February 1, 2011.
Knapp High School 50th Anniversary. October 2010. Comments by Barbara Snowden.
Thank you for inviting me to speak at Knapp 50. First I would like to bring you greetings from the Knapp Foundation and the Knapp Family. This weekend is both Mr. Knapp’s granddaughter and great granddaughter’s birthdays. I would like to thank June Klug and Cliff Scott for writing a wonderful invitation to the Knapps that expressed how much we still respect and honor Mr. Knapp. The flowers in front of the speaker stand are from the Knapp Foundation as well as the wreath at the Knapp Memorial in Moyock.
When Knapp High School opened 50 years ago, the memory of Joseph Knapp was fresh in the minds of the people of Currituck. He had been deceased only a few years. People remember what he had done for the county and the idea he advocated of a consolidated high school system with a Junior college. Knapp High School was that school and Knapp Early College is the college part.
Joseph Palmer Knapp, born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. His Father was Joseph Fairchild Knapp, Owner of Mason and Knapp Printing and founder of Metropolitan Life Insurance. His Mother was Phobie Palmer Knapp, a well-known composer of over 500 hymns. Blessed Assurance he most famous. His grandparents were evangelist. In fact his family goes back to Colonial Days including an ancestor in the Salem Witch Trails. Mr. Knapp, born May 14, 1864, grew us in a house that entertained every President from Lincoln to Wilson. As a boy he continued his mother music playing the violin. He attended Brooklyn public school, Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and dropped out of Columbia after one year. He worked at his father’s lithographic firm, Major & Knapp. Of his salary of $5, he was expected to give $3 to the church. On his lunch hour he worked as a salesman until this became his main job working on commission. Instead of a commission he would buy a share of Major and Knapp stock. In 1891 he surprised his father by exercising his option to buy the firm from his father, which cause a family exstrainment for a few years. Later Knapp said this was one thing he regretted.
Knapp married Sylvia Kepner in 1886. They had two children Joseph Fairchild and Clair Antoinette but divorced in 1903. In 1904 J.P. Knapp married Elizabeth Laing Mcllwaine.
Knapp, in this age of trust, merged with other lithographic firms to form American Lithographic Company. He revolution publishing by using the gravure process, which printed pictures in six colors. Some books say he invented the process but he bought the technology in Germany. In 1904 he begin publishing a weekly newspaper supplement, Associated Sunday Magazine. You could also buy it on Monday as a magazine for 5 cents. He published many others magazines such as Farm and Fireside, Colliers Weekly, This Week, Woman’s Home Companion, American Magazine, Truth, and The Recorder.
Knapp also printed cards for James B Duke, who helped finance Knapp’s purchase of Major and Knapp and were early friends. Is believed he printed the famous T 206, which were the first baseball cards used in tobacco cards for the American Tobacco Company. He also published the Flags of the world with the coins. They are on exhibit.
The other main business of Knapp was Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He was the second president and a director from 1888 until 1934. The company had been formed to provide insurance for the workers in the lithograph company. Insurance was call assurance in those days, thus a play on words by Fanny Crosby with the title Blessed Assurance with his Mother. In 1914 Knapp mutualization the company by selling his shares for $75 back to the company even if he had been offered $150 a share by Rockefeller thus making the company public. At the time the company had excess in value of $40 million. A modern idea--selling the company to the workers.
Mr. Knapp had three loves: Duck hunting, golf, and fly fishing for trout and salmon. He was a national ranked armature golfer. His silver trophies are in the Governors Mansion in Raleigh. In Atlantic Salmon Fishing he is listed as on of the four best. He fished the Natasquan River on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fishing with Mr. Knapp two friends had a wager but they only caught two fish. When Mr. Knapp returned he asked it they had sung while fishing. He explained that to catch the salmon you had to cast over the pond drag the fly back while singing. They tried it and caught 34 fish. The average weights 12 pounds with a 31-pound record. When Mr. Knapp came back from Canada he shared the catch. My father in law told of his having a salmon tied to his car. He stopped by the store and cut off a section to share.
In 1918, he purchased Mackey Island from Thomas Dixon. After Elizabeth died while J.P. was fishing in Canada he married Margaret Rutledge at Mackey Island. She was twenty-five years younger. They build a 32 room Mount Vernon style home. Mackey Island became their permanent home. He took a great interest in the lives and needs of his neighbors and their families.
Knapp crossed the Sound in his boat the Bootlegger that many of you recognize but did you know he owned a boat building company, the sea sled, and a shallow draft v tunneled craft? In the early 20’s Knapp reorganize the Currituck School system by providing the best teachers, curriculums, and special services such as a school nurse, schools buses, home economics and agricultural teachers plus a place from the teachers to live. He panned the teacherages down to the color of paint to be used. Currituck Plan led to Currituck being a model school system. One of the first recommendations was to build a school at Shawboro. He took the reforms personally, spending time in the schools even having his own desk at the Central and Currituck Union. There are numerous letters Mr. Knapp wrote to the School Board with suggestions. And that what they were suggestion; he wanted the County to support the ideas. If the support was not there the ideas were dropped. In fact Mrs. Knapp provided the gym we are in tonight. When she realized that there was no money for a gym at this school she provided $100,000 from the Knapp Foundation. Even today the Foundation provided scholarships for Currituck County students. Nationally he funded a survey and model program on school libraries and a state study of schools.
During the Depression Knapp helped the local farmers to establish the Currituck Exchange to buy seed, fertilizer and supplies at a low rate. He tried to make his farm a model farm after being teased in the paper for having 35 bulls and two cows to clear the brush when he first moved here. He sent his staff to learn how to raise ducks and established a program raising mallards. After receiving a chest of homemade jams and preserves he encouraged a business of Currituck products made by housewives. He loan money to the County Government to meet the budget one year. In fact Jim Taylor Register of Deed said one year more money came from Knapp then the county paid in taxes.
On a national level he wrote a plan to get us out of the Depression. He also saw game birds as one way. He organized the first survey or count of birds. He organized Game Birds of America, then Ducks Unlimited in Canada, then DU in America.
When the salinity of the sound increased Knapp loan the government the money to build the locks at Great Bridge after getting the legislation so it could not be delayed. He likes to work behind the scenes instead of out front.
Mr. Knapp died in New York at his Riverview home on January 30, 1951. To continue his programs he had established the Knapp Foundation. Three years before Knapp’s death a proposal for a new building at UNC was discussed with Knapp. He knew of the work of the Institute of Government and insisting that the focus be on teaching elected officials and government worker how to best do their job. After his death the building was named for Knapp. Today a room from Knapp’s Home is the seminar for students studying government. As you can see it is just like Knapp sitting room on Mackey Island.
Knapp believed in the “the essential benevolence of a free enterprise system” but accepted a personal responsibility to use his surplus wealth in worthy causes that could advance the well being of society.” As his obituary said, “Here was surely a masterful, generous American.”
I would like to close with Knapp’s own word’s written in 1944:
I am nearing eighty years of age, have worked hard for sixty of those year and loved it. I stared out in life with the guidance of a wise father who wanted to “be kind to all.” This was good for all of us. Being kind to others, by all of us, increased our individual happiness. Let s resolve to be “square”, to live by the Golden Rule, to be kind to others. Amen
Thank you for your attention. I would like to thank Vicky Gallimore for her help in putting this together.