Lincoln County News 2/9/2011
Whitefield Native Spots Link To Town In Super
By Lucy L. Martin
How many people watching the Chrysler/Eminem
commercial during Sunday's Super Bowl spotted a
connection to Whitefield, Maine?
Native son and retired schoolteacher David Chase was
one of the indisputable few. Or possibly he's in a
class by himself.
Chase maintains an online old-and-ongoing curiosity
shop of historical tidbits, scientific oddities,
profiles of local people, links to media sites,
recipes, weather information and much more at
In recent years he has developed a timeline of
Whitefield people and events, dating from
"prehistory" through the town's 1809 incorporation,
up to present times.
On Sunday, as cameras in the two-minute ad flowed
through a landscape of urban arterials and belching
smokestacks to downtown Detroit's historic financial
district, Chase recognized the brick and granite
fašade of the Penobscot Building - the original
13-story edifice, glimpsed in about one nanosecond
of footage, was built by Simon Jones Murphy, who was
born in Windsor in 1815 and grew up in Whitefield.
Having researched Murphy for his website timeline,
Chase learned he spent most of his childhood and
youth on the Hilton Road farm of his maternal
grandfather, Jonathan Jones.
He left home at age 18, walking to Bangor with a
friend. There he began logging on the Penobscot
River and eventually became a prosperous lumberman.
Just before the Civil War broke out, when he was in
his 40s, he moved his family to Detroit where he
formed a partnership to begin lumbering the vast
timber resources of Michigan's lower peninsula.
Murphy went on to become one of the country's
wealthiest businessmen and, as Chase writes in his
"Illustrated Timeline of Whitefield, Maine," "one of
our most famous."
In addition to lumbering, the Mainer built many of
early Detroit's important utility services,
including Murphy Icehouse, Murphy Power, and Murphy
Telegraph (later Bell Telephone). For the latter he
constructed the Murphy Telegraph Building in 1901.
He also had extensive real estate holdings and
served on boards of various corporations, including
banks, utilities and insurance companies.
Of the three buildings in what became known as the
Penobscot Complex or Penobscot Block, the
businessman, at age 88, undertook construction of
the first Penobscot Building, 13 stories high and
designed in the Beaux Arts architectural style.
Because he died in 1905 at age 90 before it was
finished, his son Charles oversaw its completion
The official Penobscot Building website states:
"Since 1905, the world of business has revolved
around Detroit's internationally recognized
landmark, the Penobscot Building."
A second building (the New Penobscot) was erected in
1914 by son William H. Murphy, another of Murphy
senior's 12 children. The third (the Greater
Penobscot), 47 stories and 566 feet tall, was also
built by William and the Simon J. Murphy Company in
1927-29. It was acclaimed as the world's
fourth-tallest building in the U.S. and the eighth
tallest in the world at the time. This structure
presently serves as the area's fiber-optic and
wireless communications hub in a district where
sports and entertainment also thrive.
The Greater Penobscot is described as rising "like a
sheer cliff for 30 stories, then has a series of
setbacks culminating in a red neon beacon tower."
Much of the design and sculpted-granite
ornamentation reflects Native American styled art,
and is named for the Penobscot nation and river
where Murphy earned his early livelihood and where
his prosperity began.
Murphy also owned a fruit farm in California and, in
the late 1800s, launched a family-owned lumber
company in northern California that harvested
On Tuesday, the online video service Hulu released
ratings of Super Bowl commercials. The Chrysler ad
made the top 10, with 78 percent viewer approval.