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Strong, a Mussul Unsquit village

A Legacy of Woods and Waters

"Fly Rod" Crosby

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Text By: Ben Godsoe

Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946) was not only a fly fisherwoman extraordinaire, but also Maine’s first Registered Guide and the first person to market Maine as a destination for early tourism. She lived in Phillips, wrote about and guided in the Rangeley region and is buried in the Strong Village Cemetery. Fly Rod attended large outdoor trade shows in Boston and New York, where she advocated for the Narrow Gauge Railroad as a means of accessing bountiful fishing and hunting grounds in the Western Maine mountains. She was a Porter, on her mother’s side, and is buried in the Porter lot. The Porter family has a prominent place in Strong’s history and played a central role in the town’s early development. Fly Rod Crosby left behind a legacy of conservation, equal opportunity and economic development for the people of the Maine woods. Today that legacy lives on in a memorial trail, active guides association and a region still home to some of Maine’s finest fishing and hunting.

Cornelia Thirza Crosby was born in Phillips November 10th, 1854 to Lemuel Crosby and Thirza Cottle Porter, both from Strong. She was preceded by a brother Ezekiel, nine years her senior. Soon after her birth her father contracted consumption (tuberculosis) and passed away. Ezekiel also took sick with tuberculosis and died in 1868 at the age of 23. Early on she was prescribed fresh air; as much time in the outdoors as possible. During a particularly bad spell Fly Rod was carried up to the foot of Mt Blue where she spent some time recovering. It was here that she caught her first “speckled beauty,” Crosby’s affectionate nickname for native brook trout, in Mt. Blue Stream.

Cornelia Crosby, Moosehead Lake, ca. 1895
Cornelia Crosby, Moosehead Lake, ca. 1895
Fly Rod fishing in front of Mt. Kineo along the shores of Moosehead Lake.Maine Historical Society

The pen name “Fly Rod” first was printed in the Phillips Phonograph. Fly Rod wrote columns describing fishing and hunting adventures in the Maine woods, primarily around the Rangeley Lakes Region. She wrote for the Lewiston Journal, Farmington Chronicle and the Maine Woodsman. Her playful accounts of summer trips describe the social aspects of fishing trips, gear used and fish harvested. Later on she would discuss in detail efforts to conserve natural resources for another generation of sports by placing bag limits on deer, salmon and trout as well as advocating for catch and release fishing tactics.

New York Sportsman's Show booth, 1897
New York Sportsman's Show booth, 1897
"Camp Oquossoc" displayed expert taxidermy and the latest sporting equipment from all over Maine. Phillips Historical Society

Crosby was an important contributor to the early tourism industry in the Maine woods. She was engaged by the Maine Central Railroad to help market the Rangeley Lakes as a popular destination for tourism. Fly Rod rarely directly referenced the Maine Central or narrow gauge railroad, instead she implied that people should use rail to access the wondrous, outdoor landscape described in various articles and publications. She attended many outdoor trade shows in Boston, New York and Philadelphia where she regaled visitors with stories about the Maine woods. A full size log cabin was erected as the center of the exhibit in 1895 and affectionately nicknamed “Camp Maine Central.” Lumber for the cabin was provided by Redington Lumber Company and there were exhibits of taxidermy, hunting and fishing gear from all over the state. Over the course of the next 10 years, Fly Rod would attend several such exhibits all over the northeast.