Edwin Ellis, M.D.

August 7, 2016

By Amorin Mello

Magazine of Western History Illustrated Volume IX No.1 Pages 12-17

Magazine of Western History Illustrated
November 1888
as republished in
Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, pages 21-24.

Edwin Ellis.

Portrait of Edwin Ellis, M.D. on page 20.

Portrait of Edwin Ellis, M.D. on page 20.

The subject of this sketch is a native of New England, and one of the “Oxford Bears,” having been in Peru, Oxford county, Maine, in 1824. His birthplace was on the banks of the Androscoggin river, among the mountains, a wild, romantic place. His ancestors came early from England to the Massachusetts colony, about the middle of the seventeenth century.

His maternal grandfather was in the Revolutionary army, and to the end of a long life was intensely patriotic and American in all his acts and thoughts. He bought one hundred and sixty acres of government land at the close of the War of the Revolution, on which he lived for more than seventy years, until his death. It still remains in the family. There were no roads in his neighborhood; and at first he was obliged to carry his corn and wheat to mill, for more than thirty miles, upon his shoulders and by a “spotted line.” He lived to break the ground for a railroad to his town and to see its completion.

Dr. Ellis received his early education in the New England common school, whose term was not more than three months in the year. At the age of fourteen years he began the study of Latin at home, going for occasional recitations to one of the celebrated Abbot family, who was a farmer in the town, some four miles distant. He was inclined to study the law, but his mother, who was a most conscientious woman, thought an honest lawyer could not live by his calling, often repeating to him this couplet –

“If I turn lawyer, I must lie and cheat,
For honest lawyers have no bread to eat.”

This had some influence upon him, and he chose the profession of medicine. He entered Waterville college (now Cobly university) in 1842, pursuing its first year’s course, when he began the study of medicine, teaching school in winter to raise money enough to pay his expenses, in which he was cheerfully assisted by his father to the extent of his means, which were very limited, he being a house carpenter and receiving the usual wages of those days of one dollar to one dollar and fifty cents per day.

Edwin Ellis graduated in medicine at the University of the city of New York, in March, 1846, being nearly twenty-two years of age. He at first settled at North New Portland, Maine. It was a frontier town, and the roads in such condition that he was obliged to travel on horseback, going sometimes forty miles in the night.

Portrait of Judge Daniel A. J. Baker ~ The Eye of the North-west, page 9.

Brother-in-law Daniel A. J. Baker
~ The Eye of the North-west, pg. 9.

At the end of a year he settled in Farmington, Maine, where he had studied his profession, where, in 1847, he was married to Sophia S. Davis, who lived less than two years, leaving a daughter, Sophia Augusta, who married George H. Kennedy, who now lives at Ashland.

Dr. Ellis married Martha B. Baker of New Sharon, Maine, in 1850, a woman who has been a faithful and efficient wife for almost forty years. By her he has three children – Domelia, married to George C. Loranger of Calumet, Michigan; Edwin H., bookkeeper in the First National Bank of Ashland, and J. Scott, engaged in wood and coal at Ashland.

Dr. Ellis continued the practice of his profession in Maine, till 1854, with an increasing practice and fair prospects.

“[Judge] Daniel A. J. Baker was born in 1822 in New Sharon, Maine; and died in Minneapolis, October 2, 1909.  He came to Minnesota in 1849, and taught at St. Paul, in 1850-51, the first public school in the territory, having 103 pupils in attendance.  After practicing law here three years, he joined with others in 1854 in pre-empting the site and founding the town of Superior, Wisconsin.”
Minnesota Historical Society Collections: Volume XV, page 832.

But the west was then attracting much attention and the tide of emigration flowing with a strong current. His wife’s brother, Judge Baker of St. Paul, and been for several years in St. Paul, and his representations and inducements led him to sever his pleasant relations with the east and try his fortunes in the west. He with his family, wife and two children, reached St. Paul early in May, 1854. That year he carried on a farm where Merriam park now is, but he was not at home in this business, and abandoned it in the fall of that year.

The years 1852 to 1857 were years of great speculation throughout the northwest. Towns and cities, at least on paper, were springing up with marvelous rapidity. Men became, or seemed to become, suddenly rich by the rapid rise of farming lands and city lots. It was an era of strange speculation, demoralizing in its effects and leading to the terrible panic of 1857.

Superior City preemption and speculation involved General Land Office frauds.
Augustus Hamilton Barber‘s activities in surveying and speculation of the Chequamegon Bay region for the General Land Office are detailed in the Joel Allen Barber Papers.

"In 1845 [Warren Lewis] was appointed Register of the United States Land Office at Dubuque. In 1853 he was appointed by President Pierce Surveyor-General for Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota and at the expiration of his term was reappointed by President Buchanan." ~ The Iowa Legislature

“In 1845 [Warren Lewis] was appointed Register of the United States Land Office at Dubuque. In 1853 he was appointed by President Pierce Surveyor-General for Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota and at the expiration of his term was reappointed by President Buchanan.”
~ The Iowa Legislature

A party of speculators had preëmpted the land where the city of Superior now is, in 1852, and as early as 1855 were selling shares in that rising city for fabulous prices. Chaquamegon bay, extending far inland from the Apostles’ islands, appeared, to thoughtful persons, to be a site for a town which would command the trade of a large area of country, then without an inhabitant. Thither he, in February, 1855, with one companion, came by trail from St. Paul. On his arrival he found two families already on the spot where Ashland now lies – Asaph Whittlesey and his father-in-law, Mr. Haskell, who came in the fall preceding; while Lusk, Prentice & Co. had a trading-post and were building a dock. Mr. Whittlesey, with whom were associated Martin Beaser and George Kilborn, were then laying out what is now Beaser’s Division of Ashland, which they claimed under the town site law. The township lines on the bay had been run, but no section lines. The land was not subject to entry or settlement; all were trespassers. But running from the township lines, the settlers were able to locate approximately the section lines, and built preëmption shanties for the purpose of holding the land till it should be subject to entry. In June, 1855, Dr. Ellis went through the woods to Dubuque, Iowa, to urge upon General Warner Lewis, then surveyor-general of all the northwest, the necessity of the immediate subdivision of the towns about the bay. This met with General Lewis’ approval, and he ordered it done as soon as arrangements could be made. A young civil engineer from Vermont, Augustus Barber, began the work in September, and towns 47 and 48, range 4, embracing the present city of Ashland, were surveyed and the plats returned to Washington and to the land office, at Superior, by November, 1855. The necessary declaratory statements were filed, and in the last of December several companions walked along the shore to Superior, for the purpose of proving up their claims. It was a cold, hard trip, but the actors were young and energetic. Thus was obtained from the government the first title to the soil on which Ashland now stands.

Ellis received his title from the General Land Office to 125.72 acres of land in Ashland on July 15th, 1858. ~ General Land Office Records

Ellis was issued his title to 125.72 acres of land in Ashland on July 15th, 1858.
~ General Land Office Records

Downtown St. Paul, 1857. ~ Minnesota Historical Society

Downtown in Saint Paul during the financial panic of 1857.
~ Minnesota Historical Society

Leonard Hemenway Wheeler ~ Unnamed Wisconsin by [????]

Leonard Hemenway Wheeler
~ Unnamed Wisconsin, by John Nelson Davidson, 1895.

Dr. Ellis brought his family by boat from St. Paul in the fall of 1855, going down the Mississippi river from St. Paul to Dubuque, thence to Chicago and thence by the lakes, reaching La Pointe November 4, and his log-cabin on the bay a day or two later. In conjunction with his associates in St. Paul, he entered upon a system of improvements for the purpose of building up a town where Ashland now is, such as cutting out streets, building a dock, steam saw-mill, etc. But the financial storm of 1857 came and overwhelmed him in what appeared to be hopeless bankruptcy. He had incurred debts in the improvements made and his associates could not meet the drafts they had authorized him to make upon them, but by the most rigid economy and untiring industry, he, after several years, succeeded in paying every claim. He remained in Ashland till 1861, when the War of the Rebellion coming on, the little hamlet of Ashland lost nearly all its inhabitants, and he felt compelled, in order to earn bread for his family, to leave the lake, and was preparing to do so when his staunch friend, the Rev. Leonard H. Wheeler, the missionary of the American board in charge of the Indian mission and boarding-school at Odonah, induced him to change his plans and go to Odonah and take charge of the boarding-school and farm at the mission. And here for several years he remained in this work, years which he recalls as the happiest of his life. Mr. Wheeler was a man of education and culture, a graduate of Middlebury and Andover seminary and most heartily devoted to his missionary work among the Indians. His wife was a refined and most amicable lady, and their home was indeed an oasis in the moral desert around them. In 1866 Mr. Wheeler’s failing health, and his desire to afford his children better educational advantages, induced him to retire from the mission work, and the American board suspended their work there. Dr. Ellis and family went to Ontonagon, Michigan, in 1866, where he resumed his profession and also opened a small drug store. Here he remained until 1872, when the proposed building of the Wisconsin Central railroad to Ashland induced his return to his old home. He had held on to his lands on the bay as a forlorn hope, doubtful whether they were worth the light taxes levied upon them. This land now became valuable and placed him in easy circumstances. He was able with Mr. Whittlesey, Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Fifield, Colonel Knight and others to induce the building of four trunk lines of railroads to Ashland, to see numerous manufactures, a great blast-furnace, etc., three great ore docks, a busy, bustling city upon the bay, from which he had been compelled to retreat with the feeling that everything had been lost.

Many of our readers are familiar with Ellis Avenue in Ashland, Wisconsin, named in honor of Edwin Ellis, M.D.

In 1877 he was appointed as county judge of Ashland county, by Governor Smith, to which he has been twice re-elected by his fellow-citizens. He is president of the First National Bank of Ashland. He has retired from the general practice of his profession, but is one of the surgeons of St. Joseph’s hospital, which he visits an hour each day. He is still active and deeply interested in all that concerns Ashland; has aided in securing the Holly system of water-works, the gas and electric works and the street railway. He is a firm believer in the Christian religion and in a personal God, whose guiding hand he recognizes in all the events of his life, and to whom he owes everything and to whom he desires to honor in all his journey of life, and is still alive to all efforts designed to improve and elevate the condition of his fellow-men.

Edwin Ellis, M.D., died in Ashland on May 3rd, 1903. This portrait and a posthumous biography of Dr. Ellis is available on pages 16-18 of Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region by J.H. Beers & Co., 1905.

Edwin Ellis, M.D., died in Ashland on May 3rd, 1903. This portrait and a posthumous biography of Dr. Ellis are available on pages 16-18 of Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region by J.H. Beers & Co., 1905.

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