Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 27, 1976 · Page 80
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 80

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 27, 1976
Page 80
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Page 80 article text (OCR)

sg?.' mt I.Y ._ · - . . "i , f t i * ( « « £ » « * K _ out! The Whig Party have s l u n k into their dens, discomfited, disheartened and disgraced." Wailed the other paper, in reply: "The full complement of dirty work was performed by men who are so accustomed to it that they fail even to blush when detected." That same year, in New York City. 51,000 ballots were unblushingly cast, and counted, in an election" for which 41.000 were eligble to vote. Nor was it apparent-lie years later if any of the breakers and enterers blushed when detected inside the Watergate, an episode dismissed as a "caper" u n t i l its magnitude became known. The fact is. dirty work in American politics dates, literally, from the first contested presidential election to the last. Forget politics, other problems were growing apace in late 19th century America. By 1860 Morristown's Irish population had doubled. A recognizable slum began to take shape along the riverbank, the oldest section of town, a section known as the Hollow. Three, four, f i v e f a m i l i e s crowded into tenements, over blacksmith shops, behind stables. In the census of that year three new occupational categories appeared, a sure sign that the city. I he nation, had entered a new era. One was "servant." more than 100 of them in Morristown. all Irish. The other two were "gentleman" and "lady," w i t h o u t w h i c h , of course, there could be no servants, and vice versa. The new era of luxury' and ostentation, which Mark Twain would christen the Gilded Age. didn't get into full swing, however, until Mor- ·;£* Town green forms a centerpiece for Morrislown, A'../., tvith.ilnnding onslaught of high rise urban renewal. ristown's menfolk including, incidentally. Paul Revere's grandson returned from the Civil War. That horror behind them, they got right down to city business. The first decision they made was far-reaching. And wrong. In 1865 the town voted to incorporate. In an age of e x c l u s i v i t y they decided to exclude the area outside a 2.9-square-mile city tract from municipal services. After all. those s u b u r b a n f a r m l a n d s were sparsely populated, services costly, and the people--the earnestest rustics you ever beheld- hardly expected to add much to the city's lax coffers or. let's face it ladies and gentlemen, its cultural wealth. But who at the time could forsee the g r o w t h , the social e v o l u t i o n that would eventually require those suburbs to become their o%vn municipality. Morris Township, to supply the services denied them? »· Most Morristonians agreed with the local Whig paper, that by wrapping itself within a tidy boundary Morristown would "add beauty to t h e t o w n . . . i n c r e a s e b u s i ness. . .augment the value of property. . .make labor more productive." and. somehow, "cheapen the price of vegetables." I n s t e a d , spots of u g l i n e s s festered, business a c t i v i t y slowed, property values dropped and unemployment increased. The prices of vegetables today aren't noticeably cheaper either. It happened gradually, like the blight that felled the elms on the green, undetected until it was upon them. Today M o r r i s Township is a 16-square-mile sugar doughnut surrounding Morristown. Its tax base is broader, its homes fancier, its people wealthier. Some Morristoni- ans even regard their s u b u r b a n neighbors' attitude as -- exclusive. The Whig editor was right about one thing, though. If it was change he expected, he wasn't disappointed. A man named Stephen Vail had long since succeeded Jacob Ford as Morristown's iron tycoon. N o w , w i t h the ore deposits t h i n n i n g . Vail's Speedwell Iron Works shut down. It left Morristown without a dominant employer, a circumstance later generations would bless and other American cities would envy when their one big industry pulled out. or threatened to, rather than clean up the pollution. Indeed, not everybody in Morris- lown. even in that age of hell-for- leather industrial expansion, was sorry to see the Speedwell works close. It consisted of 11 f a c t o r y buildings, a foul odor, and ;i company-town housing colony for its employes. The scene had inspired one M o r r i s t o n i a n lo wrile in his diary in 1854 Iwo generations before the Sierra Club was born: "Oh! Immorlal Speedwell, what would we give to see thee relieved from thy Plutonian servitude and restored to thy nalural quietness and beauty. . ." Well, it has been so restored, and without coercion. Given a choice, Morristonians have generally opted for quietness and beauty. Because the plant was of more than passing historical interest, as the place where Samuel F. B. Morse wilh Vail's financing per- fecled his telegraph, it was kept as a museum. Where smokestacks once belched acrid fumes, visitors now picnic under shade trees. The company town is gone, too. Instead, nearby are two chic townhouse developments. They are named Olde Forge East and Olde Forge West. Natch. What replaced the Vail plant as Morrislown's dislinguishing fea- lure was an influx of millionaires. In the last half of the 19th century "pursuit of happiness" seemed to take on a meaning different from any J e f f e r s o n i a n ideal. In 1854 Washington Irving, describing "the great objecl of universal devotion throughoul our land," perceived a pursuil for which he coined a catchphrase: The Almighty Dollar. A m a s s e d d o l l a r s , h o w e v e r amassed, became the ticket to na- t i o n a l respectability and, often, m e m b e r s h i p in a closed society thai invenled Hie great American sport of upmanship. Its members followed one another to spots like Newport, Bar Harbor, Southampton, and spent fortunes out-lavishing their neighbors' "cottages." And some discovered the Blue Hills of Jersey. As the word got around, million- arie after millionaire built summer h o m e s -- m a n s i o n s -- i n Morristown's lovely valley and in time became permanent residenls. By the turn of Ihe century the New York Herald would call Morristown "the millionaire cily of the nation . . . the richest and least known colony of wealthy people in the world." Overstatement was a hallmark of the times, especially in discussing the envied rich, but the paper did list 60 families worth, in sum, more than half a billion dollars. Those gentlemen and ladies naturally needed gardeners, and crafts- men to build handsome rock walls around their eslates. Thus, inexorably, in a reshuffling of the pecking order repeated throughout the East, newly arrived I t a l i a n s replaced the Irish in Morristown's Hollow. The Irish, with their own church erected out of their meager purses, clustered around it on slightly higher ground in a section called, to this day, Little Dublin. The homes were larger, sturdier. Some had beer in the icebox, in the windows lace curtains. They were heady times, all right, the nation manifesting its destiny all over the place. In California, gold. In Tilusville, Pa., oil. From sea to shining sea a steel ribbon of rails, wiping out the frontier. And in Morristown, N.J., culture galore. A new M o r r i s t o w n L y c e u m opened in 1879 and chose as ils first debate topic, "Resolved: That National Wealth Tends to Exalt the N a t i o n a l Character." It sure spruced up M o r r i s t o w n ' s . One character-exalting party, tossed by Richard (life insurance) McCurdy, cost upwards of $75,000, much of it going to local tradesmen for the decor, such as a grapevine draped around the dance floor to dispense wine at the push of a bulton. Other necessities were imported. Thomas Nast, the cartoonist, hauled the entire 22nd Regimental Band from New York to play at a bash for his d a u g h t e r ' s Young Maidens' Cooking Assoc., and hired a caterer to do the cooking. A s w i n g i n g bachelor, Eugene Higgins, fetched from Broadway a group called the Floradora Sextet; before the shindig began he tooled around the green with the ladies Please turn to page "n CHARLESTON. W.VA. :} m

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