New England may be tucked up in a corner of the United States, but it has been the cornerstone of the nation, veritably “the headstone of the corner.” It is more than a provincial section, more than an arbitrary division of six States, more than a body of tradition. New England has always been an influence, a force that continues to make itself felt throughout the country and beyond.
The New England settlers were pioneers and their descendants have never ceased pioneering. The expansion of New England has largely made the West. The first settlers of the Northwest Territory and Texas were New Englanders. It is New England’s energy and wealth, her capital and brains, which have largely developed the resources of the country.
The New England. district is the most distinctly marked physiographic region of North America. Except for a narrow isthmus less than three miles wide between the headwaters of the Hudson and Lake George, it is separated from the rest of the continent by the Champlain, Hudson, and St. Lawrence valleys. From Albany to New York only one bridge, at Poughkeepsie, spans the river, so that an invading force holding the Hudson and Champlain valleys could completely isolate New England.
Nature thrust New England out into the ocean in such a manner that the Pilgrims on their way from Holland to the Delaware were lured to a landfall by the beckoning arm of Cape Cod. Storm-battered and fog-bound in the harbor of Provincetown they entered into the famous compact in which the wanderers “do solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of one another covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation.” And so the character and history of New England was determined. The Puritans followed, “the seed sifted from a whole nation for this planting.” So it was that New England became a Puritan land, a land of dissenters, a land of pioneers.
From the first, New England has led the nation in education. She had the first Colonial grammar school, the first college, the first free elementary school, the first academy, the first high school, and the first normal school. Today New England’s schools and colleges are still first. Her teachers have been educational missionaries. Even in Colonial times the Connecticut school master taught school all over the country.
New England has led in the founding of the nation’s educational institutions. The academies and colleges in the Northwest Territory, Oberlin, Knox, and Beloit, were established by New Englanders. Millions of dollars have been contributed to the South for the support of Hampton, Berea, Fisk, and Tuskegee. In the last half of the nineteenth century, George Peabody of Danvers, John F.
Slater of Norwich, and Daniel Hand of Guilford gave over $5,000,000 for education in the South. Rockefeller has merely followed in their footsteps. New Englandes educational influence spreading beyond the nation’s borders founded the Huguenot Seminary in South Africa, and Robert College at Constantinople, which has been such a potent influence in the making of modern Bulgaria. America’s four greatest educators of the nineteenth century, Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, William T. Harris, and Charles W. Eliot, were New Englanders. The pioneers in woman’s education, Emma Willard, Mary Lyon, Sarah Pierce, Catherine Beecher, were all of New England.
During the first three quarters of the nineteenth century, the number of distinguished men New England produced was out of all proportion to its population. Though no longer in the same relative position, New England is still in the ascendant as a producer of American leaders. Of men worthy to be included in “Who’s Who” New England shows the largest number in proportion to population, with Vermont first for the States and Cambridge for the cities. Scott Nearing in his “The Younger Generation of American Genius,” restricting his study to 2000 born since 1869, finds that Cambridge has 47.5 to the 1000,000 population, closely followed by Nashville, Tenn., with 34.5; Columbus, O., with 26.5; Lynn, Mass., with 24.8; and Washington, D.C., with 20.2.
The population of New England according to the 19I0 U.S. Census was 6,552,681, about one third that of New York and Pennsylvania combined. 40.3 per cent were of native parentage, 31.7 per cent of foreign parentage and 28 per cent foreign-born, or nearly 6o per cent were of foreign-born parents. With 7 per cent of the population of the country, New England contained 13.6 per cent of the foreign-born, 25 per cent of all the Irish, 16 per cent of all the Greeks, and 30 per cent of all the Turks.
“Bleak New England” is a phrase that has been parroted from Puritan times. It may have seemed bleak to the grim Puritan who toted his gun to the meeting house and suspected a tomahawking savage hiding behind every tree,when muttering witches rode on restive brooms, or swung from the gallows. But to any sunny-minded person New England is not bleak, was not, and never will be. In simple and varied natural beauty, few portions of the Footstool can compare with it.
On her summer climate and scenic beauty New England realizes heavily. Together they are responsible for the tremendous numbers of summer visitors, resulting in a summer increase in the population of probably 25 per cent. Caring for summer visitors brings New England an annual income of over $60,000,000, greater than the annual income yield of Alaskaes gold mines.
The whole coast from the Connecticut shore around Cape Cod, along the Massachusetts and Maine coast to Mount Desert, is one almost continuous summer pleasure ground lined with cottages, residences, estates, and hotels. The Litchfield hills, the Berkshires, southern New Hampshire, Vermont, the upper Connecticut valley, the White Mountains, have innumerable summer colonies. Altogether the capital invested in summer homes and summer resorts in New England represents hundreds of millions.
The “barren rocky soil of New England” is another legend that has been prevalent since the first perfervid patriotic orators used it to magnify the virtues and sacrifices of the Pilgrim forefathers. The conception is fundamentally untrue. Nowhere on the face of the earth are there richer agricultural lands than the meadows of the Connecticut, Farmington, and other New England rivers. Nowhere else in the United States can a tobacco crop be produced that sells for $3.50 per pound, and for a whole State averages a net yield of $300 an acre.
The acreage valuation of New England’s farm land according to the 19r0 U.S. Census was $24, as against $95 in Illinois and 2 in Iowa. This is evidence of the cheapness of the land rather than of its low worth when properly cultivated. Every acre of improved farm land in New England produces annually a product worth $7 more than a similar acre in Illinois or Iowa. The value of New England farm property in the past decade has increased nearly 75 per cent and the increase will continue.
The agricultural crops of New England according to the 1910 Census were worth $141,000,000, an increase of 48 per cent over the previous decade. New England excelled all other divisions in the United States in the average yield per acre of corn, wheat, vegetables, and tobacco. Dairying is the largest single agricultural business in New England. There are probably 100,000 farmers producing milk for sale and the annual value of dairy products is about $50,000,000.
The “decadence of New England,” a popular fiction a decade ago, was based largely on the abandoned farm. Most of these have since been snapped up and made over into summer recuperating places for professional and business men.
New England has been the nursery of American literature, art, and music, and now that these have grown to man’s estate they still thrive rather better on their native soil than elsewhere.
But New England is an industrial community. The output of the factories far exceeds in value all other products. Early initiative, innate inventiveness, waterpower, seaports, and an abundant supply of foreign cheap labor, coupled with New England thrift and capital and a willingness to risk it on any paying venture, have kept New England to the fore.
The textile center of the country, its cotton and woolen mills represent an investment of $630,000,000 with an annual output of $523,000,000. New England makes half the shoes of the country and is the leading shoe and leather center of the world. The greatest jewelry and silverware producing center is in New England. It is the home of paper-making.
New England still remains `new'; still has great potentialities, and the capital, brains, and energy to realize on them.