PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Most people don’t look around the present and think about the past, so we sometimes forget about the people who have had an influential part on local or regional history.
A novel in its second printing is offering a look at life in Aroostook County from the turn of the 20th century through the 1970s as told by a man who was a major player in shaping both policy and places.
“Call Me Phin,” an autobiographical account of Castle Hill native Phineas F. Ellis, is in print again 33 years after it was first published. The story was written by Ellis, a devoted public servant whose career spanned six decades and included service in the Legislature, as Castle Hill’s first town manager and as the first administrator of Presque Isle’s A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital. The book includes historical recollections of people, places and events in The County and chronicles the life and experiences of the prominent central Aroostook County man.
“I really never thought I’d see this book printed again in my lifetime,” Elaine Ellis Hotham, Ellis’ daughter, said during an interview Wednesday. “My father died in 1976 and we got the book printed the next year. We had 1,000 copies printed back then and they sold out so quickly. People have asked us for more copies over the years but we just haven’t had them. But we recently decided it was time to pursue another printing.”
Hotham said friends of her father knew that he was writing a book and were eager to read it. The book was almost complete when he died, save for a final few chapters and some revisions, which Hotham finished for him. The first book was the size of a yearbook, but the newest version is much smaller and contains more modern font. The family has donated numerous copies of the books to area libraries, including the E. Perrin Edwards Library at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle. Dan Hotham, Elaine Hotham’s son and Ellis’ grandson, recently retired from NMCC after more than three decades as an instructor. Elaine Hotham said that her son Tim, who lives in North Carolina, also penned a foreword to the book about his grandfather’s legacy.
Ellis begins the book by talking about his childhood years and schooling and covers everything from teaching school to working on the family farm and becoming a state legislator.
Hotham said her father was the oldest of eight children and worked as a chore boy for a local doctor to earn his way through high school.
“He loved it,” she said. “He learned a lot from the doctor and thought a lot about going to medical school. He got so much medical training from him that people would approach him later on in his life for medical advice.”
Ellis put his medical knowledge to use during World War I when he served in the Army medical corps. Before the war, he was instrumental in starting the first U.S. Mail Line out of Ashland and helped deliver the mail.
Ellis also married and started a family, building a farm and working the land. He eventually got into politics and became the first town manager of Castle Hill and served as town manager of Mapleton as well.
“When he was town manager, he went above and beyond to help people,” Hotham recalled. “It was during that time that he became a member of the board of directors of the old hospital here, which was on Second Street. There was talk about building a new hospital, and my father was elected president of the board of trustees. He managed to secure Hill-Burton funds, and that money was matched with other grants and local funding to build the new hospital. He was always quite proud of that, and he became the first administrator of that hospital.”
Ellis served in the Legislature from 1935 to 1937 and again in 1947.
Aside from his own experiences, Phineas Ellis recounts stories about area lumber camps. “Call Me Phin” includes the account of how Ellis’ father, Jasper O. Ellis, saved the life of noted County businessman Samuel Wilson Collins after Collins fell into icy water. Sam Collins’ granddaughter Susan is now a U.S. senator.
A section is devoted to the story of the lynching of Jim Cullen — the only lynching in New England — which occurred in Presque Isle.
Dan Hotham said that his grandfather conducted significant research on the incident and was the first to lecture on the topic.
“He really became somewhat of a scholar on it,” he said Wednesday. “He had a chance to talk to the people who were actually there and really put a lot of work into researching it. He lectured on it a great deal.”
He added that the NMCC library has an Aroostook section, and he thinks his grandfather’s book will be a great addition to it.
“This book tells a lot about my grandfather and the mark he left on this area, and it also really captures what life was like in central Aroostook at the time,” he said. “We wanted to share it with a new generation. By donating the book to area libraries, our intention is to make it available to all people who want to learn about the past and be inspired by the story of a life well lived.”
The newly printed “Call Me Phin” is available at www.callmephin.com.