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POTTS, Clyde


Posted By: Joey Stark
Date: 5/15/2006 at 22:55:07

"Morristown Daily Record", Morristown, N.J., Saturday, May 20, 1950, Pgs. A1 and A9

Internationally Known As Sewer And Water Engineer; Once Head N.J. Health Bd.

Born on November 1, 1876, at Libertyville, Ia., the son of James F. POTTS and Elizabeth PANCOAST, Clyde POTTS was orphaned at an early age as his mother died when he was four and his father when he was eight. He was raised by a sister, Margaret, who died in 1921.

Graduating from Des Moines High School, he studied at Cornell University and was graduated from there in 1901. He was in college at the time the Spanish-American War broke out and he and a group of other students sought to enlist. Instead they were sent back to the campus and military instruction was given them. The war ended before they could be called into service.

He spent three years following college in the water department of the City of Philadelphia and as a junior engineer in the corps of engineers of the U. S. Army in Detroit.

-- Started Office in 1904 --
Then in 1904 he opened his office in New York. One of his early jobs was as engineer for the installation of a sewer system in Morristown, this being done in 1906 and that was how he became acquainted with Morristown so that he moved here in 1907 with his first wife, who was Jane Anne MILLER, whom he married at Elmira, N.Y., on April 17, 1903. Mrs. POTTS, a singer of ability, died in 1933.

For 14 years he was a member of the State Department of Health and its president for four years. The department was created as part of the Edge economy and efficiency laws and he was named by Governor James F. Fielder as a member of the reorganized board in 1915, serving until 1929 and being renamed by both Democratic and Republican governors.

As chairman of the committee on child hygiene of the state department, he was instrumental in establishing the child hygiene program in the state and Morristown was one of the first places where the experiment was tried with the state bearing most of the cost. The program had for its object the reduction of the high death rate prevailing among infants and it succeeded so well that it extended to all parts of the state and Morristown and other communities took over the plan as a full time municipal project.

-- Named To School Board in 1921 --
Named by Mayor David F. Barkman in 1921 to the Board of Education but he served there only a short time before becoming mayor of the town. He did succeed in having football reestablished as a major sport play starting in 1922, after it had been banned for 16 years due to the death of a player in 1906 in a game against the Morristown School. He followed the sport closely ever since, being an honored guest on the bench at each Thanksgiving Day game with Dover.

(Article continued at this point on Page A9)

Through his efforts Memorial Field was improved and formally dedicated with his daughter, Jane, breaking the "bottle of champagne" to christen the field in the fall of 1923. The mayor personally had a trophy up for county competition in track and one in his daughter's name for football for many years.

It was his appointees to the Board of Education in the year immediately following his elevation to the chief executive's post in the town who built up most of the present modern school system including the George Washington, Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton schools and the addition to the high school.

-- Developed Playground System --
His interest in sport, evidenced by the restoration of football never diminished and under his direction as mayor, the playground system of the town was greatly expanded and developed. It was through his close friendship with the late Alderman James G. Lidgerwood and other members of his family that the Lidgerwood Field was given to the town. The Burnham Park swimming pool was built, Speedwell Lake was restored, school athletic fields developed and given over to general public use in the summer and a fulltime recreation director was named.

While he served 12 terms as mayor and in a great many elections had no opposition, his long service was by far from a peaceful one even though it was always one of progress.

-- Fought for Taximen --
When the mayor took office on January 1, 1923, the town was facing a fight with the Lackawanna Railroad over the efforts of the latter to grant exclusive use of station property to one taxi operator. Long hearings followed in what was then the board's meeting room in the upper floor of the Municipal Building, now used by the engineer's office and there were court actions in which the town was uniformly victorious through all the New Jersey courts. Not until it was appealed to a high federal court did a decision to go the railroad.

Another major battle waged by POTTS was years later when he became a minority member of the board with Democrats and an independent Republican forming a combination that gave them the balance of power. They put out the long time town attorney, N. C. Toms and also named a new park supervisor. This went into the courts with POTTS the victor.

-- Skipped One Term --
He served from January, 1932, until January 1, 1949, as mayor with the exception of one term. That was a time he ventured into county politics and lost a bitter primary contest to Elmer S. King for state senator. W. Parsons Todd served as mayor in the interim.

Finally, running for the 13th time, he was downed in the 1948 primaries by Edward K. Mills and retired from public office on January 1, 1949.

These setbacks over the long period of years were far outweighed by the things accomplished by Mr. POTTS as mayor. Good roads, street lighting, the one-way system around the park, traffic signals, parking meters, the playgrounds already mentioned are but a few of the many continuing reminders of his administrators.

-- Park Top Accomplishment --
There are several, however, that are outstanding in any community history, topped by the Morristown National Historical Park.

Always a deep student of history and particularly in the Revolution he found his adopted town an ideal spot for the latter. It was through his friendship that Lloyd W. Smith of Florham Park donated 1,000 acres of land in the Jockey Hollow area for the federal park. The town gave 300 acres of its water department land and other property owners of the area added more.

As the final act of his presidency Herbert Hoover signed the bill in March, 1933, that created the first national historical park in the country, that in Morristown to include the Washington Headquarters, Jockey Hollow and Fort Nonsense.

-- Ickes Dedicated Park --
It was developed during the succeeding administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and on July 4, 1933, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was main speaker at the formal dedication exercises. CCC camps were established to clear and develop the land, the museum was built in the rear of the headquarters and the park became nationally known, attracting many thousands of visitors. In all steps Mayor POTTS took an important and personal part.

The municipal ownership of the water department was long advocated by Clyde POTTS as a private citizen and, supported by "The Record", the plan went before the people at a referendum. They voted overwhelmingly in favor but little was done towards the acquisition of the property of the Morris Aqueduct Co. until after Mr. POTTS became mayor.

-- Bought Out Water Companies --
Then things moved swiftly, the Aqueduct Co. holdings were purchased and later the Normandy & Whippany Water Cos. were bought. With this land, pipe lines, reservoirs and wells and with other property acquired by the town, the expansion of the water department has continued over the years.

At first it was heavily in debt but now the department is not alone on a self sustaining basis but earnings from it help keep the town taxes down. Current supply is ample for a great many years to come, no matter how great the town and immediate areas expand.

Among major developments in the water department were the building of the Brookside dam; a large reservoir on Western avenue connected with Brookside by a tunnel through the mountain; new wells at Littleton and in the Columbia meadows and last, but one of the most important, the Wing well in Cedar Knolls. So when many communities are having to save water, Morristown has an ample supply for itself and its neighbors in Morris, Harding, Hanover and Morris Plains and it is operated on a paying basis.

-- Enthusiasm Leads To Airport --
Mayor POTTS was always an aviation enthusiast and flew frequently on business trips to all sections. He thought nothing of breakfast in Morristown, a brief visit to his New York office, a trip to Pittsburgh for lunch and a consultation on a water project and then back to Morristown in time for dinner and a Board of Alderman meeting.

So it was not surprising that as a WPA project that use of the Columbia road land owned by the water department for an airport was started. Much drainage was done and preliminary landing strips were built but it was during the war that the expansion of the airport became a reality with federal funds. The government recognized the strategic value of the location and put in lanes long enough for the biggest planes of the time.

Earlier Morristown had almost become the terminal of the German-American dirigible flights. Count VonEckner was here several times studying the airfield, more accessible to New York than Lakewood. The tragedy at Lakewood when the Graf Zeppelin burned and then the Eurpoean war ended this.

-- Handled May Crises --
During his administration many crises, both national and local, arose. First of the national front was the depression of the early '30s. Expenses had to be cut to the bone and police, firemen and other town employees took cuts in pay, the various alphabetical agencies of ERA, WPA and the rest were put into force and much municipal work was done. Later came World War II and that meant setups for national defense, auxiliary police and fire forces, air raid wardens, blackouts.

Many changes and improvements were made locally. Charging lack of enforcement of anti-gambling laws, Mayor POTTS made a change in police chiefs and brought Fred Roff back from leave of absence to become police chief. Roff had been with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office and made a wide reputation for solving crimes. As police chief he rose to top ranks when he became president of the International Police Chiefs Association.

Mayor POTTS also had the full-time fire chief installed with John J. Cullinan named and the work of the department extended to cover fire prevention as well as fighting. With added equipment and the added power given by larger mains and increased pressure in the mains, special training of new men and rigid enforcement of regulations the Morristown voluteer department stands at the top in cities of this size.

Full use of the Municipal Building with many changes to remodel it for that purpose took place and the cenotaph as a memorial to World War I veterans was erected and dedicated with Paul McNutt, then National Commander of the American Legion, as speaker.

-- Leader in Water Grab Fights --
Mr. POTTS, recognizing as an engineer the dangers to Morris County in various plans for taking land for water supplies was the first to lead the battle against state "grabs" and in recent years the Morris County Board of Freeholders have taken up the cudgels.

One of the early proposals which POTTS successfully fought was of a gigantic reservoir that would have covered much of Harding and Passaic Townships and extended across Morris Township into Morristown to wipe out the section of the Fourth Ward in and around Lidgerwood Field and up to the foot of the Madison and James street hills.

He also lent his support to the fights against other water grabs such as the Bunnvale project and advocated use of the Raritan Canal and Delaware River, existing sources which could be tapped and developed without causing millions of dollars of damages to ratables.

-- All Work Voluntary --
For more than a quarter of a century of service as mayor and educator, Mayor POTTS never received a cent of compensation and did not even have his expenses paid despite many trips to Washington, Trenton and other places in the town's behalf. His services in developing the water department and keeping the sewage system up to date would have cost hundreds of thousand of dollars if the town had had to pay an outside man.

While his services as consulting engineer naturally started in a small way, such as the Morristown sewer system, his reputation steadily grew and he was called upon to make plans and supervise water and sewage setups all over the east.

One of the biggest in this area was that undertaken by Jersey City to sewage Dover, Rockaway and other points along the Rockaway River to remove danger of contamination from its major source of supply, the Rockaway River. More recently there was the new Splitrock Pond development as a water supply for Jersey City.

New York City, Buffalo, Atlantic City, the water supply for Bayonne on the Ramapo. Bridgeport, Wilkes-Barre, Ithaca and others have engaged him as an engineer and he has been called as a rate expert in many major questions by Paterson, Passaic, Montclair and other cities. He was an ordance department consultant in World War I.

But his work extended far beyond the confines of the United States. Visitors in Havana, Athens or Peru will see evidences of the work of the office of Clyde POTTS.

His interest in Morristown was more than political but personal and his staff of engineers and office workers drew heavily from this area.

-- Family Old New Jerseyans --
While a native of Iowa, it seemed only natural that Mr. POTTS should have returned to New Jersey to carve out his career for the POTTS family was among the earlier settlers of the state. Thomas POTTS came from England on the ship "Shield" in December, 1678, and settled in Burlington. An ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War and it made the Morristonian eligible for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. His father fought in the Civil War with the 28th Illinois Volunteers.

Mr. POTTS was a member of numerous professional and fraternal organizations. Among the former were the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Public Health Association, American and New England Water Work Ass'ns, and New Jersey Sanitary Association of which he served a term as president.

He was a 33rd degree Mason and belonged to the Knights Templar and Shrine; was in the Cornell Society of Civil Engineers; Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi; the Sons of the American Revolution, Elks, Eagles and other lodges.

*Transcribed for genealogy purposes; I have no relation to the person(s) mentioned.


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