by local residents. The furnishings generally reflect the late 19th century, when most of the village houses were built. There is an Estey parlor organ, period costumes, a tiny dollhouse, a surveyor’s compass, photographs, books, and many other unique items.

The historical society is a busy organization and I marveled at the energy and focus of the group that offers so many programs. Talks of a historical nature are presented all summer; still to come on the lineup is New Hampshire’s One-Room Rural Schools: The Romance and the Reality, presented by Steve Taylor on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. in Freedom Town Hall. Also offered on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. will be Genealogical Research and Family Histories presented by Diane F. Gravel. Preceding the talk with be the society’s annual membership meeting and pot-luck supper at 5:30 p.m.

The Masonic Hall in Freedom was constructed in 1830 as a church building. After the congregation found a new home, the local Masonic Temple purchased the building in 1926 and created a two-story space with a meeting hall on the second floor and a community gathering space and kitchen on the ground floor. The building has continued to be a central part of community life since then, and was recently added to the NH State Register of Historic Places.

After leaving the Freedom village area, I backtracked and just had to stop at my favorite ice cream spot, Bobby Sue’s. I first discovered the ice cream business some years ago when I spied their really neat and rustic little ice cream “shack” with wooden signs listing more ice cream flavors (all homemade) than I had ever seen in one place. They won me over with their Indian pudding Ice Cream, which I never had before trying it at Bobby Sue’s.

The owners of the ice cream shop built a new and enlarged space recently and it is a great place to visit for a truly homemade and oh-so-delicious ice cream.

Driving home as the sun was setting on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I realized how relaxed I was after my visit to lovely and historical Freedom village. “It really must be cool to live in Freedom,” I mused once again, with my head full of images of old-time buildings, the camaraderie of neighbors, and the step-back-in-time nature of Freedom NH.

Visit the Freedom Village Store at www.freedomvillagestore.org

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