Cottage Origins

Downeast Maine towns like Pembroke, populated by settlers of English and Scottish background, converted forest oaks and pines into sailing vessels. Intensely task-oriented and entrepreneurial, the Pembroke residents built an iron foundry and, in their seaside yards, more than 150 vessels that sailed the oceans. The character of these people and the success of their economy in the time of wooden ships ultimately produced Ross Cottage, now a reminder of days gone by.

Henry Ross in 1879

The story of Ross Cottage begins in tragedy, when Emelia (Willard) Ross, the young wife of entrepreneur Henry Butler Ross (1845-1911), died in childbirth in 1875 in Skowhegan. Heartbroken, yet in need of a mother for his young daughter Mary Ella, Henry came to St. Stephen, N.B. on the invitation of his brother Franklin to join him in the jewelry business there. A mutual acquaintance apprised Henry of a feisty, independent-minded young lady from Pembroke by the name of Lelia Bridges (1859-1943). They married at the Bridges home in West Pembroke on May 1, 1879. Twenty years later they acquired Ross Cottage.

Beyond her high spirits, Lelia Miranda Bridges represented two solid families in a prosperous town. Her father, Henry Styles Bridges (1827-1904), owned a general store. His great-grandfather Joseph, a Revolutionary soldier, had settled in Pembroke in the 1780s. Henry served as a selectman and justice of the peace. Lelia’s mother, Keziah (Wilbur) Bridges (1829-1923), was the daughter of Benjamin Wilbur, a farmer and itinerant Methodist preacher who also served as a selectman. The Bridgeses and Wilburs typified the people who raised Pembroke to its height in the 1870s.

Lelia Bridges in 1877

Lelia’s social standing appealed to Henry, who aspired to prominence in the St. Stephen-Calais border community. A descendant of Scottish immigrant David Ross who arrived in Penobscot Bay in 1820, he wanted to make his mark in business. His brother Franklin had moved in 1869 from Skowhegan to St. Stephen where he established the jewelry store. When Henry joined his brother they named the business Ross Bros. People freely crossed the border in those days, and the brothers opened a branch of the store in Calais in 1882. Henry and Lelia relocated to Calais from St. Stephen in 1889 or 1890. After Henry’s death in 1911, Lelia bought out brother Frank’s share of the Calais store.

Ross Bros. did well, thanks in part to Henry’s managerial skills and expertise as an engraver. More importantly, the store – and the border cities – owed their success to the white pines being stripped out of the woods, driven down the St. Croix River to sawmills in Baring, Upper Mills, and the two Milltowns, and loaded on schooners at Calais to be sailed down the coast to build homes in cities along the Atlantic Seaboard. A goodly share of the profit found its way into Ross Bros., the largest jewelry outlet east of Bangor. That won Henry Butler Ross the wealth and status he sought and enabled him to send his children to college. His obituary described him as “an upright, honorable man in all the relations of life.”

Keziah Wilburg Bridges and grandson Arthur Ross in 1914 Lelia bore Henry five children: Carl (1883-1950), Florence (1885-1964), Jessie (1889-1980), Ruth (1893-1993), and Arthur (1898-1971). Arthur, said the doctor who delivered him, appeared to be sickly. The doctor advised, in the British tradition, that a seaside cottage would help restore the boy’s vigor. Lelia’s family ties made Pembroke the logical choice. A search located a southeast-facing cove on Hersey Neck along East Bay that featured a wide red beach and a splendid spring. The land belonged to the heirs of Frederick C. King, a farmer who had worked as a cook on an oceangoing vessel. The farm took in most of the end of Hersey Neck. Coincidentally, it included land that Joseph Bridges, Lelia’s great-great-grandfather, had farmed in addition to his settlement across the bay on Birch Point.

Birch Point could be seen from the cottage. All the land across the bay and, for that matter, all of what is now Perry, Pembroke, and Dennysville once belonged to General Benjamin Lincoln. A Revolutionary War officer from Hingham, Mass., he allocated 100-acre parcels to Joseph Bridges and other veterans of his regiment on the condition that they settle and improve the land. He hoped to build a population to sustain his lumber business.

Henry bought the cottage property, a one-acre site, for $25. Ever the frugal Scotsman despite his ample means, he preferred not to have his cottage built from scratch. Instead he found a shoe shop going out of business in St. Stephen and purchased the building. According to family lore, in 1900 Henry had it loaded on a boat in two or three sections, taken to Pembroke, landed on his beach, and hauled up onto a perch twenty feet above the high tide line. Workmen added two second-story bedrooms projecting over the porch facing the bay and, later, a kitchen and storage shed on the lee side. .

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