The Newsroom At 55 Park Place – Chapter 8 – Gilded Age Thwarts Morris (NJ) Jetport

                                              The Newsroom At 55 Park Place

                                                               By Don Storch


                                                       Books By Don Storch

                                              The Newsroom At 55 Park Place
                                                       Snakes in the Swamp
      If a Passive-Progressive Leads from behind he is a Double Oxymoron



            This book is dedicated to my Mom and Dad, mentors of an only child, with daily memories of loving gratefulness, Viola Pauline (Helmstatt) Storch (1910 – 1969) and George John Storch (1903-1969)

                                                                       And To:

                                                       Norman B. Tomlinson Jr

                                                                      Chapter 8

                                        Gilded Age Money, Influence Thwarted                                                                                       Planned Morris (NJ) Jetport

          In a bar at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico two men were having a late night libation.

            One was a reporter, who could handle his booze, the other a politician who may not have been able to do the same and was leaking a blockbuster of a story that would have a major impact on Morris County New Jersey and the area in which I covered.

            The reason for the two to be at this venue was the annual governor’s conference and it was being held in Puerto Rico for the first time.  The year was 1959.

            The next day the story broke in the State’s leading newspaper, The Newark Evening News, now defunct.

            The headlines screamed from newspapers and radio and TV stations across the New York metropolitan area, “Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Plan Jetport in Morris County.

            The Port Authority had been secretly developing plans to build a third major international airport in the Great Swamp of Morris County on an unspoiled expanse of marshland, forest, farmland amidst residents of suburban wealth.

            The jetport would be in addition to what was then Idlewild (now John F. Kennedy) International Airport, La Guardia and Newark International Airport.

            The new jetport would cover 10,000 acres, twice the size of JFK, cost $220 million and in the process destroy homes, schools, churches, businesses, a conservation area the likes of few others – and to say the least – a way of life that dated back to the Gilded Age.

            The Port Authority was run at the time by Austin Tobin and was known in this period of time as a well-oiled machine, in other words when it wanted to get something done it got its way.

            But this time it failed to take into account the lingering wealth of money and influence that was still hanging around the county from the Gilded Age and the “Street of 100 Millionaires.”

            The street’s name was Madison Avenue and it was very much a part of American history and consisted of the grace, elegance, extravagance, excitement and old-world opulence, all of which came to an end with the Great Depression of 1929, income tax, inheritance taxes and old age.

            Today, some 59 years later, there is still some evidence of what was in this bygone period of time on Madison Avenue and South Street leading into Morristown, New Jersey.

            However, when I arrived on the scene in 1957 there were still some members of that Gilded Age living on Madison Avenue and evidence in my reporting the role they played in defeating the Port of Authority (PA) and their plans for a third international jetport in Morris County.

            When the story first broke citizens groups were quick to organize to oppose the Port Authority (PA) from paving over the Great Swamp. The PA’s slick public relations operation flooded the communities with speeches and slide presentations.

            The Jersey Jetport Site Association was formed and shortly thereafter a small public relations firm from Newark was hired named, Fulling & Douglass.

            But a recluse from one of those major Gilded Age estates on Madison Avenue surfaced, a mover and shaker with influence and money, described in the New York Times, as an outstanding citizen, remembered above all for warmth and generosity of his person. His name, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Sr. he of Remington Arms Company and a member of the family of the Phelps-Dodge Corporation and he was married to Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, who’s name speaks for itself.

            When the two arrived on Madison Avenue they were said to be the wealthiest newlyweds in the county, she alone being worth $100 million, while the wealth on the street of estates was estimated to be $400 million, a lot of money for the times, and most likely to be in the billions today.

            My nights were filled with meetings, if not generated by the PA they were held by the citizens of opposition.  Petitions against the jetport flowed like roses from the borough of Madison known then as the Rose City for its proclivity to grow the flower.

            One evening I was covering a PA meeting at the M. Hartley Dodge Memorial municipal building in Madison a building donated in memory of the Dodge‘s son who lost his life in a taxi cab accident in France, the trip a gift from his parents following his graduation from Princeton – and there he was standing in the shadows of the darkness and light in the back of the room — M. Hartley Dodge Sr.

            He was seldom seen in public, it was a rare happening, but one of obvious significance.

            A few days later he made a dramatic appearance in the newsroom of the Daily Record at noon time.  The publisher and the editors were out to lunch and only a few reporters were present and he blurted out, “I’m M. Hartley Dodge, I don’t want to speak to any underlings, where is the publisher?  The statement was somewhat contrary to the Times’ quote of warmth. 

            Nevertheless, he was there to take out a full-page ad in opposition to the jetport.  He was accommodated.

            Dodge had a close relationship to the current president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in fact they both fished in the Great Swamp on the New Vernon side of the estate where Mr. Dodge was living apart from Geraldine who was living on the Giralda Farms side when in Madison.  However, she spent most of her time during this period in her Manhattan residence.

            There combined estates involved more than 1,000 acres and lay between New Vernon in Harding Township and Madison Ave in Madison extending from Chatham to Morristown.

            Dodge was instrumental in forming the Jersey Jetport Site Association and led the cause of purchasing properties within within the designated jetport area to assemble for donation to the government as a federal park.

            While I was out during the day time following jetport rigs and limos for test boring’s of the land and limos to hold holding meetings with authorities; Dodge and his millionaires were out buying up the land.

            Meanwhile the PA continued to hold meetings trying to convince local authorities and influential citizens the wisdom of their jetport cause for the good of the greater New York metropolitan area.

            Dodge became one of the first trustees of the North American Wildlife Foundation that completed the acquisition of enough of the Great Swamp to protect the massive natural resource.  Legislation championed by later Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, while a congressman from Arizona, was passed protecting the important natural resource.

            Meetings by the PA began to wane, in fact the last one held was covered by John Cavanaugh of the Newark News and myself.

           It was held on a Friday night at the Spring Brook Country Club, just outside of Morristown, not a night most reporters want to cover a meeting, especially one in which the content presented was heard hundreds of times and for which there was no longer a news value.

            But we had to cover it just in case someone said something that made a new story . . .  and the just in case happened.

            The presentation was given by Cornelius Lynch, an engineer from the PA.  He finished his one-hour presentation and he was now taking questions from the audience.  Neither reporter had any notes in our reporter’s notebooks.

            Then a question came from a knowledgeable member of the audience, perhaps an engineer himself.

            He started talking about the ‘Senator from Bergen’, an adjacent county to the East.  He noted that ‘the senator’ was particularly good friends with Austin Tobin, the Chairman of the PA, and that he was opposed to the jetport. And didn’t think it was a good idea.

            The audience member continued to prod and he was beginning to look like a plant.

            And it was then that Cornelius Lynch blurted out, “The Port of Authority could care less what the Senator from Bergen thinks.”

            I looked at John, he looked at me, we jotted the quote down in our pads and we both had the lead story and a byline for our Saturday papers.

            We didn’t hear from the PA again, or for that matter, Cornelius Lynch – but I never forgot his name.

            Dodge died on Christmas Day, December 25, 1963 at Giralda Farms in Madison.

            In 1964, now Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall officially declared the Great Swamp, government protected land.

            And, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was dedicated in 1968 and named the M. Hartley Dodge Wildlife Refuge.

            A leader along with members from the Gilded Age and their descendants did good. A County was saved along with an important national conservation area.

             A third metropolitan jetport was never built — and apparently not needed — not then nor now.

         To Be Continued . . . 

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