Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

To seasoned travelers, Freeport conjures visions of pure-white sandy beaches crystal-clear waters, and bright azure skies above the Grand Bahama Island in the Caribbean. To others, it’s the coastal village known as the birthplace of the State of Maine because leaders met at the com­munity’s Jameson Tavern to plan the separation from Massachusetts in 1820. But nearly a century ago to an individual known only as Katie, Freeport, located in western Pennsylvania, seemed the place to be – or did it?

“We are doing the large city of Freeport. I think it will take a couple of months to see all,” she wrote to a Mr. R. H. Jacobs, of Troy Hill, an old German neighborhood atop one of the steepest hills in what is today Pittsburgh and what once was Allegheny City. Pittsburgh annexed Al­legheny City in 1907, the year before Katie visited Freeport, and her comments are most likely tongue-in-cheek. Freeport, tucked deep in the southwest pocket of Armstrong County, claimed less than two thousand residents while Pittsburgh counted more than a half-million.

Located twenty-eight miles north of Pittsburgh, on the west bank of the Al­legheny River at the confluence of Buffalo Creek, Freeport was laid out in 1796 by David and William Todd. Their tract was part of the Depreciation Lands, parcels of land given to veterans of the Revolutionary War as payment for their service, instead of severely depreciated currency. Early settlers originally called the village Toddstown (or Todd Town) in honor of the brothers, but David Todd insisted it should always be a free port for river traffic, which eventually led to official adoption of the name when the borough incorporated in 1833. Freeport grew slowly during its first three decades until the construction of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, an enor­mous public works project authorized in 1826 by the state legislature to link the state capital to Pittsburgh.

Work on the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal in Freeport began in 1827 and boats began plying the waterway within a year. The first packet, the Benjamin Franklin, which traveled regularly between Pittsburgh and Freeport, made its first run on February 6, 1827. Although river and canal traffic attracted settlers and businesses, Freeport’s popu­lation did not explode, as it had in other locations with similar attributes. Promi­nent ventures included the Freeport Planing Mill and the Buffalo Milling Company. A local landmark and a rem­nant of the region’s once-thriving milling industry, the Valley Mills, just north of the borough, was acquired in 1998 by the Freeport Area Historical Society. Also known as Mickey’s Mill and the Laneville Grist Mill, the Civil War-era building is located on Buffalo Creek, which empties into the Allegheny River at Freeport. Tours of the mill are given on the fourth Saturday of each month, from May through September, or by appointment.

To plan a visit, write: Freeport Area His­torical Society, P. 0. Box 107, Freeport, PA 16229; e-mail info@fahs-pa.org; or visit www.fahs-pa.org on the Web.