1899 Stephen Crane portrait photograph
1899 Stephen Crane portrait photograph courtesy of the University of Virginia

"My idea is to come finally to live at Port Jervis or

 Hartwood. I am a wanderer now and I must see enough

but - afterwards - I think of P.J. and Hartwood."

Stephen Crane's October 29, 1897 letter from London, England, to his brother William in Port Jervis, New York.   
      Like his people before him Stephen Crane had an adventerous spirit.  The first of his family arrived in what would become the United States more than a century before the signing of the yet to be born nation's Declaration of Independence.   That footfall took place when his namesake ancestor was among a small group of individuals known as the Elizabethtown Associates who established the first permanent English settlement in New Jersey after the Dutch  surrendered that and other territory in 1664. His Revolutionary War namesake, who reportedly died of wounds received from enemy bayonnets, was an accomplished figure in Colonial era New Jersey including having been a state delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774.  While one of  Crane's most distinct traits was wanderlust, Port Jervis and its region were almost certainly the place he most regarded as his true home and not without good reason.

     By the time his father's work in the Methodist Church brought the six-and-a-half-year-old to Port Jervis in April 1878, Stephen, the last of fourteen children, had already lived in two other communities.  His days in the Drew Methodist Church parsonage on East Broome Street lasted less than two years when the sudden February 1880 death of his preacher father, the Rev. Dr. Johnathan T. Crane, required him, his brother Luther and mother to find other lodging.  As his mother, the ardent prohibitionist, Mary Helen Crane, retreated with Luther to the Methodist stronghold of Asbury Park, New Jersey, to consider her next actions, Stephen spent several months living in nearby Sussex County, New Jersey, with the brother who became his favorite over five others -  Edmund B. Crane.   In the summer of 1880 Stephen, his mother and Luther reunited in Port Jervis to live in a house his recent law school graduate brother, William H. Crane, had taken at 21 Brooklyn Street and where, for a time, his scholarly sister, Agnes, joined them.  This remained Stephen's home until his mother brought him with her when she returned to Asbury Park three years later.   These essentially five consecutive years Crane lived in Port Jervis could arguably be said to have been the longest span of time he ever continuously called one place home.

       Following this first period in Port Jervis Stephen attended public and private schools in New Jersey and New York State where at the Hudson River Institute at Claverack, located about 40 miles south of Albany, he rose to the rank of captain in the school's cadet corps.  Next in line were short, disinterested attempts at two colleges, first at Layfayette in Easton, Pennsylvania, and then at Syracuse University in central New York, an institution that Crane's great uncle, Rev. Jesse Peck, played a large part in founding.  It was here that in 1891 he met fellow Syracuse University student, Port Jervis native, Frederic M. Lawrence, whose new found friendship would help lead the future author back to the community where much of his boyhood and early adolescence were spent.  Beginning that summer through his 1897 departure to Europe  Crane continued to visit Port Jervis and nearby areas including to camp in Pike County, Pennsylvania.  He likewise greatly enjoyed spending time in Hartwood, Sullivan County, New York, where in 1895 Edmund had found his home on part of the large land holdings their brother William obtained for speculation and use as an exclusive game and outdoorsman preserve which still continues to this day as "The Hartwood Club."

     From some of the first pieces of fiction he ever had published, which are collectively known as Sullivan County Tales and Sketches (1892), to his masterwork, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), and his last published writings called  Whilomville Stories (1899-1900), that are loosely based on his childhood growing up in Port Jervis, the influence the Port Jervis area had on Crane and his work can hardly be overstated.  It is to be similarly noted that the given name of his next door childhood neighbor on Brooklyn Street, Maggie Belle Ogg, is also that of the title character of his first major work:  Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. (1893)

     Crane's years-long familiarity with and easy access to Civil War veterans who lived in Port Jervis almost certainly played a significant part in his inspiration for The Red Badge of Courage.  Not only did his brother William have his law office in the same important Farnum Building (1882) where the Port Jervis chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic veterans' organization had their post, but several of his Brooklyn Street neighbors were veterans.  One of those former soldiers, Philip M. Ogg, was Maggie's father.  

       Philip and his brother, John, both served in the same Company F of the 124th New York State Volunteer "Orange Blossoms" infantry unit that had enlisted in Port Jervis.  But where Philip survived the war his brother John did not.   After being left behind on the battlefield, taken prisoner, and released for care back to Northern forces, he died of wounds suffered at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, the fight that Crane revealed in his short story, "The Veteran" (1896), to be that told of in his best known work.  

        Although its outcome is not like the tragic real life experience of the Ogg brothers, another war story Crane wrote in 1896 called "The Little Regiment" is about two brothers who face combat together and one of whom is feared lost.  

        A local folklore tradition that took root in the 1980s believes that Crane interviewed veterans in the then village's Orange Square park still found on Pike Street.  However, even though there are strong circumstantial reasons to believe Crane spoke with veterans, there were far more likely places for that to have happened than Orange Square and, in any event, there is no actual proof that he ever did so in Port Jervis or at any of the many other places he lived before writing his famous war novel during a time in New York City and his brother Edmund's in Lakeview, New Jersey. 

     While Stephen and much of his family lie buried in Hillside New Jersey's Evergreen Cemetery near his November 1, 1871 birthplace in Newark, his brother Edmund, who later in life became the Port Jervis director of streets, found his final resting place in Port Jervis at Laurel Grove where his wife, Mary Louise, and their own son, also named Stephen, join him. 

     Stephen Crane died on June 5, 1900 near Germany's Black Forest where he had sought medical treatment for the tuberculosis that took his life.   Over the course of his 28 years the short-lived writer was a newspaper man, poet, war correspondent, novelist, and creator of many works of fiction whose gifts made him one of the most famous American authors of the 1890s and earned him friends such as H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad.   Although his free-spirited lifestyle during a time when social conformity and measured constraint were the norm made him a controversial figure during his own era, today he is recognized as a great American author and a famous, local historic personality Port Jervis and its region hold in high regard.     

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