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Home Utopias Real-World Utopias "Would Change Personality of a Village"

"Would Change Personality of a Village"

From a 1920 New York newspaper:


How can the personality of a town be changed?  Frank Vanderlip, international financier, didn't like the personality of Sparta, a town of 30 families, a little way from here (Ossising NY), and so has bought it.

Now he plans to make it over until its moral tone suits him.

Sparta has always been a drinking town.

It was a crossroads inn town during the Revolution, and if common report is correct, one still may find the fluid that burns and cheers. George Washington often stayed at its inn and the man who invented the Monitor lived at Sparta.  These facts attracted Vanderlip 10 years ago.


The article continues:


Foreign Population

The original colonial stock of the town has vanished and in its place has come a polyglot population drawn from Italy, Sweden, Russia, and Hungary.

"I never could understand Sparta's low standard of living," Vanderlip told me.  "Wealthy people who live at Scarsboro-on-Hudson, a few miles away, tried to raise the standard by giving things to the Spartans.  That kind of charity failed.  Every other plan to make Sparta a better town failed also.

"I'm going to try a new plan.  I'm going to build some model tenements, remodel the present buildings and give them modern conveniences, including sleeping porches."

The only other time a man tried to reform a town by buying it the attempt failed.  A millionaire bought a western mining town that had a bad reputation.  He replaced the original inhabitants with those of his choosing, but in a few years the new folks were worse than the old.  His experiment failed, it is said, because there wasn't enough fresk blood in the town.  The people all knew each other and feuds and fights developed.

Nearly all of the 30 families of Sparta are intermarried.  Everybody is a relative of everybody.  They are a suspicious folk and I found them unwilling to talk of their town or of Vanderlip's plan.  Vanderlip will protect his experiment from the same failure that occurred in the west by taking measures to keep transients from coming to the town and townspeople moving away.

Vanderlip succeeded in buying up the town, establishing a school and creating homes for the teachers, although more for Vanderlip's own pleasure rather than any altruism towards Sparta's residents.

Was Vanderlip successful?  It appears he did avoid the tragedy of the "western mining town", and he even went on to do much the same in California, creating the planned community that would become Palos Verdes.  Sparta today is part of the Ossising metropolitan area, and although news articles makes it sound like Vanderlip levelled the entire town, many pre-Vanderlip houses survived and are in good shape today.