Believe it or not, The Addams Family was created by a real member of an Addams family -- Charles Addams, who was born in Westfield, New Jersey. With a history spanning over 300 years, the town was bound to be home to a few imposing old homes, including those from the Victorian period. Those mansions were perfect for inspiring Addam’s art and the ghostly scenes he created for The Addams Family television series.
Westfield can also be proud of much more than its stately Victorian homes. Settled in 1720,, the town has a long and rich history. In her new book, “The Fates Were Favorably Inclined,” available December 16, Westfield native and SC&I alumna Barbara Burton, MLIS ‘77 and Ph.D. ’10, explores the town’s past.
The book is packed with carefully researched, fascinating details and anecdotes that vividly portray what happened to Westfield and its residents. In 1777, for example, during the American Revolution, “Westfield residents evacuated the town and headed into the nearby Watchung Mountains when they heard British General Cornwallis was coming in his chase of George Washington. When Cornwallis arrived, he found the town deserted,” Burton said.
“In 1838, when the first train came to town, there were of course doubters about this new technology. A Westfield man raced the train into town on his horses and beat the train. However, as we know, the train improved over time and the horses eventually were put out to pasture.”
During the 1918 pandemic, Burton said, the “Spanish flu struck 100 local citizens and 25 died. Some of those stricken were hospitalized in a building near the edge of town that at that time was called The Children's Country Home. It is now the Children's Specialized Hospital, but it still looks like a country mansion where people go to recuperate.
“In 1936, Mastodon tusks thought to be 12,000 years old were found in Westfield's Lenape Park. Westfield was covered by a glacier and later mastodons roamed the area. The glacial activity is particularly notable in Westfield's Echo Lake Park.”
The title of the book comes from a local newspaper article about Westfield's 200th anniversary celebration in 1920. The article stated that the day dawned cloudy and gray but cleared once the festivities began and that it seemed as if ‘the fates were favorably inclined’ on the events. Although our 300th anniversary was clouded by the pandemic, I still feel in general that the fates have favored our town,” Burton said.
While she enjoyed exploring all aspect of the town’s history history,, Burton explained her favorite period to research and write about was the Progressive Era. “The Progressive movement caused a lot to happen in Westfield. One of the most important developments from my point of view was the establishment of a Public Library in 1905, with the help of a building grant by Andrew Carnegie. Another accomplishment was the establishment of the first public park. The park was created by land donated by two local women during a time when women were becoming more involved in civic life. And they haven't stopped, Westfield elected our first female mayor in 2017!”
While the book has just been published, it actually began when Burton was in the fourth grade in Westfield. It was then, Burton said, when she first learned about the history of the town, and she became determined to write a book about it someday.
In the intervening years, Burton left Westfield to attend college at Northwestern University, where she majored in History. She then immediately returned to New Jersey to pursue an MLIS at SC&I because, she explained, “It seemed like a way of staying close to books and information but with a very practical application.”
Following graduation from SC&I, she pursued a successful 25+ year career in the information industry while also marrying and raising her two children . In 2010, she returned to SC&I and earned a doctorate. During all of those years, Burton said, she “never stopped being fascinated with all the lessons we can learn from our past and the way it continues to inform our current day.”
By serving as a member of the Westfield Historical Society, Burton was also able to keep her passion for the town’s history alive. When she was finally able to begin working on the book, she began by digging into the historical society’s archives and artifacts, and she also read other books about the town.
In addition to being a book about history, the book is also piece of art in itself, Burton said. “It is very rich in graphic content which I believe is best suited for a print environment. It is an artifact and a thing of beauty as well as a source of information and it meant to be enjoyed that way.”
To ensure the book was as beautiful as it was informative, Burton partnered with Nina Ovryn, “who has been affiliated with Rutgers as Art Director for Rutgers Magazine, as Creative Director for the Rutgers 250th issue, and other publications. Nina lives in Westfield and also has a passion for our history.”
For those interested in exploring the town today, Burton said Westfield’s present is just as nice as its past. “It has a great downtown with many fun spots to eat and shop. COVID-19 has brought about an increase in outdoor dining and we now have an authentic sidewalk café atmosphere. Also, this year the African American History Committee of Westfield, NJ has mapped out a fascinating African American walking tour of the town which includes the former home of Zora Neale Hurston (download the tour map here).”
To view a few sample pages and pre-order the book, visit the website. The book will also be available to purchase in person beginning December 16, 2020 at The Town Bookstore at 270 East Broad Street, Westfield, NJ 07090.