Local History: Former Village President Ira A. Kip, Jr.
Kip was Village President at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1903, a house with plumbing that cost more than the land it was built upon was remarkable. "Montrose," the Kip family home that became part of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, held such a distinction, according to Merchant Plumber and Fitter, Volume 40. Alexander Milne of East Orange installed the pipework, modern conveniences—and this was a time when such couldn't be assumed—for a modern family. Still, the tile that remains in one bathroom of the mansion is blue-and-white and Delft-inspired, perhaps a look at the traditional Dutch heritage of the Kip family.
The turn of the 20th century saw the Kip family of South Orange moving into a more public sphere. Their final social engagement at Brightside, their home in Tuxedo Park, South Orange, was a child’s Halloween party. Their first in the mansion at 432 Scotland Road was an elegant reception. Likewise, the family focus appears to have shifted at this time towards a more public and philanthropic profile, in keeping with the Kip family legacy.
As we note the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival in New York, it’s timely to consider the Kip family. Ancestors of Ira A. Kip, Jr. came to this country from the Netherlands in 1635, according to Famous Families of New York. The first Kips, whose name was anglicized from De Kype, moved freight along the Hudson River and farmed. Their prosperity allowed them to invest in Manhattan real estate; Kips Bay is named for the family. The family had several “branches,” including those near Morristown, Passaic, and Rhinebeck, N.Y. The author of Famous Families notes that real estate and politics were strong interests of the Kips, who were “marked by Dutch energy and thrift.”
In Ira A. Kip, Jr., this seems to be accurate. Born in Passaic in 1876, he married Katherine at age 17 and began his business career a year later, working for a firm of East India importers and brokers. His business interests were broad, however, and he owned real estate and joined the New York Stock Exchange in 1901. At the same time, he was serving his first term as South Orange’s Village President.
It would be difficult to overstate the breadth of Ira A. Kip, Jr.’s activities during this period. Besides serving South Orange, he was a member of both the Holland Society and the New England Society, and the Essex County Country Club. Kip was a founding member of South Orange’s Field Club, and a regular golfer at Baltusrol. In addition, The New York Times reports on his victories with his yacht, “The Onion II,” his Chairmanship of the annual Orange Horse Shows, and even his fling with amateur dramatics. On April 26, 1905, Kip performed in a benefit minstrel performance with the Mummers, held at the Orange Music Hall. At the end of his song, Kip was motioned off the stage by Detective Sergeant John Drabell. When the officer insisted, Kip replied, “You’re not going to parade me through the streets and make me spend the night in a cell in a costume like this?” Drabell replied by reading a warrant for Kip’s arrest, charging that Kip “attempted to run an automobile, the management of which he had no conception.” The arrest was a joke, and, according to the account, it was “the hit of the evening.”
No matter if Kip’s dignity was tarnished; by 1907, at age 31, he was the father of four children, owner of “Montrose,” and governor of the New York Stock Exchange, a position he would hold until 1913. He had been a Republican delegate to the National Convention in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt had been nominated, and would serve as New Jersey Elector, responsible for casting one of the state’s electoral votes for William H. Taft, in 1908. Closer to home, Kip had served South Orange twice; during his administration, he participated in the movement for a joint trunk sewer system and improved water service.
Socially, in business terms, and by the measure of philanthropy, Ira A. Kip, Jr. was notable and successful. And it’s possible that his wife, Katherine, was by his side at every party described in the social pages. For somewhere, at some time, she met South Orange’s Dr. Mefford Runyon, who would become a figure of great importance in her life.
Author's note: I believe that Brightside was at 577 Hamilton Road.
Another note on names, which are spelled inconsistently in this period: Ira Andruss Kip, Jr. was also known as Ira Andrew Kip, Jr. In fact, he made New Jersey law for a question of name. When he was running for Village Trustee, four of the ballots counted in his favor read “Ira A. Kipp,” “I. Kip, Jr.,” “Ira A. Kip,” and “Kipp.” His opponent, Mr. Weeks, held that these ballots were illegally counted for Kip. The circuit court refused to “admit proof that no other person by the name of Kip was a candidate at the election or resided within the voting district.” Weeks v Kip, 64 L. 61, 44A, 866.