Video: An invitation to meet The President. The First President.
By Peggy Carroll
Want to see the Morristown Green’s Past, Present and Future?
Here’s what you do:
Listen for the music of the fife. Follow the young musician to the center of the park. Then step back more than two centuries to the time when Morristown was the “Military Capital” of the nation.
For there to greet you will be three men:
General George Washington. Major Alexander Hamilton. The Marquis de Lafayette. All in the uniform of the Continental Army. Together again on the Green.
For one magic hour, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, they will reminisce about their time in Morristown during their winter encampments.
They will speak of the momentous letter Lafayette brought from the king of France promising arms, men and ships to the rebelling colonists. They will answer your questions.
And yes, the Revolutionary War heroes – portrayed by actors from the American Historical Theatre – happily will pose for pictures… including one at the statue group known as The Alliance, a sculpture capturing the minute when Lafayette hands Washington that all-important letter from Louis XVI. It was an agreement that would help to win the war.
The re-enactment is the third and final act in the celebration of another milestone: 200 years of the stewardship of the Trustees of the Morristown Green, the organization that has owned and maintained the Green since 1816.
According to old British records, the Green itself dates from 1715, when the first settlers arrived. There was a time when it was grazing land for farm animals, a time when it was more a meadow than a park.
In 1816, it was owned by the Presbyterian Church of Morristown. And the church offered to sell it to buyers who would agree to preserve it as a Commons – in perpetuity.
Thirteen men agreed. They paid $1,600 for the 2.62 acres of land.
And they have kept their promise. The Morristown Green is one of just two Commons in the state to have survived to the 21st century. (The other is Military Park in Newark.)
It has survived, said Leslie Bensley, executive director of the Morris County Tourism Bureau, co-sponsor of the anniversary celebrations, despite challenges ranging from development threats to financial short-falls.
Through it all, the beloved square has emerged as Morristown’s most important open space and the scene of many of its most important events – from political rallies and charity events to festivals and yes, even a wedding or two.
It has become, said Glenn K. Coutts, president of the Trustees, the “the crown jewel and centerpiece of Morristown.” The Trustees, he added, “are honored and humbled” to be entrusted with its care.
The first event of the bicentennial festivities, an anniversary party this spring, focused on the past, Bensley said. The second event, the Revolutionary Times weekend in July, emphasized the present.
The final one will look back to the Green’s place in history, but more than that, promised Alice Cutler, secretary of the Trustees, it will concentrate on the future.
“We will encourage people to come out and enjoy the Green,” she said, “for another 200 years.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Here’s what you’ll see.
Music. The ceremonies will open with Claire Oplinger, a member of the Morristown High School Colonial band, welcoming visitors with the music of her fife. She will guide them to the medallion, inscribed with the words “E Pluribus Unum” where the ceremonies will be held.
History. Cutler will talk of the role the Green has played in the town’s history – from 1715, when the first settlers arrived – through the Revolution, when Washington’s army spent two winters in town (1777, when his headquarters was at Arnold’s Tavern, right on the Green, and 1779-80).
Drama. Washington (played by actor John Lopes), Hamilton (Evan Kuhn) and Lafayette (Ben Goldman) will take charge, presenting an accurate account of their characters’ lives in Morristown and responding to questions.
A Planting. The final ceremony looks to the future.
In a park noted for its fine trees, the Trustees will plant another sapling, a tree that will grace the Green for years to come.
The sapling, Cutler said, is a gift of the Morristown Rotary, a longtime friend of the Green’s through its interest and contributions to campaigns to upgrade and improve the park.
A blessing. Craig Dodd, president of the corporation of the Presbyterian Church, which has played a significant role in the Green’s life, and in the history of the Trustees, will bless the proceedings.
In case of rain, the celebration will be held inside the church. After the ceremonies, attendees can enjoy an additional glimpse into town history – via a tour of the church’s historic cemetery.
The church served as a hospital during two outbreaks of smallpox during the 1777 encampment, and its cemetery is the final resting place for 135 Continental soldiers and for many founders of Morristown.
WANT MORE HISTORY?
For local history buffs, the event will offer more sources of information. The Trustees of the Morristown Green will be selling their own history, The Green, by the late Richard Simon, who had been a trustee. And there will be a special exhibit on the Green.
Sunday’s festivities are free, and all are invited.