LIBERTY TOOL CO. – LIBERTY, MAINE
There are many ways to get to Liberty, Maine, and that is why it takes so long. The 30-mile journey from coastal Rockland should take about 45 minutes, but when you leave the coastline and head inland, the bounty of the countryside and the infinite side roads are simply a temptation. It is too easy to forgo the direct route that your navigation system recommends and choose one of the more enticing side roads. And once you’ve made that first welcome detour it is like peeling an onion. It may be a bit more roundabout this way, but the scenery is worth it. In late winter you’ll also need to factor in the ubiquitous potholes and frost heaves that are incredibly unforgiving and require driving below the speed limit for intermittent stretches.
Along the way you may pass through the towns of Union, Freedom and Hope. Or countless others that are quiet and desolate and draw so little attention to themselves that you may not realize you’re passing through a town at all. It is typically a tall, steepled church or a small nondescript post office that betrays the town center.
Liberty, Maine is just such a town, only there are a couple things that set it apart. One is The Old Octagonal Post Office from 1870, which is hard to miss (and now on the national historical register - open on Saturdays in summer). The other is Liberty Tool Company, a large three-story building in the center of town.
Even on an empty Main Street in the middle of March it is clear this is the heart of the place. With a population of less than 1,000 and just a few commercial buildings, there is almost nothing else in Liberty to distract you from it. And once you’re inside, it is difficult to tear yourself away.
From the Liberty Tool website:
The Liberty Tool Company consists of a four-story balloon framed building built circa 1885. Until the Liberty Village General Store was constructed across the street in 1891 (it is six inches higher than the Liberty Tool Company), this building was the largest wooden structure between Belfast and Augusta. In the old days, Liberty was a main overnight stagecoach stop with a number of hotels, canneries, foundries and other enterprises. The Liberty Tool Co. building was a general store with a rooming house on the second floor and a dance hall on the third floor.
Today it is known for tools, specifically hand tools, and it is the largest second-hand tool store in New England. The first floor is simply overflowing with tools and hardware. Apparently they also likes to poke some fun: on a large wooden cabinet with 50-plus drawers, among the ordinary labeled drawers such as “Allen Wrenches” and “Door Hardware,” you’ll also find ones labeled “Left Handed Kanuter Pins,” “Peyote Buttons,” “Fig Newtons” and “Nuclear Waste.”
The second floor is more tools, but also books and more books. On the third floor—“Grandma’s Attic”—in addition to more tools you’ll also find antiques and curios, as well as a lending library. On a sunny day in July perhaps you’d be tempted to sit awhile and flip through one of the numerous titles available to you, but in mid-March with the outside temperature hovering at freezing, there is no incentive to stay too long in Grandma’s Attic as the inside temperature is also hovering at freezing. Despite the old adage that “heat rises,” that would not be the case at Liberty Tool. The oversized wood stove on the first floor does a wonderful job cranking out heat to about arm’s length, but from there the heat simply disappears like it does in all old buildings. Also, as the shopkeeper told me, all the metal tools do a great job of sucking up the heat so it can’t find its way upstairs.
There are few actual destinations among all these small towns in this interior piece of mid-coast Maine, but Liberty Tool is one worth finding, and if you’re anywhere remotely close the journey is absolutely worth making.
Guide note: Liberty Tool is located at 57 Main Street in Liberty, ME. Hours - Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00am-5:00pm; open at 7:30am on Saturdays; open by request on extreme cold weather days (call ahead).
* * *
Guide to the Northeast Brett Klein lives in Connecticut and works in New York, but prefers small town life and his home state of Maine. Any chance to get rural is a mental vacation. Follow Klein on Tumblr at The Coast is Clear. His curatorial collection of Americana, rural life, other artists and ephemera can be seen on Tumblr at Tons of Land.