Friday Flashback #312

Morris Jesup was quite a guy.

In 1908 the successful businessman (his money came from selling railroad supplies) provided the funds for what is now the Westport Library. Located on  the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street, its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. (The “K” stood for Ketchum, another noted Westport name.)

He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction.

Among his other accomplishments, Morris Jesup grew an amazing mustache.

The Library was not Jesup’s only gift. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. He also commissioned a 5-year anthropological expedition to Alaska and Siberia.

Which is why today the northernmost piece of Greenland is named … Cape Morris Jesup.

Cape Morris Jesup on May 16, 1900.

Native Westporter Jeff Van Gelder has been following an on-line Yale University course, taught by noted American history professor David Blight.

He recently mentioned George Washington Carver, in passing. Van Gelder clicked on Wikipedia, to learn more about the agricultural scientist and inventor.

There — in a section titled “Tuskegee Institute” — Van Gelder read this:

Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a “Jesup wagon” after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program.

That led him further down the internet rabbit hole, to this:

(Booker T.) Washington directed his faculty to “take their teaching into the community.” Carver responded by designing a “movable school” that students built. The wagon was named for Morris K. Jesup, a New York financier who gave Washington the money to equip and operate the “movable school.”

The first movable school was a horse-drawn vehicle called a Jesup Agricultural Wagon. Later it was a mechanized truck, still called a Jesup Wagon, that carried agricultural exhibits to county fairs and community gatherings.

By 1930, the “Booker T. Washington Agricultural School on Wheels” carried a nurse, a home demonstration agent, an agricultural agent, and an architect to share the latest techniques with rural people. Later, community services were expanded, and educational films and lectures were circulated in local churches and schools. The “movable school” was the cornerstone of Tuskegee’s extension services and epitomized the Institute’s doctrines of self-sufficiency and self-improvement.

A “Jesup wagon.” (Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration)

“06880”‘s tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.” Including today — amazingly —  both the northernmost piece of land in Greenland, and George Washington Carver.

(To learn more about Morris Jesup, click here.)

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George Washington Carver




7 responses to “Friday Flashback #312

  1. Bonnie Erickson

    Fascinating information.

  2. Seth Schachter

    So much info… I had no idea about much of this on Morris. Fascinating indeed!!!

  3. And here is my contribution to this story. When Mr. Jesup donated the land for the original library in 1908, he put a restriction on the deed that the land be used “for public library purposes” forever. At some point (maybe in the 1980s) when I was a young lawyer and working at Wake, See & Dimes with Ed See, Ed gave me the assignment to get that restriction removed so that the original library building could be sold and the new library could be built in its current location. We went to court, and the restriction was removed, with the condition that the sale funds be put into the new library…As for Greenland, well I had nothing to do with that.

  4. According to the Wikipedia entry, Jesup’s mother was one Abigail Sherwood — presumably from the Westport Sherwood family?

  5. Scott, It ‘sure would’ seem that way.

  6. Fine mustache on Mr Jesup. All Westport men should strive for such impressive facial hair!

  7. I guess “ forever” only means about 80 years or so.