The day of the great event was drawing near – the 150th anniversary of the founding of Sussex County. Wednesday, September 2, 1903, was the day for the promised greatest celebration in the history of the county.
The day of the great event was drawing near – the 150th anniversary of the founding of Sussex County. Wednesday, September 2, 1903, was the day for the promised greatest celebration in the history of the county. The centenary in 1853 was considered the grandest ever held in the county, but pale in comparison to the 1903 event.
In the run-up to the event, all of the district’s weekly newspapers delivered extensive articles with two to three pages of text and engravings in the reports.
A team of 10, known as the Central Committee, planned and coordinated the 100th anniversary celebrations. The committee members have been very successful in their respective professions or occupations in local companies. The chairman was William W. Woodward, who ran a major hardware store on Main Street.
In preparation for this spectacular event, the committee had hired a team of professional decorators, led by Walter Pencoast of Newark, to arrive in the last week of August and put up patriotic flags, flags, shields and bezels on commercial and government buildings and private homes in the city . This was no small undertaking considering how many buildings there were to adorn and the heights that had to be reached in the larger buildings. By the time they were done, Spring Street was a sea of flags and patriotic heraldry.
The feast day began at 6 a.m. with the firing of 13 heavy artillery pieces north of downtown. Church bells all over town followed. At seven o’clock, spectators from across the county, including Counties Warren, Morris, and Passaic, poured in with lots of vehicles and horses. The visitors also came by trains that were put into operation especially for the increased demand. The Sussex Railroad, later renamed Delaware Lackawanna & Western, ran through Newton after interconnecting with other railways and brought thousands of people to the event. These people had to walk over a mile from the train station to get to the center of town where the main activity took place. In total, an estimated 12,000 people were in town for the celebration.
At 10 o’clock the march line for the parade had already formed, starting at the train station. The last train that arrived at 11 a.m. included the private car of the President of the Lackawanna Railroad, William Haynes Truesdell, the Governor Franklin Murphy, his staff, US Senator John Kean (1899-1911), US Senator John Fairfield Dryden (1902 -1907) and a number of other political dignitaries in the state government, including Newton MP Lewis S. Iliff. The dignitaries mounted all the carriages and were then placed in the marching line.
The New Jersey Herald noted the following sequence of procession for the grand parade:
Grand Marshal and Adjutants
(Col. John A. Wildrick, Col. EW Davis, Captain Theodore F. Northrup,
Col. E. A, Hamilton, Capt. Joel Wilson, James E. Cole, Gilbert
Martin, Rep. Lewis S. Iliff)
Newton Concert Band – 40 pieces
New Jersey Governor Franklin Murphy and staff in carriages
State officials, historians, speakers and officials of the General Events Committee
Civil War veterans
Centennial Survivors – 1853
District board of selected landowners and district officials
Chef Daniel L. Fisher and Asst. Chief Nathan H. Hart
Union Band of the Borough of Sussex
Chef Edward Fisher and Asst. Chief James E. Stanton
Sussex county fire department
Sussex Chemical Company
Hamburg Coronet Band
Kittatinny Hose Company
Newton Steamer Company
Newton Drum Corps
Newton Hose Company, No. 3
Sussex Juniors, No. 2 – 35 youths, led by Charles H. Watkins
The Herald also noted that the parade occupied 35 carriages with officials and guests. District officials included: Judge Henry C. Hunt, State Sen. Lewis J. Martin, County Clerk Ora C. Simpson, County Surrogate Jacob M. Demarest, Sheriff John C. Andress, County Collector Wm. E. Ross, Clerk of the Board of Chosen Freeholders Jacob L. Bunnell, Superintendent of Schools Ralph Decker, Fish Warden Jacob B. Hendershot, Poor House Stewart Simeon Cole, Court Crier David Couse, Coroners Dr. ES Dalrymple and Dr. JC Clark, District Doctor Dr. JC Price and Board of Chosen Freeholders with Director Emmet H. Bell.
The parade formed in the train stations, starting next to the people depot. From there the line of march ran down Diller Avenue to Spring Street and then along the entire length from Spring to Water Street at County Court House. The line then turned one block north on Water Street and turned right on Trinity Street. Two long blocks later, protesters headed straight to Union Place and then south to Madison Street, at which point they crossed Spring Street. They drove down Madison until they reached Halsted Street when they turned right again and headed west to Main Street. At the junction with Main Street, the parade turned right again and marched down Main Street until they came to Park Place and then turned left onto that street. If you walk down Park Place to the intersection with High Street, the parade will turn left on High Street and walk south on High Street to Liberty Street. At Liberty the column turned left and went down Liberty, crossed Main Street and pulled into Elm Street. On Elm, they drove to the intersection with Maple Avenue, turned right on Maple, and stayed on that street until it crossed Main Street. From there, the parade began its final leg, turning right on Main Street and walking a considerable distance north until it reached Park Place again, where the parade broke up. The parade participants had the opportunity to see a considerable amount of Newtons, for a total march of about two and three quarters of a mile.
AFTER THE PARADE – TALK
By the time the parade ended at three in the afternoon, a huge crowd had already gathered in the park in the middle of the city. It was time for the ‘platform exercises’. The Sussex Register noted that there was a large speaker’s platform that stretched almost the length of the park and was filled with spectators and invited guests. The center of the platform was reserved for political dignitaries, speakers and special invited guests. Some of these people were Governor Murphy, US Senator Kean, US Senator John F. Dryden, Judge George R. Gray, Congressman William Hughes. Ms. BB Edsall, widow of Benjamin B. Edsall, historian at the county’s centenary in 1853, had a place of honor before the speakers.
William W. Woodward, chairman of the general committee, called the huge gathering to order and introduced Theodore Simonson as the person who would preside over the day’s speakers. After five minutes of the opening speech, Rev. AB Richardson, pastor of First Methodist Church, offered the invocation. Next, Rev. James Northrup of Frankford read an ode written by Rev. George W. Lloyd of Branchville, the oldest pastor in the county. The ode was 28 stanzas long and it took about 10 minutes to recite.
The next speaker was Judge Francis J. Swayze, the historian of the Sesquicentennial. As he stepped onto the podium, Justice Swayze received great applause from the crowds in front of and around him. Its subject – The History of Sussex County. Swayze provided a considerable amount of detailed information during his one-hour and 20-minute presentation. He spoke about the settlement of the Minisink area and other early settlements, mineral resources, the county’s population and immigration, Indian trails, early mills and other industries important to the county, early counties and communities, the founding of the county seat, the courthouse and the first Meetings of the shareholders. Swayze went on to discuss the county’s American Revolution times, physical improvements to roads and bridges, improved agricultural practices, the County Armenhouse, the creation of Warren County, Civil War politics, and progress over the past 25 years, including some public benefactors.
At the end of Justice Swayze’s extensive comments, the crowd thanked him with a thunderous, sustained applause. The Newton Concert Band attended to the Hon. John S. Gibson of Newark was introduced. Gibson spoke for about 20 minutes about the hardships the county’s first settlers had suffered. Similar to Swayze, the audience thanked them with several minutes of applause.
The closing address was given by Governor Murphy, who thanked everyone directly for participating in this impressive display of patriotism and love for Sussex County. He said the turnout of residents of not only Newton but also the surrounding countryside reflected very well on the people of that county. His lecture lasted less than three minutes.
AFTER THE SPEECHES – FIREWORKS
Of the approximately 12,000 people who came to Newton and attended the one-day series of events, it is estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 people stayed in town to watch the fireworks that evening. The fireworks were set off on the ball fields at the bottom of town. A dense fog that settled over the site after sunset disturbed the viewing of the pyrotechnic display somewhat. Four employees of the Payne Company, who took care of the considerable air strike, were also responsible for the start of the very colorful and loud flight demonstration.
After the fireworks finished, the final task was to get people home on the way they got there. In most cases it was by train for outside visitors. There were significant problems with the Lackawanna Railroad’s “specials” that were supposed to leave Newton at certain times. Apparently for no plausible reason, the departure of the trains was delayed by up to three hours, which resulted in thousands of people walking around the train station and train stations in the late hours of the night. Fortunately, the trains finally made their way to their specific destinations and ended this feast day.
Sussex County historian Wayne T. McCabe can be contacted at sussexhistorian @ juno.com