The Moosehead Historical Museum recently received two special collections of three-dimensional artifacts which will greatly expand our knowledge of an earlier time and local history. The first is an extensive collection of over 400 implements, supplies, medical tools,
books, ledgers, bags and equipment, which had belonged to pioneer physician, Dr. Fred J. Pritham. The second donation is a collection of miniature Native American baskets, as well as pin cushions, thimbles, scissor holder and baskets.
The Dr. Pritham collection is the largest single donation of material in our archives and collections relating to the pioneer physician made famous by Dorothy Clarke Wilson’s book, The Big-Little World of Doc Pritham. Dr. Pritham, known affectionately by many as “Doc Pritham,” was born in Freeport, Maine on July 8, 1880. On his father’s farm, both Fred and his older brother, Charles Henry, who was two years older had their very own cows to milk. Fred’s father had other ideas for his two sons other than taking care of the farm. He wanted them to learn a trade. His brother, Charles Henry Pritham, went on to graduate with honors from the University of Maine with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry. He developed new compounds used in igniting propellants for ammunition and invented a patented process for waterproofing shotshells.
Dr. Fred J. Pritham graduated from medical school in 1905. From there, his professional life took him to Greenville, and it was there he practiced medicine for over 65 years. “Doc” would ride on horseback and sometimes walk through the Maine wilderness to help lumberjacks, farmers, and anyone who needed help. On June 20, 1906, Dr. Pritham married Sarah “Sadie” Rose Ring, who had been one of his high school classmates at Freeport High School. Their marriage produced two sons, Carroll Frederick Pritham and Charles Howard Pritham.
Like his father, the younger brother Howard found himself drawn to a medical career and committed his life to it. Carroll chose a career in electrical engineering, but his career was cut short when he died in 1951.
Dr. Fred J. Pritham died November 9, 1972 and is buried in the Flying Point Cemetery in Freeport, not far from where he was born.
In her book about Dr. Pritham, Dorothy Clarke Wilson had this to say about the vast area of the North Woods he covered: “Doc Pritham is one of a fast-vanishing breed – the general practitioner, willing to go anywhere, at any time, to minister to anybody who needs him. He has traveled thousands of miles through the Maine wilderness on horseback and on foot; ridden cars, boats, planes, buggies, snowmobiles, lumber trucks, trains and railroad handcars; gone on skates and snowshoes; jumped trains; swum rivers; waded through mud and snow and slush; skated over thin ice; plunged with this car to the bottom of Moosehead – all to provide medical service to an area of some five thousand square miles.”
The late Nellie Morrell perhaps summed up Dr. Pritham’s personality best when she wrote this in the Moosehead Souvenir Booklet, published in 1976: “He dressed casually, always ready for whenever he was needed, in town or at a distant woods camp. He was not a sophisticated man but used common sense which in the long run seemed to be the best ingredient for his success.”
In 1955, Greenville honored “Doc” with a “Dr. Pritham Day,” and it is for him that Pritham Avenue was renamed from West Street (he lived just down the street from the current Greenville Junction Post Office). Morrell added, “How typical of him to turn down the chance to ride in the lead as honored guest, instead (he) marched with the band, as he usually did, having played in the town band for years.”
Miniature Native American baskets
The second collection recently received is composed of 43 miniature Native American baskets, as well as pincushions, thimbles, and scissor holder. Pending further research, we are not sure who wove the baskets, and additional research is needed to determine the provenance of the collection. However, we do know the artifacts came from a collection at one time belonging to Henry Perley, perhaps best known as Chief Henry Red Eagle.
It is possible items in the collection originated with Mary Newall Tomah of Churchill Lake. Mary Tomah was the grandmother of Henry Perley and was well known for her beautifully designed and woven baskets.
The smallest of the baskets is a one-inch thimble, and the largest is a pincushion three inches in diameter and two inches high. The scissor holder is two and one-half inches. Ed and Arlene Jewett donated the basket collection.
These are amazing collections and at least part will be on display at the Center for Moosehead history this summer. Thank you so much to the Watt and Jewett families for their kind and most generous donations.