pioneers

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Frank Barcelos via tapinto.net

A Thanksgiving Reminder to a Grateful City

                                     I

Yes, Newark, praise them well!—the first to tread
        The river shore where stands thy busy town.
They followed where the shining Vision led,
From pride and persecution bravely fled,
        And laid thy deep and firm foundation down.

From out a rough and jealous wilderness,
        Praying, they fashioned homes for babe and wife.
In deprivation, loving God no less,
They lived such lives as He their Lord should bless,
        And, living nobly, gave thee noble life.

They loved thee well, thy Founder Pioneers,
        Those earnest, faithful women, fearless men;
To build thee true they spent their toil, their tears;
And now in these their city’s golden years,
        Listen! Their spirits call to thee again.

                                     II

“O Town of ours, proud of thy centuries,
        What folk are these who lift, and build, and mine—
What strange, new, striving multitudes are these
Amid thy maze where stood our wildwood trees?
        Behold, they, too, are Pioneers of thine!

“By Vision led, these other Pilgrim bands
        Come now to thee in hope, as once came we.
They flee the fettered and the failing lands
To proffer toil of eager heart and hands
        For life, and homes, and manly liberty.

“Their faith in thee is great as ours of old;
        Within thy gates they see a shelter sure,
A welcome refuge and a friendly fold
Where each his right to happiness may hold,
        May seek and find the peace that shall endure.

“Their struggles are as ours, O Newark Town!
        They are the Pioneers of times to be;
And God all-wise, from Heaven looking down,
Well knoweth He the virtue, the renown,
        The honor they and theirs shall bring to thee.

“Beloved City, in thy golden years
        Wouldst thou a debt of gratitude repay
For any toil of ours, for any tears?
Be kind to these thy newest Pioneers
        Who come to build thee glorious today!”

                                     III

So speak the Founders, and are heard no more.
        But hark!—up from the wilderness of walls
A joyous voice, deep as the ocean’s roar!
In answer to the Pioneers of yore
        The Spirit of the living city calls:

“Strong heart, stout arm, and willing, eager hand,
        These are my pride as in the Founders’ day.
Firm in the faith of honest toil I stand
And sound my challenge forth to every land,
        And will till earth and time shall pass away!

“Fear not! My yoke shall set my children free.
        For me their might of arm and heart and nerve
Shall bless the nations to the furthest sea;
And all my wealth of happiness shall be
        For these new souls who come to help me serve!”

The number of Newarkers exploded in the decades before and after 1900. Met by a flood of newcomers from eastern and southern Europe, census enumerators in 1890, 1900 and 1910 found that Newark’s population had swollen by 33, 35 and 41 percent respectively over the counts of ten years before. A 1909 tally revealed that three-quarters of the city’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.

The pressure of this human tide was felt in every facet of life, from education to public health to policing to politics. Anti-immigrant sentiment flared occasionally in the press and the streets. But the city economy, dependent on a cheap and plentiful labor supply, successfully absorbed and helped to assimilate generation after generation of new arrivals.

This poem appeared in the Newark Evening News on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 1916.

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summer’s end

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image via nj.com

                To A. E. B. M.

Hushed are the birds that lately thrilled
        The morning world with melody.
At eventide their songs are stilled—
        What can this woodland silence be?

High in a hammock, zephyr-swung,
        Low in a locust’s thorny bough,
Deep in a dell, the reeds among,
        The birds have better business now.

Let summer end, and o’er the hill
        The sylvan chorus sounds again;
Robin and thrush and bluebird trill
        This message to the hearts of men:

“Though April hopes be memories,
        ‘Tis small content regret can give.
Put grieving by! Enough it is
        To live and love, to love and live.”

The verse of Nebraska-born Leonard Harmon Robbins appeared regularly in the Newark News between 1901 and 1917. These lines are from his collection Jersey Jingles published in 1907.

friends

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: National Archives via docsteach.org https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/wpa-federal-theater-projectactors-rehearsing-scenes-from-the-production-brother-mose-in-newark-new-jersey
Image: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library via docsteach.org

There are no friends, we often say,
        Like those dear friends we knew of yore.
Thus in our hearts we re-survey
        The path we tread no more.

And so, before the journey ends,
        We’ll take a backward look and vow
There were no friends like these good friends
        That walk beside us now.

Newspaperman Robbins made no literary claims for his poetry, which he assembled in a book called Jersey Jingles, published in Newark in 1907.

newark’s morning song

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: colorantshistory.org
Image: Charles E. Luffman via colorantshistory.org

At morn she rises early, as a busy city should
That spends the hours of daylight in the game of “Making Good.”
Across the misty meadows she watches for the sun,
For worlds of work are waiting, and there’s wonders to be done.
She takes a bit of breakfast, she dons her gingham frock,
Then sits before her keyboard, with her eyes upon the clock;
And when the hands point seven, then loud and joyfully
She plays her morning anthem on her steam calliope.

From Belleville down to Waverly, from Bloomfield to the Bay,
She fills the morn with music as her chimes and sirens play.
The piping trebles start the song, the tenors catch her air,
The altos add their mellow notes, the brassy bassos blare;
Their thousand voices blend at last in one great living chord
Of toil and usefulness and peace—a sound to please the Lord!
Listen, O music lovers; was ever heard, think ye,
A nobler tune than Newark’s on her steam calliope?

Now dawns a mighty era in the tale of her career,
Now golden comes the sunrise of a new and glorious year;
And, just as in the old days, her morning sirens call,
“Up! Rouse you up, my children! There is happiness for all!”
Yes, at this New Year’s advent her whistles fill the morn
As sound of heralds’ trumpets when a new world-king is born;
And the magic of her music shall set the thousands free
Who follow to the calling of her steam calliope!

Leonard Harmon Robbins was a contributor to the Newark Evening News, where many of his poems first appeared. The Newarker published this piece in its January 1916 edition, marking the beginning of the 250th anniversary year. It was reprinted in 1917 in The Newark Anniversary Poems.

the message of the masque

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Edward Penfield via Gallery East Network http://www.galleryeastnetwork.com/ngg_tag/lithograph/
Image: Edward Penfield via Gallery East Network

The lights are out; the rainbow pictures fade;
Their magic beauty and their color-flow
And rhythmic grace no eye again shall know;
‘Tis ended now, the lovely masquerade,
And those who, wondering, looked, and those who played,
Back to the busy commonplace they go,
To toiling life that moves so dull and slow;
And silent darkness cloaks the parkland glade.

The rainbow pictures fade; but still there gleams
The rainbow hope to hold us to our dreams;
And lowly toil grows beautiful and bright
As hearts urge forward to the coming light;
And men in lifelong memory will see
The vision of the city that shall be.

The 1916 Pageant of Newark was a piece of historical and allegorical theater written by Thomas Wood Stevens and produced, literally, with a cast of thousands. It offered an exuberant vision of Newarkers’ collective future.

This sonnet appeared on the front page of the Newark Evening News of June 3, 1916, the day after the final performance.

twilight

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Marc Reed
Image: Marc Reed

Twilight in the trees
        On a still November day,
Twilight in the trees,
        And the world all gray.

Twilight in a life,
        The colors faded and gone,
Twilight in a life,
        And the night comes on.

Leonard Harmon Robbins was a regular contributor of verse to the Newark Evening News. This is from his 1907 compilation Jersey Jingles.

the first city planning

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: S. H. Congar, in Jonathan F. Stearns, First Church in Newark (1851)
Image: S. H. Congar, in Jonathan F. Stearns, First Church in Newark (1851)

Jasper Crane,
With rod and chain,
Plotted down
Newark Town.
Gray with age,
Grave and sage,
The plan he laid
When the town was made.

Pierson, pastor
And Treat, the master,
Lent him aid
When the lines were laid;
Wisest three
In the colony,
And Crane was quick
At arithmetic.

“Build,” quoth he,
“Fair to see;
Serve them well
Who here shall dwell.”
The years increase
To centuries—
His work was good
And his work has stood.

Broad Street wide,
The city’s pride,
Throve and grew
On the lines he drew;
And the Training Place,
Our breathing space
In the city’s heart,
He set apart.

To him we owe
The pretty show
Of living green,
The spot serene
Now Washington Square.
The townsfolk there
Drove cart and shay
On Market Day.

The Corners Four
His imprint bore—
A wildwood then,
Untrod by men.
He could not see
That the cross would be
The busiest way
In the land one day.

The East Back Street
And the West Back Street,
Though each may claim
A prettier name,
Follow the lines
Of his designs;
Still run by the chain
Of Jasper Crane.

Thousands go
To and fro
In the lanes he broke
For the Founder folk.
The town’s still new;
There is work for you,
There are paths to lay
As in his day.

Jasper Crane is credited with laying out the original commons and streets of New Haven.  He left Connecticut in 1666 for Newark, of which he and Captain Robert Treat became the first magistrates. Evidence is scarce that Crane in fact delineated Broad Street, the Training Place (now called Military Park), the present Mulberry and Washington Streets or other components of Newark’s earliest town plan.

Leonard Harmon Robbins wrote for the Newark Evening News, producing light verse which he later published as Jersey Jingles (1907). “The First City Planning” appeared in the News of May 6, 1916.