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 Port Jervis and Hartwood."

Stephen Crane letter from London, England, to his brother William in Port Jervis, New York.  Saturday October 29, 1897.  

     
      Like his ancestors before him Stephen Crane had an adventerous spirit.   The first of his people arrived in what would later become the United States some 150 years before the signing of the yet to be born nation's Constitution.   His Revolutionary War namesake, who reportedly died of wounds received from enemy bayonnets, was an accomplished figure in Colonial era New Jersey including have been a state delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774.  Another of his forebearers 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 territory in 1664.   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 had already lived in two other communities.  His days in the Drew Methodist Church parsonage on East Broome Streét 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 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,  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 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 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 Claverack, located about 40 miles south of Albany, he rose to the rank of captain in the school's cadet corps.  This was then followed by short, disinterested attempts at two colleges, initially 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 lead the future author back to the community where much of his childhood and early adolescence were spent.  Beginning that summer through his 1897 departure to Europe  Crane continued to visit Port Jervis and nearby areas to camp in Pike County, Pennsylvania, and spend time in Hartwood, Sullivan County, New York, where Edmund had found his home on part of the large land holdings their brother William obtained for use as a game and outdoorsman preserve which is still known today as "The Hartwood Club."

     Beginning with the first pieces of fiction he ever had published and which are collectively known as Sullivan County Tales and Sketches, to his masterwork, The Red Badge of Courage, whose 1895 publication as a book made the 23 year-old an internationally recognized talent, to his last published writings known as Whilomville Stories, which are loosely based on his childhood growing up in Port Jervis, the influence that the Port Jervis area had on Crane and his work can hardly be overstated.  It is likewise to be noted that the name of his childhood neighbor on Brooklyn Street is also that of the title character of his first major work:  Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

     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 favorite brother Edmund, who later in life became the Port Jervis director of streets, Edmund's wife Mary, whose maiden name "Fleming" is also that of the Red Badge's lead character, and their own son, also named Stephen, found their final resting place in Port Jervis at Laurel Grove.

     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 corrrspondent, novelist, and author of many short stories whose creative gifts made him one of the most famous American authors of the 1890s.   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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