Montclair Historian Memorial Day Speech
018 Memorial Day tribute by Montclair Historian Michael Farrelly, marking Montclair's sesquicentennial.
At 6:00 in the morning, May 28, 1754, exactly 264 years ago today, a small band of about 40 Virginia militiamen and about a dozen Native Americans opened fire on a French scouting party, asleep in a glen, near what would later become Pittsburgh. Their leader, a young lieutenant colonel, named George Washington, had debated with his officers about whether they should attack, or not. Technically, France and England were not at war, but the French were building forts in the Ohio Valley. There was no doubt in young George's mind that they threatened his family and the way of life in his native colony. The battle was over in 15 minutes. Casualties were light: 1 Englishman and ten Frenchmen had been killed, including their commander, Ensign, Joseph de Jumonville. Although nobody knew it at the time, revenge for Jumonville's death sparked what became known as the Seven Years War in Europe, and the French and Indian War here in America. Yes! George Washington started the French and Indian War.
At 6:45 in the morning, exactly 100 years ago today, The 28th and 18th Regiments of the American First Division left their trenches to retake ground lost to the German Army in France. America had sent about 300,000 troops to France in late 1917 and early 1918. The Germans knew that The United States planned to send hundreds of thousands more. They moved 50 divisions from the Russian front while Russia was negotiating a surrender. That brought their numbers up to 192 divisions and 3 brigades; far superior to the combined forces of England, France, Canada and America. The German spring offensive that year was massive and brutal. The Allies, mostly England and France sustained huge losses. The commander of the 1st Division, Gen. Robert Lee Bullard, had no doubt that they were fighting for their lives and their way of life against a German machine. They had to disable the German observation posts in the hills to cripple the ongoing artillery barrages. They attacked! The Americans stood up to several counterattacks during the next couple of days. It was a success! The battle of Cantigny, as it was called, was the first major offensive undertaken by the United States in WWI.
49 years ago today troops from the 29 Regiment of 101st Airborne Division left the field after a grueling 10 day assault on the North Vietnamese command post on Dong Ap Bia (Ap Bia Mountain) near Laos. It was also known as Hill 937, or "Hamburger Hill". 72 Americans lost their lives. Once the North Vietnamese command post was dismantled the hill had no further strategic advantage. Not everyone agrees that our way of life was at stake. Some feared that Vietnam was a "domino" in a vast Communist plot to take over the world. The young men involved fought to save their fellow soldiers.
It is Memorial Day. We are gathered here to honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed everything to preserve our freedom and way of life. 2018 is the 150th anniversary of Montclair officially becoming an independent town in Essex County. I have been asked to touch upon our town's history. I see our history written in the names that adorn these monuments. As I look at these names I see the names of the families that made our town what it is.
I look up and see the name, Harold T Crane, son of Frank and Mary Crane. The Crane family was among the families who created Newark in 1666. The family was one of the first English families to settle here on the mountain when young people started moving away from the old homesteads in Newark. The Cranes were the first to build houses here.
Young Harold had just graduated from college and was working as an engineer in his father's firm when he was drafted and sent to France. He was killed in action in 1918. His body was sent back here and buried alongside his parents in Mt. Hebron Cemetery.
I see the name, Harry T Ackerman. There is not much in the records about Harry. Ackerman is the name of one of the families that moved into the Dutch end of town in the early days. A house where the Ackermans lived, still exists at 674 Grove St. John and Gertrude Ackerman lived there in the 1840s. John was the superintendent of the old, wood frame Mt. Hebron School. The original Mt. Hebron School was at the corner of Valley Road and Bellevue Ave.
The Cranes and other English families lived in the South end of town. The Ackermans and many Dutch families lived in the North end of town. They didn't intermingle much, but they coexisted happily. The Dutch were mostly farmers. The English were farmers too, but several industrious English businessmen built mills along Toney's Brook. The dividing line between the Dutch and the English was Watchung Ave. Watchung Ave. is still the dividing line between Montclair and Upper Montclair.
Montclair was part of Newark in the early days. In 1812 it became part of Bloomfield, named for Revolutionary war hero General Joseph Bloomfield, who became the fourth governor of New Jersey. The English and the Dutch lived in a section of Bloomfield known as West Bloomfield.
In 1857 the first railroad began operating. It brought factory owners and their families into the area. They started to buy up the old farms and build country villas for themselves. One of the newcomers was the Adams family. Washington Adams lived on Park St.; then on Orange Road. His son, Washington Irving Lincoln Adams, moved into his father's house; then built a grand brick house called "Irvingcroft" on Llewellyn Ave. Washington Irving Lincoln Adams took over a photographic equipment factory from his father. He then became president of a publishing company. Like most of the newcomers he volunteered for many things. In the early days there were no full time agencies. Everything was voluntary, the fire department, the police department. When World War I broke out he did his patriotic duty and served as a financial officer in the Quartermaster Corps.
His son, Briggs Adams, one of the names on the tall monument, also did his patriotic duty. He had just graduated from Harvard and was ready to follow his father into business when World War I broke out. He enlisted in the Army. He was killed in the vicious German offensive in March of 1918.
Another businessman who came to Montclair was Samuel Crump. Samuel and Anna Crump came to Montclair in the late 1870s. He built a new factory for his label printing business on a street that became Label Street. Their son, Samuel Jr., enlisted in the Army when World War I began in 1914. He resigned his commission, but enlisted again when the United States entered the War. He became a lieutenant in the 27th Division. He made the supreme sacrifice on September 29th 1918 in France.
The second railroad that was proposed in 1866 caused friction between the people of West Bloomfield and Bloomfield. The citizens of Bloomfield were perfectly happy with the railroad they had. They weren't interested in a new line that ran through West Bloomfield. On April 15, 1868 the New Jersey state legislature created an act that split West Bloomfield from Bloomfield. The new town was known as Montclair. That was 150 years ago.
The second railroad was a financial failure, but, failure to earn a profit didn't stop the two railroads from bringing in new people from all over. The Irish came to escape the famine of the 1830s and 1840s. They settled in the area near Washington Street, which became known as "Irishtown". They also settled in Frog Hollow.
I look up and see the name Joseph A (for Aloyisius) Synnott. His parents Joseph and Mary Synnott were born in Ireland. They lived a few blocks from Washington St.; then moved to South Fullerton. Their son, Joseph, went into the military early. He was in the Marines for 17 years. He was stationed in Panama. When World War I broke out he was promoted to lieutenant and sent to France. He was killed at Chateau Thierry in June of 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The next group to arrive in Montclair were African Americans who were escaping "Jim Crow" laws in the South. African Americans from Virginia, and the Carolinas arrived in the 1890s and early 1900s as part of the first wave of the "Great Migration". Julia Crews brought her son, Crawford, here from North Carolina.
When America became involved in the 1st World War, young Crawford enlisted in the New York National Guard and was sent overseas. At that time African Americans could only have menial, support jobs in the army. Crawford wanted to fight for the country he loved. He was allowed to fight with the French and took part in the major Meusse-Argonne offensive that crippled the German Army. He was killed in Romagne on Oct 1, 1918, shortly before the end of the war. His mother, Julia, made a pilgrimage to his grave in France, along with many other moms who visited their son's graves in 1929. There is an American Legion Post on Bloomfield Ave. named in his honor.
There are not many other African Americans named on these monuments. In World War II African Americans were relegated to support positions. Over a million African Americans served. A little more than 700 were killed in action. There were, however, black units that fought gallantly during the Great War. Several of the airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group, the famous "Tuskegee Airman", such as George Wanamaker, lived in Montclair and the surrounding area. George came back from the war, joined the Montclair Police Force and became a police lieutenant.
[There is one name that is not on these monuments, Oscar Kenny, son of Dr. John & Frieda Kenny, He was born in Alabama. He grew up in Montclair. His parents went back to Alabama in 1940. So he was living in Alabama at the time of his death. He was in training to become a pilot for the Tuskegee Airmen when he died in 1943. His parents moved back to Montclair in 1944.]
Theodore and Bessie Coppedge came up from North Carolina in the 1920s. Their nephew Venious, and his wife, Gertrude, lived on North Fullerton. Venious worked in a laundry on Walnut Street. Venious enlisted in the army during World War II. Lawrence Coppedge, one of the names on these monuments, was a Specialist 4th Class in the Army when he was killed in Pleiku Province, Vietnam in 1969.
The next group to arrive in Montclair were the Swedes. I once asked a descendant of these Swedes why so many of them left Sweden and came to Montclair. I was told point blank, "That you can't farm rocks!" There are several Swedish names on these monuments.
There was John A Nyman; Johan Adolph Nyman. He was killed in France on Oct 10. 1918. His body was brought back to the United States. His funeral was at the St. Eric's Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church on Glenridge Ave. The building is still there.
[Emil Harris Elmquist was wounded during the Amiens Offensive on Sept 7, 1918. He died from his wounds a few days later.]
Richard Lee Carlson's great-grandparents were born in Sweden. His grandparents came to Montclair around 1900. His father, Charles, married a descendant of one of the old Dutch families, Dorothy Van Gieson. Richard joined the Marines. Marine Corporal Richard Lee Carlson was killed in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam in 1967.
There were many fine builders among the Swedes. Many of the buildings standing in town today were built by Swedish contractors.
Then the Italians came. They came to America to escape the Italians Wars of Unification. They came to Montclair because there were jobs digging up the streets and laying sewer pipes. There are many Italian names on these monuments. I will mention a couple:
Vito Maffucci was born in Italy. He arrived in Montclair in 1889. His wife, Maria, came several years later, in 1896, with a number of children. They lived on Forest Street. Vincenzo Maffucci, one of the names on these monuments, arrived with his mom in 1896. Vito was a gardener. I suspect his son, Vincenzo, planned to follow in his father's footsteps, but World War I interfered with those plans. Private Vincenzo Maffucci was sent to France; where he was killed in 1918.
Giovanni and Louisa Russo came to Montclair in 1906. They lived on Monroe Place. Giovanni was a mason. Many of the Italians who came here were natural builders. Quite a few of their buildings still stand in the area around Mt. Carmel Church, and along Bloomfield Ave. It was a matter of course that their son, Vincent, would be a bricklayer, just like his dad. World War II came along. Vincent enlisted in the Army and became a 1st Lieutenant. He was killed trying to free his ancestral country from the grip of the Nazi Wehrmacht. He was killed in LaSpieza, Italy on March 26, 1944. American Legion Post 382 is named in his honor.
So Montclair evolved. It now welcomes people of all colors and nationalities. It is known for its diversity. A lot of people ask me if that means that we all agree with each other all the time. He..eh..Heck No! We rarely agree on anything! But we treat each other with respect. We work out our differences and get things done. We have created a special place; forward looking, but holding on to the good things from the past. I don't know how this works, but people everywhere just seem to know what Montclair is all about. You never have to have to explain Montclair to people. They just know! I like to tell people that it is close to New York. You can go into the city anytime, but you may never feel the need to. We have a lot right here.
And I would like to thank the Good Lord for all these courageous men and women, who fought and died for our right to live in a special place like Montclair.