South Orange History: From Hartford Road to House of Representatives
Congressman Walter I. McCoy began his political career as a Village Trustee.
What comes after the presidency? We have several models of post-presidential lifestyles, including well-earned retirement, time spent with family and a shift into the legislative branch of government. Confused? No, I didn't mean that presidency. I'm writing about President of the South Orange Library, an office from which at least one person moved to Congress.
Walter Irving McCoy was born in Troy, N.Y., on Dec. 8, 1859. He attended Princeton for two years, then transferred to Harvard. He graduated in 1882 and from Harvard Law School in 1886. He was admitted to the bar in the same year.
Walter McCoy married Kate Philbrick Baldwin in October 1888. His Harvard Class Notes of 1895 reports that he worked in Manhattan, and "I am living at South Orange, NJ, at which place my younger son, George Baldwin McCoy, was born..." In 1900, he reported the births of two more children in South Orange. As of 1908, and perhaps earlier, the family lived on Hartford Road. The five McCoy children were Percy Beach 2nd, George Baldwin, Philbrick, Catherine Baldwin and Eleanor Holman. Their activities became fodder for the "Society in the Oranges" reports that appeared periodically in The New York Times.
Despite the demands of a large family and busy law practice, McCoy served as Village Trustee from 1893-1895, 1901-1905 and again, briefly, in 1910. During his final term, it seems that he took the presidency, perhaps when the previous president was absent. McCoy was a delegate to the 1904 and 1908 Democratic National Conventions and was a vice president of the Essex County Democratic Committee. At the same time, The New York Times reports that he played golf at the South Orange Field Club, even winning a first-prize medal.
Perhaps even that was not enough. McCoy was elected as a Democrat to the 62nd Congress. When state election results were announced, The New York Times reported a landslide Democratic victory throughout New Jersey. Led by the newly-elected Gov. Woodrow Wilson, the Democrats took all but one election. (The lone Republican "pulled through" in Jersey City.) The paper reported that, "The event shows that Dr. Wilson's name, and the new spirit for which he stands, swung into the State House with him."
McCoy served in Congress until 1914, representing first the eighth district and then the ninth. He resigned when he was appointed by then-President Wilson as an associate justice and then as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (now the United States District Court for the District of Columbia). He served until his 70th birthday in 1929.
The McCoy's Hartford Road home remains, and it looks much as it did in the days when the family's five children lived there. From what I read and gather, the home was the site of considerable political planning. It stands as a testament to McCoy's public service, but it is a living tribute as well. Karen Hilton, who will receive the 2009-2010 Citizenship Award for Service Above Self from the Rotary Club of South Orange, lives in the old McCoy household. Hilton will be recognized for the many volunteer leadership roles she has held in the community.
After that, who knows? Walter McCoy demonstrated that there's no limit to where village involvement can take a person, from a Hartford Road house to the House of Representatives.
This article originally ran in February 2010.