HON. THEODORE LEONARD NEWELL
The biography of a man is of importance and interest to other men just to the degree that his life and work touch and influence the life of his time and the lives of individuals. Only in a small way, at best, can the life story of any man be told on the printed page. The story is better as it is written on the hearts of men and women, and the man himself does the writing. These observations are prompted by a review of the life of the Hon. Theodore Leonard Newell, a distinguished resident of Riverside, California, a native of the state of Virginia, born in the years 1857. The following interesting review of his career has been compiled by L’Louis L. Houghton from various published articles.
“Riverside, California, can lay claim to only a few short spans of Mr. Newell’s life, as he has other home ties—Pennsylvania, his legal residence, and a home in Honolulu. His Puritan mother christened him Theodore Leonard, a happy choice of names. Little did this patient, courageous mother know that in this combination she had endowed her youngest son with names whose attributes would typify his life. The Greek interpretation for Theodore is ‘gift of God’; Leonard means ‘courage of a lion’. Mr. Newell’s life has borne out the prophecy of these two splendid names. One of the ‘gifts of God’ was the heart of a poet; another, a deep appreciation of music and the cultural arts; and an affable, genial disposition. ‘Leonard’ endowed him with leadership, and the courage to fight for his convictions; a defender of the weak, a stanch supporter of truth and justice.
“In a resume of the life of Mr. Newell, it would be difficult to place his calling—writer, capitalist, traveler, or philanthropist. The classification which would be most fitting, however, would be ‘citizen of the world’. There have not been many problems of the international, national, or local government but what Mr. Newell has taken a side in them and has been able by the aid of his pen to fight for the right. A few of his early writings have been preserved, and in these he has predicted the present Japanese situation, the difficulties in which our Far Eastern possessions are embroiled, and many of the national problems that confront us today.
“The first records of his life’s work show him driving mules on a railroad grading. Again we see him, a young man of twenty years, behind the counter in a hardware store at Waverly, New York. To those who know Mr. Newell today, it wouldn’t take the conjuror’s crystal to picture a tall, slender youth, with a shock of brown hair and deep-set eyes of the poet alight with a deep religious quality, inherited from his Puritan ancestry. A rather introspective youth; one with courage, too—a courage that led him quickly to success.
“The next change in the magician’s crystal shows him in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. Here his name is blazoned across the façade of manufacturing establishments; no longer a clerk, but the president of a bank and a thriving store and factories—one factory that became the father of the garment now known as ‘coverall’, which is today in demand by every mechanic and workman.
“Twenty eventful years slip by since the tall youth came to the coal regions of Pennsylvania. It is now the ‘Gay Nineties’. In that duration of time Mr. Newell has had many honors conferred upon him. He has attained an enviable position as one of the distinguished citizens of Kingston, and now is prominently identified with various business interests in the coal regions: a director of the Kingston Coal Company and many other large corporations. He was appointed as commissioner to the World’s Fair by the governor of Pennsylvania. The citizens of Kingston, in appreciation of his services to the community, nominated him to congress on the republican ticket. He was official escort to James G. Blaine in his famous campaign, and honorary member of several volunteer fire departments in the state, and finally, he was one of the expert wheelmen of Kingston. A verse from a poem in a Kingston paper of 1899 gives a clever portrayal of the dangers encountered by pedestrians of that day:
‘We read about the scorcher
Who races round the town,
Nor bells, nor lights upon his wheel,
Who swiftly runs you down.’
“Mr. Newell was one of the greatest philanthropists. A contemporary of his youthful days writes: ‘He is a philanthropist of the first magnitude . . . . he gives freely, lavishly, without ostentation.’ A Wilkes-Barre newspaper of March 3, 1899, tells that the ‘Newell Pathological Laboratory, a recent addition to the Mercy Hospital, was opened for use yesterday and will prove of inestimable value to the institution. The laboratory is a gift of T. L. Newell, of Kingston, and in remembrance is named after the donor . . . . His name also will have a place in the hearts of all who appreciate true charity, of which he is a shining example.’
“As the crystal turns back through the pages of Mr. Newell’s history, his marriage to the lovely Miss Edwards is recorded. Miss Edwards was a daughter of the Hon. Daniel Edwards, a native of Wales, one time known as the ‘Pennsylvania coal king.’ Much of Mr. Newell’s interest in Welsh history can be attributed to his love for the country where he and his wife used frequently to go when he was writing his history of Wales, in 1895. The Pulpit of White Cross, over two hundred years old, is now a cherished relic of the Edwards-Newell family in Kingston. Mr. Newell rescued it from the basement of Old-Groes-Wynn-White Cross, and presented the old oaken pulpit to the Hon. Daniel Edwards because of its association with his childhood days when he had been a member of Groes-Wen Church at Carphillia, South Wales.
“The interests of Messrs. Newell and Edwards were closely allied, as is evidenced by an old newspaper account of 1881: ‘ . . . . the mammoth four-story building of Edwards & Company at Kingston is aglitter from ground floor to roof with attractions for the happy season. Everywhere about the immense establishment the excellent taste of the junior partner and manager, T. L. Newell, is evidenced in the wise and suitable selection.’ In 1886, Mr. Newell erected a summer home at Lake Harvey, Pennsylvania. There his son and three young daughters enjoyed many happy hours swimming and boating and entertaining their young friends.
“It would seem that the management of a large department store would have kept any active young man occupied, but the energies and creative mind of Mr. Newell looked to other fields to conquer and in 1895 he organized the Kingston Bank, which is now known as the Kingston Bank and Trust Company, with assets of seventeen million dollars. Mr. Newell was president during the years from 1901 to 1914. His son is now vice president, and two sons-in-law are on the board of directors. He also had time, with others, to establish the Carbondale Electric Light, Heat and Power Company.
“It was at this busy period in his life that the townsfolk of Kingston called upon him to enter the field of politics. This was entirely foreign to Mr. Newell’s training and traditions. He never was a politician in the accepted meaning of the word, being free from factional and personal attachments, although he took an active interest in the politics of the county, ever ready to lend his aid and his purse to the causes of his political affiliations. The townsfolk felt that Mr. Newell’s presence in the political arena would go a long way toward removing the stigma which was attached to it. The very fact that he was beyond the greed and avarice of the professional politician inspired confidence, and the people had explicit faith in his integrity and dauntless courage. An editorial printed in 1895 that came from the pen of an unbiased editor gives a word-picture of Mr. Newell as he appeared to his contemporaries that is revealing in its eloquence: ‘A very fine man indeed he is. He is above want. Sordid greed finds no lurking place in his breast, and if it ever did, noble and disinterested charity has long since driven it from its lair. He is a philanthropist of the first magnitude. A diamond in the rough, he never lends a deaf ear to a charitable appeal . . . . He would rather watch the twinkling stars shining down from the canopy of heaven and the cool mist creeping round the purple hills than feast his eyes on Monte Cristo treasures.’
“To be elected to congress on the republican ticket meant that Mr. Newell would have to run against an able incumbent. A letter written by Mr. Newell at that time refers to the opposing candidate: ‘The fact that Congressman W--------has no long speeches to make in his own behalf speaks louder than words.’ With prominent republicans all over the country rallying to his support and public opinion strongly in Mr. Newell’s favor, the opposition had little or no chance of election. It was characteristic of Mr. Newell’s kindliness, and exemplified his spirit of fair play when he withdrew his name from the ticket. By this act the incumbent was reelected, and Mr. Newell’s name was lost to congress. The townspeople doubted the wisdom of this step, as they felt they had lost an able leader, a man aware of the currents of his time and alive to the significance of every new movement.
“But refusing the arduous duties of a congressman did not preclude his help to any just cause for civic betterment, and for three years he served the public faithfully as well as president of the council of the city of Kingston.
“There is an old adage which postulates that a busy man has more time than the idle. The truth of this was proved by Mr. Newell during the most fruitful years of his life, as records show that he was called upon time and again to serve in some civic capacity; to head relief committees, to aid charitable causes, flood sufferers, etc.
“One of his pet philanthropies was the B. I. A. home for boys. This was a project near his heart, and it was due to his efforts that a charming, comfortable home was built for these embryonic citizens. He subscribed the first thousand toward a permanent building, and was instrumental in raising the needed twenty thousand dollars which was the nucleus of a splendid enterprise whereby hundreds of boys were taught useful trades in preparation for meeting the exigencies of life.
“These swiftly moving, busy years Mr. Newell could regard in retrospect with an air of complacency if he wished, knowing that they were useful years, full of right-living, right-giving, and rich achievements. But to be satisfied with the reward of ‘complacency’ was not in Mr. Newell’s category.
“The year 1901 saw him intently interested in viewing more of the world. Before this date, however, Mr. Newell had spent much time in travel. His well-known “History of Wales” was compiled during his sojourn in the British Isles in 1895. This visit to the home of his wife’s ancestors was tinged with sorrow over the loss of his beloved daughter, Margaret. Writing this history gave him a little surcease from the poignancy of his grief, as it required extensive research and had to be written with sedulous care and accuracy.
“But 1901 marks a change in his life. He slipped the capitalist’s coat upon the shoulders of his son, and taking up the traveler’s staff and his descriptive pen, he traveled the world and left charming records of his wanderings for posterity. His eloquent and facile pen tells of picturesque silhouettes of life in Siberia, Vladivostock, Bical, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw and Berlin. He took a world trip via the Trans-Siberian route in 1908, a before-the-war journey full of vivid experiences that never can be duplicated. Paris, London, and the North Cape were on his itinerary, besides many wayside trips to unfrequented spots that were full of romance and adventure.
“After soaring into realms of past splendors and glory, things of reality called him home and for six years his traveler’s staff was tucked away under the burdens of his busy life. But it was not forgotten, and in 1914 he again took it up and this time wended his way westward toward the setting sun on the lure of adventure.
“Westward around the world through the Suez Canal. Repeated in another two years by a west to east trip, and again, never satiated, an east to west circuit until nearly every civilized country on the globe was visited—from the North Seas to the South Seas.
“Mr. Newell’s innate good taste, cultivated during his early merchandising experiences, dictated his choice of unusual objects of art, and exquisite examples of needlecraft, gleaned through his many years of travel. His homes in Riverside, Kingston and Honolulu are places of delight to the connoisseur, filled as they are with treasures from the far corners of the world.”
In 1908, when William Howard Taft was elected president of the United States, Mr. Newell was chosen in Pennsylvania a member of the republican electoral college.
He holds friendship inviolable and, as true worth may always win his regard, he has a very extensive circle of friends and his life demonstrates the truth of the Emersonian philosophy that “the way to win a friend is to be one.” In his life are the elements of greatness because of the use he has made of his talents and his opportunities, because his thoughts are not self-centered but are given to the mastery of life’s problems and the fulfillment of his duty as a man in his relations to his fellowmen and as a citizen in his relations to his city, state and county. Now he can look back upon a life of large achievements and forward, secure in the honor and esteem of his fellows.
Source: California of the South Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 127-134, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 Joyce Rugeroni.