Updated: Apr 27, 2021
"Axe-Handle Bolles" or Ellis R. Bolles as he was christened by his parents, was an inventor and blacksmith, famously known for his axe handles. The story of how Ellis got his nickname is debatable.
Ellis was born in 1867 to Solomon E. Bolles and Judith P. Ellis Bolles. His father was a blacksmith, their home located at Cedar Swamp Brook near the Mattapoisett/Rochester line. Not much is know about Ellis in his younger years, his history is documented starting when he was a teenager.
The Mattapoisett Museum has a typed paper on the anecdotes of Axehandle Bolles written by a family member.
"My cousin Axehandle was the stingiest, tightest old cuss that I, or anyone else, ever heard of. The stories about him are legend, some of them funny, some of them repulsively unbelievable. One time years ago when automobiles were apt to break down, one did just that on a country road in front of his house. My cousin Axehandle finally ambled out to where the driver was breathing hard under the hood. Axehandle asked if there was anything he could do to help; the man said he could use a certain kind of wrench. Axehandle went back to the barn and came back with the wrench and stayed right there watching the man work on the engine. Finally the repairs were done, the man slammed down the hood, and handed the wrench back with many thanks. “That’ll be a dime,” said Axehandle.
When he was young, Axehandle courted a girl who finally turned him down, which she later realized was the smartest thing she ever did. In due time she married somebody else, as did Axehandle. About a year after their respective marriages they met, “Well, Ellis, how do you like married life?”
“Don’t think much of it,” grunted Axehandle, “had a baby and it died, and it cost a lot of money to bury it.”
He was not only a homely man; he was unpleasant to look at; he was unpleasant when he talked to people, in his dealings with them. Yet he wanted to be pleasant.
When I was fresh out of graduate school and we were living at home due to the depression and I couldn’t get a job no place, Lem Dexter, the Town Meeting Moderator, appointed me to the Town Finance Committee. Lem, with his customary humor, always appointed Axehandle on it every year, for the Finance Committee’s job was to meet before Town Meeting each year, go through the articles of the warrant, and either recommend or not to recommend the appropriations asked for. Lem knew perfectly well that Axehandle wouldn’t vote for the Town’s spending a nickel for any purpose whatsoever, and that the meetings of the Finance Committee would thereby be made interesting.
Well, this year, along about the first week in January, Axehandle called me up, said he’d like to talk with me before the committee met, and would I come up. So I drove up one forenoon with the snow on the ground and found Axehandle in his suspenders sitting by the upright black parlor stove in his living room. He spent the next two hours proving to me tha none of the money asked for in any of the appropriations was really needed, and that they’d put the tax rate up so high we’d all go bankrupt, and trying to get my promise I’d vote against all of them. I’ve forgotten how we made out, but I was so young and green behind the ears that I probably agreed with everything he pushed at me. At any rate, he took quite a liking to me and pushing his chair back on his side of the stove, he got real chummy.
“You be married, ben’t yuh?” he asked.
I said I was.
“Well, why don’t you and your wife come up some night,” he went on; “we don’t go in for no fancy entertainin’, but we keep a good fire.”
The Mattapoisett Museum also has in it's possession, Axehandle's blacksmith forge which was dismantled at his mill site and restored brick by brick as originally constructed and can be seen in the museum's Carriage House.
Along with his forge, the museum also has Ellis' tracer lathe that he designed, built, and operated by himself and powered by waterwheel. This enabled him to make handles that were consistent in shape and size for hammers, hatchets, axes, sledge hammers, and wheel spokes.
Ellis passed away in 1955 at the age of 87.