Litchfield 1919

Electus D. Litchfield, "Yorkship Village," The American Review of Reviews 6, pp. 599-602 (December 1919).
Click on images for supersizes.


IN Yorkship Village, at Camden, N. J., there is seen the physical embodiment of a vision. In the spring of 1918, when we were directed to plan and prepare for the erection of a town to contain eventually 2000 or more houses, Mr. Flannery of the Emergency Fleet Corporation and Mr. Eidlitz and Mr. Leland, his advisers --- as well as Mr. Ackerman, later head of the Department of design of the Housing Section of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and the broad-minded officials of the New York Shipbuilding Corporatlon --- saw even as we did the handwriting on the wall and felt the protests of the war after the war, of which today we hear the rumbling of the artillery.


The absolute necessity for the creation of shelter in which to house the thousands of additional workmen required to man the enlarged shipyards of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, and to provide without delay the answer to Pershing's clarion call for ships and more ships, furnished the opportunity to create there an outpost of defense in the impending war against Bolshevism and industrial discontent.

An outstanding opportunity was presented for the Government to produce an industrial community which should be, as far as reasonable economy and the urgency of the case would permit, an example to private enterprise throughout the land; which would show how, through providing proper homes for its employees, an industrial corporation could lay the foundation for a contented and efficient body of workers. It was to be a place where the worker and his family could be healthy, happy, and contented; a place where the harrassing strain of ill-hea1th and mounting doctors bills might in great measure be eliminated; a place where the toil and drudgery of housekeeping should be reduced to is ultimate limit, and where in exchange there should be opened to the mother and her growing children new opportunities for education and development.

It was to be a place of light rooms and clean yards, with adequate playgrounds and amusement fields; a place of beauty and appropriateness and cleanliness so great that a man returning from his daily toil would receive new strength and recreation; a place where the man who could save a fraction of his income, would be able to obtain with it, for himself and for his children, a share of play and education, literature and music, and other uplifting things.

Finally, it was to afford the physical plant where the worker might quietly and in comfort discuss among his fellows the problems which affect him, thus developing a cooperation, a unity, and a community of spirit between himself and his fellow-workers, which would develop cordial relations between capital and labor in the industrial organization with which he is connected.

We did not expect to create a new Utopia --- the realization of the fond dream of the philosophers of all ages --- but we did hope to produce a community providing the opportunity for those things which are so often denied to the worker and which we all will agree are really essential for the development of a true American citizenship.

A Farm Becomes a Village

It is a few weeds less than eighteen months since the actual construction work was started at Yorkship Village, and not much more than twenty months since Chester Allen --- of Lockwood, Green & Co., Engineers --- walked over the Cooper Farm with me, and we selected it as the most available site for a village. Our dreams of what a town should be have merged so quickly into what it really is, that sometimes I feel was though double the time must have elapsed.

We have in the village today about 1400 houses, with playgrounds and recreation fields. The houses have no dark rooms, and they all have up-to-date sanitary and economic appliances for carrying on the domestic operations of the home. There are eight miles of streets paved with concrete, many square miles of lawn, twenty miles of fence and hedges, and well-established trees.

There still remains to be built the one building which should have first been erected: the commercial, amusement, and community center of this important town. Plans have been prepared, estimates have been obtained, and the money is available. From the appropriation of $12,000,000 set aside for the creation of Yorkship Village, there will be turned back many hundreds of thousands of dollars; and while it may be that the instructions from Congress to the Emergency Fleet Corporation, to retire from the real-estate business, may prevent the erection of that building under Government auspices, sooner or later a way must be found to provlde for its erection.

Let us hope that those in authority may not lose the picture of this as an outpost in our industrial defense, and count this potential community a mere group of houses to be disposed of to the highest bidder, and thus throw away a great opportunity to show the country what an industrial community should be.

(See also the airplane view of the Village, used as frontispiece in this number of the Review)

(The combination of straight and winding streets furnishes many interesting views.)

The theory of the Yorkship town plan is that the amusement and commercial features of the village should be concentrated on the Public Square, and that therefore all roads should lead directly there or to the shipyards. These elemental considerations, together with the contours and geographical limits of the town were responsible for the street plan of the village.

A Village for Sale!

What plan shall be adopted for the future if the Villlage? It has been decreed that all Government housing must be sold. This place cannot be sold piecemeal. The usual rules for the disposal of real estate will not be applicable here. The integrity of Yorkship Village must be maintained. Congress does not direct how the houses shall be sold, of to whom.

There are two plans for the sale of Yorkship, which are practical and reasonable. One is that it be sold directly to the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which may then operate it as a company-owned town or in any other fashion it may elect. Or, the Village may be sold directly to a Yorkship Village Company, which will operate it for, and sell it to, its inhabitants --- not piecemeal, but as a whole.

With the assistance of Mr. Thomas Adams, housing Advisor to the Canadian Government, and Mr. Lawson Purdy of New York, we have prepared for the New York Shipbuilding Corporation a plan for partner ownership of the Village, which we hope some day will be realized. It provides in the main that the Government and the Shipbuilding Corporation shall agree to normal rental value of the town and that its present capital value be determined by working back from this total of rentals at a 12 percent basis; and that the difference between the capital value and the actual expenditure be written off as a war loss.

The plan provides that the Yorkship Village Company shall be a copartnership organization. The tenant will not become the owner in fee of the definite house in which he lives; but the occupancy thereof will be secured to him, at the rental fixed, except for non-payment of rent or acts or defaults of his tending to serious detriment of the property. In lieu of acquiring the deed to a particular house, he pays a given amount of capital into the company. In other words, members of the company collectively own all of the real property of the village. No member will be able to say "This house is mine;" but they all can say "These houses are ours."

(Each house has a separate entrance - with living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs.)

The rentals being based at 12 percent of the capital value of the property, which is the percentage counted as reasonable among speculative builders in Philadelphia, it is obvious that under proper management each renter will be paying a sufficient account to pay to the Governmaent 4 1/2 percent upon its mortgage and 2 percent on the total face of this sum in amortization of it, together with 5 1/2 percent of the capital value of the property for taxes, maintenance and operation, and surplus. How much this surplus will be will depend upon the care which the tenants take of the property, the percentage of vacancies, and the efficiency of the management.

There should be from the start a possible payment of dividend upon the rental. As the Government loan is amortized the tenant acquires a corresponding amount of stock; and when his stockholdings equal the value of the house his dividends, which until then are paid in stock, will be paid in cash. The dividend upon the stock will be limited to 5 percent or 6 percent, and as eventually the town will own itself by retiring the Government mortgage, there will ultimately be an excess income over and above this interest and the sums required for maintenance, taxes, etc., which must be expended for the benefit of the village in extensions or improvements of its equipment and advantages.

There is no other village in this country where exactly this plan of operation has been used, but it is a brave man who will say today that anything is impossible. Indeed at Yorkship again and again it was the impossible which we had to accomplish.

Cooperation is the watchword of the day --- cooperation and, let us hope, conciliation. Those of us who have planned Yorkship Village believe that if this method of operation (or one akin to it) may be adopted, Yorkship Village will be not only an influence for good in the New York Shipyard, but an example to the whole industrial world.

(With four and five rooms in each.)
(With combined ktichen and dining room at the left, living room at the right downstairs, and two bedrooms and bath upstairs. Main entrance at left.)

Digitized strictly for educational use with very minor editorial changes (see below).

Editorial changes from original.
  • Frontispiece (Aerial View). We are in the process of obtaining this image.
  • The amount "$12,000,000,000" is replaced with "$12,000,000" as the former is 20% of the 1919 US gross national product (which was about $60,000,000,000).
  • Periods added to some secondary captions under figures.

Spelling changes:
  • "to-day" replaced with "today"
  • "coöperation" replaced with "cooperation"
  • "per cent." replaced with "percent"
  • "Yorkville Village" corrected to "Yorkship Village" in one place

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