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Township Historian Joe Fagan to Discuss Roosevelt Family Connection to West Orange

Cynthia Cumming

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 • 12:35am

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Township Historian Joe Fagan will present a look at Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt's connection to West Orange at a special presentation on Thursday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in the West Orange Public Library conference room. Fagan's Lecture is entitled "The Roosevelt Family: West Orange Connection" and will feature fascinating information about the world-famous Roosevelts and their ties to West Orange.

Current residents may not comprehend the historical significance of the township, but in 1860 Dr. Edgar Marcy of New York City purchased land along the ridge bordered by Mt. Pleasant and Northfield Avenues. Marcy built several homes in the Prospect Avenue area. In 1863, las Robinson, a New York City real estate investor, was a neighbor to General George McClellan on the ridge. Robinson may have had a prior relationship with McClellan but he carried messages to New York City for McClellan when he opposed Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1864 from West Orange.
 
The home of Douglas Robinson and his wife Fanny Monroe was named Overlook for the commanding view it offered along the ridge. Colonel James Monroe, who died in 1870 and was the nephew of James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, also lived at Overlook.
 
Fagan's free program will describe and explore the connection between the Church of The Holy Innocents and the Robinson Family and how it was first built as a memorial to their deceased infant daughter. It was moved to its current day location in 1872,  but not before a dispute with workman left the church abandoned on Prospect Avenue.
 
Douglas Robinson, Sr. died in 1893 and Overlook in West Orange came into the possession of his son Douglas Robinson Jr., who had married Corinne Roosevelt of New York City on April 29, 1882.
 
Corrine was the sister of Theodore Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt's aunt. Corinne Roosevelt Robinson so loved the West Orange home that by 1894 she persuaded her husband to give up their Manhattan home and make the 72-acre West Orange estate their principal residence.
 
Douglas Robinson Jr. and his wife Corinne Roosevelt Robinson and their children lived in West Orange from 1894 to 1911. During their time in West Orange they had developed enduring relationships with several neighbors. The personal diaries of Corinne Roosevelt Robinson are held at Harvard University and Fagan's research will offer additional details about her life in West Orange and her relationship with their neighbor and good friend T. H. Powers Farr. It was at Overlook at a Christmas Party in 1898 where Franklin Delano Roosevelt had first taken a romantic interest in his cousin Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. The two would eventually marry and she became first lady when he became the thirty second President of the United States.
 
On July 1, 1901 Corinne hosted a luncheon for her brother Theodore Roosevelt, then Vice-President of the United States, on the lawn at Overlook. He was well received and visited by many West Orange residents. He attended a reception later in the day at West Orange High School, then located on Gaston Street. In 1932 the new junior high school was named for Theodore Roosevelt.
 
Fagan's discussion will also incude an examination of the school-naming controversy that preceded the final choice decided upon by West Orange Board of Education President Herbert Barry. Old newspaper articles reveal what the driving force may have been in selecting the name of Theodore Roosevelt. The real secrets which lie buried in a West Orange graveyard will be symbolically dug up and re-examined. The new Junior High School bearing his name was officially dedicated on Oct. 2, 1933 with his niece First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attending the ceremonies. His sister Corinne was originally scheduled to attend the dedication but unfortunately passed away prior to the opening. In 1986, the school officially became Theodore Roosevelt Middle School and majestically stands today as a tribute to a great figure of American history, long overshadowing any previous controversy.
 
Theodore Roosevelt's second wife Edith Carow also left a little-known mark on West Orange history. Coincidentally, she was a childhood friend of Corrine Roosevelt Robinson who had attended Roosevelt's wedding to his first wife. In 1940, Mrs. Mina Edison, the second wife of Thomas Edison, and Edith Carow Roosevelt met in West Orange at the new Carteret School which opened on Prospect Avenue earlier that year. An event held on May 9, 1940 featured both Mrs. Edison and Mrs. Roosevelt as presenters of the Edison and Roosevelt Awards so named in honor of their respective husbands.
 
Fagan's lectures are given from the standpoint of an historical visionary whose ability to interpret West Orange history and connect it to present day is not only meticulously researched but insightfully delivered.
 
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