Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946) was born in Phillips on November 10, 1854. As a recent account of her life is subtitled, she was “The Woman Who Marketed Maine.”
After her father died and then her brother, she lived with her mother until attending St. Catherine’s School, an Episcopal girls’ school in Augusta. After graduating, she returned to Phillips, worked as a bank clerk, participated in community affairs, and carefully tended to her uncertain health.
An early victim of technological change, Crosby began working in a telegraph office in November of 1882. After one of her many illnesses, she found by August 1882 the arrival of the telephone had rendered her old job obsolete! Thereafter, her career in journalism became a lifelong occupation and her reputation as an expert at catching fish grew annually.
Though known informally as “Fly Rod” a few years earlier, Crosby published under that title for the first time on July 19, 1889 in a weekly column on outdoor sports, primarily recounting her own fishing adventures.
Also employed by the Maine Central Railroad, Crosby was encouraged to write grandly of the scenic beauty of Western Maine, and of the great fishing opportunities. She noted later, in the words of her biographers, Hunter and Shettleworth, that “the strategy had been for her to promote the grand time to be had in the region rather than the railroad itself because anyone wanting to visit Western Maine would have to use the Maine Central Railroad system.”
In 1897, Crosby was employed by the Maine Sportsmen’s Fish and Game Association to increase membership to 1,000, and by Maine railroads to participate in the Third Annual Sportsmen’s Exposition. Simultaneously, a bill was working its way through the legislature to institute a Guide license and fee program. When it passed in March, she was given license number one, becoming the first licensed Maine Guide.
Over the years, the myth, some cultivated, some just exaggerated, grew along with her popularity. Though plagued by illness, in many ways she lived a very full life. Crosby died on November 11, 1946.
According to Hunter and Shettleworth,
Fly Rod Crosby had been a prime example of the right person in the right place at the right time. Her combined skills in fishing, hunting, writing, organizing, showmanship, and the quality of her personal charisma, put her in the best possible position to promote “Maine, the Play Ground of the Nation.”
Hunter and Shettleworth. Fly Rod Crosby: The Woman who Marketed Maine. Gardiner, Me. Tilbury House and Friends of the Maine State Museum. 2000.