Uncle Sumner

12 months ago

Sumner Whitney was born in Phillips, Maine, on March 5, 1809. He married Diana Bradstreet and together they had eight children, the first two born in New Brunswick and the third in Bridgewater. Only four of the eight lived to adulthood.  Around 1846, Sumner moved to Presque Isle.

He first bought the property on which the Presque Isle House Hotel sat, which is where the Northeastland is now.  When Dennis Fairbanks, founder of this community, left town in 1846, Whitney bought up his property, including the site of Fairbanks’ mill.  His holdings then basically consisted of all of the land on the east side of the stream from Allen to Academy streets and as far east as what is now Oak Street.  In addition, he also owned 30 acres of land on the west side of the stream.  One parcel was the Fairbanks homestead which sat roughly where the Presque Isle Opera House later sat, which is today the site of Progressive Realty on Main Street.

He furnished the lumber from the mill to build the wooden bridge across the stream on State Street (which Arthur Gould later turned into a concrete bridge).  He also donated the land where the Congregational Church is today, and land for the first municipal building.

Whitney established a school in the upper part of the saw mill for about 20 students around 1851.  This is thought to be the first school in the village.  The teacher was Miss Martha Lovering, who later married Dr. George Freeman.  Whitney later donated land on which the Academy Training School was built.

In looking for photographs of Whitney, none were found.  It is said the reason for this is that he was “conscious of his weight.”  In fact, his family nickname was allegedly “Tubs.”  Whitney was a member of The Pioneer Club, a self-named group of men who in 1915 believed themselves to be the last founding members of the area.  Although a photograph of the group was taken, he was not shown in the photo.

Like many men from that time period, Whitney held many jobs.  He was a farmer, philanthropist, mill man, shop keeper, hotel keeper and real estate mogul.  Civil War pension files indicate that he served in the Union Army.  In addition, he was also a charter member of the Trinity Lodge of Freemasons, No. 130.  Whitney served one term in the Maine State Senate.  According to another newspaper article, he was the only Democrat in the Senate at the time.    Adding to his impressive list of jobs, he was appointed postmaster on June 5, 1848.  

According to an article in the Jan. 28, 1909, Star Herald, his home with his wife, Diana, was a familiar social landmark in the community and the two were affectionately known by all as Uncle Sumner and Aunt Diana.  Many other articles appeared in local newspapers such as the Presque Isle Sunrise, Aroostook Herald, and the Loyal Sunrise for his businesses.  

The Presque Isle Historical Society has his small steamer trunk in its collections.  The inside is lined with very old newspapers from the 1820s.  It is easy to glean some of his political views from these newspapers as all were heavily advocating temperance.  

Uncle Sumner passed away on April 1, 1887, in Presque Isle.  He is interred in historic Fairmount Cemetery. 

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.