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Portrait of a General: General Roy Stone

Part 8 of 8

Final Years

The Beginning Has Just Been Made

Stone returned to the ORI in January 1899. A newsclip reprinted in the L.A.W. Bulletin and Good Roads on May 5, 1899, noted his return:

The good roads movement promises to receive further impetus through the resumption of work at the Office of Road Inquiry, Department of Agriculture. Gen. Roy Stone, who is at the head of this bureau, served through the Cuban campaign [sic], and has therefore had ample opportunity to know something of bad roads and to appreciate the merit of good roads. He desires to place himself again in close touch with the great body of workers for road improvements in United States, and invites all such to communicate to him any suggestion bearing upon this subject in its various branches; among others, new road legislation, the use of convict labor in road building, methods of raising road funds, condition of new roads under wear, prospects of road construction the coming year and experiments in steel roads.

During FY 1899, the ORI became the Office of Public Road Inquiries (OPRI) and had six employees:

Name/Title Born Compensation
Roy Stone, Director New York      $2,500
Maurice Eldridge, Assistant Director Tennessee      $1,400
Carl A. Rowe, Assistant Manager District of Columbia            $800
Edmund Harrison, Special Agent/Expert    Pennsylvania      $1,800
Charles Harrison, Special Agent/Expert Pennsylvania      $1,800
Charles Johnson, Special Agent Illinois         $300

This small force had been busy before and after Stone's return. The annual report, partly written by Eldridge, described the work:

This small force has been kept busy prosecuting inquiries, answering correspondence, and gathering and disseminating important information relating to the various phases on the road subject.

In addition to distributing literature and attending road conventions, the OPRI had been contacted by many State legislatures seeking help in framing new road legislation. Further, special agent Harrison built object-lesson roads in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The value of the object-lesson road program, the report concluded, had "become so clear that there is a general and very urgent demand for their continuance and extension." To meet the demand, "our force and means should have been at least ten times larger."

At Secretary Wilson's request, Eldridge had written Farmers Bulletin No. 95, Good Roads for Farmers. The annual report described the bulletin:

In preparing this bulletin the object sought was to present in the plainest possible manner the fundamental principles of road construction and maintenance and at the same time to make, if possible, an instructive compendium of road literature.

Other publications included a collection of messages from Governors to their State legislatures on the importance of good roads (Circular No. 33). For example, Governor Mount of Indiana had said that, "the farmer whose family is held in the thraldom of mud for a large part of the year is subjected to the ordeal that trammels progress, fetters social growth, and retards intellectual development."

Inquiries covered the spectrum of issues common to the good roads movement during this period:

New road legislation, and especially that for State aid; the use of convict labor in road building or in the preparation of road materials; experiments in steel roads and other new plans; methods of raising road funds; bond issues and rates of interest paid; condition of new roads under wear, especially of the sample roads supervised by this Office; the promoting of rural free delivery of mails by good roads; the progress of organization for road improvement; the prospects of road construction during the year, etc.

In response to General Stone's call for comments, the OPRI had received letters "from many of the best workers for road improvements, and the subject were most interestingly and intelligently treated." Many of them were being prepared for an upcoming circular or bulletin. They clearly favored State aid as the best method for road building. Another inclusion was clear:

So far as we are able to judge from these reports, there is not a community in the United States where good roads have been built that would return to the old "hog in the mud" method . . . . The prospects for new road work for the present year are brighter than ever before, and some of the road-machine companies have more orders for machines than they can fill for many months.

Although the annual report was intended to sum up the work of FY 1899, it was equally a summary of a decade of public road inquiries under General Stone:

As a result of these investigations we are firmly convinced that for local needs as well as for our material development and prosperity, a well-regulated system of public roads throughout the whole country is day by day becoming more necessary. While we have the most perfect railway system in the world, our public highways are and always have been inferior to those of any other country in the civilized world. As our public roads are the veins and arteries of our agricultural, commercial, and social life, they are not yet receiving the consideration that their great importance deserves. Much has been done in the United States toward road building during the last few years, but much more needs to be done; indeed the beginning has just been made.

On October 23, 1899, General Stone resigned his post. Martin Dodge assumed the permanent title of Director, which he would hold until 1905, when Congress gave the little office permanent status.

By the time Stone left office, the OPRI had become the recognized leader of the good roads movement. Historian Seely summarized Stone's accomplishments, as well as the stamp he left on the agency he founded:

In the end, he pioneered three enduring patterns of activity for the ORI: build a reputation for technical knowledge, promote the gospel of good roads, and utilize cooperation to reach those goals. The first fulfilled the office's mandate from Congress, and the second grew from the promotional goals of the Wheelmen, but the third was Stone's hallmark, even if it was necessitated by a small budget.(227)

His efforts resulted in one unique tribute. In 1900, Orater Fuller Cook, Jr., who was in charge of seed and plant introduction and of tropical investigation at the Department of Agriculture, renamed the Oreodoxa, a species of royal palm, in General Stone's honor: Roystonea Regia. A description of the species explained:

archivedstic palm tree, one of the largest in the palm family is originally from Central America. Twelve species have been arachived between Southwestern Mexico and the Northern coast of South America. One of these, the Roystonea Regia, is native to Cuba. Its name evokes the memory of General Roy Stone (1835-1905) who exercised his function in this corner of the world. The trunk of this tree is smooth and ringed. It bulges in different areas of its trunk, often near the middle. Its prominent fronds are thick and composed of long, curved leaves.(228)

Another description says the smoothly sculpted trunk "looks almost artificial, like a denizen of an idealized Disney landscape." Roystoneas "provide a sophisticated look throughout the Carribean. In addition, it was imported into Florida during the 1920's and 1930's and "is the species most often encountered."(229)

Post-ORI Activities

While with the ORI, Stone had moved to Mendham, New Jersey, often handling his ORI work from his home there. He campaigned for good roads in that State (at least on one occasion, he was called the "patron saint" of the good roads movement in New Jersey(230)), as well as the Nation. From his home in New Jersey after leaving the ORI, Stone became president of the National League. However, with the bicycle craze collapsing, the organization disappeared within a year. His work in Puerto Rico has already been noted. He was also Chief Engineer of the Union Terminal Company in New York City.

Stone retained his interest in steel track roads, evident during his years with the ORI. In 1902, after he discussed the subject during a talk before the Automobile Club of America, the club appointed a committee to explore ways of fully testing the idea. The committee consisted of Stone and Jefferson Seligman of the Automobile Club's Good Roads Committee. After several steel companies declined to get involved, Stone and Seligman approached Charles M. Schwab, President of the United States Steel Corporation. Schwab donated 1 mile of rails to the Automobile Club for an experiment in New York City. The last rail was put in place on Murray Street between Broadway and Church Streets on December 11, 1902.(231)

Stone considered the experiment a success:

[The tracks] have not varied a hair's breadth in line or level under a heavy traffic, and have so favorably impressed the engineers of the city that they have been ordered for use along the docks, and bids are asked for extensions in streets intended for heavy trucking. No patent is involved in this construction, and such improvements upon it as I have personally devised and patented will be free to the public.

The traction on the plates is found to be so much easier that the same power which will pull one ton on a good stone block pavement will pull nearly four tons on the steel tracks.(232)

He also proposed a steel track for a road across New Jersey. During a November 1902 meeting of the Automobile Club of America, Stone reported on the progress he was making in New York City and suggested providing similar rails across the Jersey Meadows. The Automobile Club again formed a committee, with General Stone one of the members, to secure subscriptions to help with the project. General Stone promptly wrote to Henry I. Budd, New Jersey's Commissioner of Public Roads, to propose the idea. Budd agreed that a good road across the Meadows was needed. He advised that if the Automobile Club would pay for the purchasing and laying of the rails, the State would help with the remaining cost under the standard formula (State: one-third; abutting property owners: one-tenth; and counties: the remainder). When the cost of the steel rails proved to be nearly $4,000 per mile, the proposal was dropped.(233)

Ultimately, steel tracks were better suited to horse-drawn wagons than motor vehicles, and the idea faded away at the dawn of the automobile age.

Looking Back

In some of Stone's later speeches, he reflected on his years in the good roads movement. In a speech on "Good Roads and How to Get Them" delivered on April 28, 1903, to the National Good Roads Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, Stone looked back--and forward:

Ten years ago three great leaders were fighting their separate battles for good roads in the United States. Colonel Pope in the East, Judge Thayer, of Iowa, in the West, and Isaac B. Potter [of the LAW] all along the line. They had little faith, however, in a national movement; and they had seen too many State conventions fail to materialize. In fact, so forlorn a venture did it seem that, although a goodly number signed my call [for a national convention in October 1892], I dared not ask for a dollar toward the expense of calling or holding the convention, and had, therefore, the high privilege of financing it alone.

My success in assembling that convention was due to the press of the United States; its happy outcome was due to the newspapers of Chicago, which gave columns and pages to its proceedings, in the midst of all the news of the dedication of their great "White City" [as the Columbian Exposition was called because of its imitation marble architecture].

With this grand send-off our National League for Good Roads, organized there, was able to raise $10,000 for a year's campaign, and that campaign, among other things, brought about the organization of the Office of Public Road Inquiries at Washington [ORI's name in 1903], and all the great work accomplished by it in ten years.

Comparing the conditions of today with those of ten years ago we see the progress of the country most strikingly displayed. But progress in road sentiment is perhaps more marked than in any other line. The convention of 1892 was called by a few private enthusiasts, with fear and trembling for the result; this convention was called by a multitude of high officials in perfect confidence of the Nation's interest and participation. In 1892 our delegates were self-appointed; here they are appointed by municipalities, States, and public bodies. In that convention we dared not whisper "National aid to road building" save in secret; now we can shout it on all the highways and byways. At that time a majority of the people of the United States had never seen a good road; today, through National object-lessons and good roads trains [a Dodge-era innovation], it is a familiar sight to nearly every one. Then, even State aid was denounced as a dangerous experiment; now it is being generally adopted. In those days to borrow money for good roads was denounced as "robbery of future generations;" today it is accounted a blessing and especially to them.

Since 1892 an entirely new force has appeared in the good roads field and one whose influence can not now be measured or bounded. Already the automobile industry is one of the most active and powerful in the land, and its representatives fully realize that its ultimate success is bound up with that of road improvement, for in France, where the roads are good, it leads all other manufacturing industries in size and profit . . . .

How to lift the burden of bad roads without putting a burden of taxation in its place is the question for this body to discuss and determine, and on that question every delegate must carry such light as he can home to his neighbors. And here, I may be pardoned for saying, as regards the estimate of the annual loss by bad roads, which I announced officially some years ago and which has been derided by many wiseacres who are perhaps not to blame for what they don't know, it was the result of a thorough digestion of well-ascertained facts, the boiled down experience of 10,000 intelligent farmers in all parts of the country, honestly applied to the census returns and their official data, and I would not to-day discount it nor abate it one dollar from its enormous total of six hundred millions.

He endorsed Federal-aid, saying "The people are ready for a measure of this kind, and it will give us good fighting ground." He also summarized his reasons for supporting steel track roads, bonds guaranteed by the Federal Government, and the use of postal savings. "The youngest of you here will never see the work half done, and we veterans will scarce see a beginning," he said. Then he concluded:

But whatever may be the fate of my proposition, good roads are coming whether by easy ways or hard. Federal aid is in the air; our young statesmen are eager to promote it, and our oldest no longer have the cold shivers when it is mentioned. It has reached the very top. Within this month, a President of the United States [Theodore Roosevelt] has said what no President has dared to breathe in almost a hundred years--that the Federal Government can and should "cooperate" in the building of common roads. For these brave words every advocate of road improvement in the land, and they are millions upon millions, will join me in saying, "God bless the fearless man who uttered them."(234)

The following day, President Roosevelt delivered a speech on "Good Roads as an Element in National Greatness" in which he cited historic examples "from Rome to Byzantium" of the importance of good roads. If, in the new century, America was to "rise to a place of leadership such as no other nation has yet attained," he said, then "merely from historical analogy, I say, we should have a right to demand that such a nation built good roads."(235)

The quest for a direct Federal role had been the great challenge of General Stone's career in the good roads movement. He had demonstrated the cost of bad roads and the value of good roads; he had identified ways of financing the construction of good roads without excessive taxation or burden on farmers; and he had tried to shame the country into committing to the cause by citing the better roads of France and other countries. But of one thing he was as certain in the end as at the beginning. Good roads were coming, and the Federal Government was going to help make them possible. In a 1902 speech, Stone closed by saying:

But whatever form National aid shall take, whether that of direct contribution, a guaranty of bonds, the postal savings plan, a National object-lesson road, or some other form yet to be devised, the day that sees the Government of the United States fully committed to the improvement of the common roads of the country will mark an era in the progress of the Nation and the prosperity and happiness of the whole people.(236)

Death of a General

General Roy Stone, 69 years old, died late Saturday night, August 6, 1905, at his home in Mendham, after a brief illness. The New York Times described the circumstances of his death:

With his wife and daughter, Lady Monson, at his side Gen. Roy Stone died at the Phoenix House, Mendham, at 1 o'clock this morning. Gen. Stone was taken ill just a week ago to-day. He had suffered from a complication of diseases. Gen. Stone's condition was not considered alarming until Wednesday, when he began failing rapidly. Yesterday he sank into unconsciousness, from which he never rallied.(237)

The Washington Times announced the news in an article dated August 7 and headed "Gen. Roy Stone Has Passed Away." An article that same day in The Evening Star was headed "Great Road Builder." The obituaries did not report the cause of death, but Mrs. Stone, in a declaration related to her widow's pension, stated that the cause of death was anemia due in part to "poisoning in Porto Rico."(238)

The obituaries emphasized General Stone's service in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War as well as his leadership of the ORI. The Washington Times said noted that "it was at Gettysburg that he performed the feat that made his name so conspicuous among the heroes of the war." His ploy of diverting fire to the regimental flag received notice. "The action saved his regiment but the color guard were slaughtered. At the time Colonel Stone was criticized, but when the real wisdom of the action was realized he was commended."

Of his good roads activities, the article said:

Gen. Roy Stone was well known in Washington, where he enjoyed the friendship of many persons in official and diplomatic circles. For a number of years he was the head of the Road Inquiry Office of the Department of Agriculture, and did much effective work in organizing that branch of the department and in conducting a vigorous campaign for good roads. He was a fluent and entertaining speaker and was in great demand all over the country

The article summarized his service in Puerto Rico:

He joined General Miles at Ponce, and took the first train overland after the Spaniards had evacuated. In order to accomplish this, General Stone had to reconstruct an engine, as the Spaniards had destroyed the locomotives . . . . Shortly after this, General Stone made a detour through the western end of the island, and for several days was cut off from communication with the army, which led to sensational reports of the loss of his little detachment.

The New York Times described General Stone's activities at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, as "one of the most dashing attacks made in the whole war." Of the Spanish-American War, the article stated that he "made a bloodless reconnaissance that extended nearly all over the island, and with no other force, he captured several cities."

The article also briefly described his good roads activities.

Gen. Roy Stone was one of the pioneers in the movement for good roads, and it is largely due to his efforts that New Jersey possesses so many fine thoroughfares.

While living in Mendham "he started an agitation for good roads which resulted in the building of macadamized roads throughout [Morris] county."

Final Resting Place

Stone's remains were shipped to Washington, accompanied by Mrs. Stone, Lord and Lady Monson, and representatives of the New Jersey Division of the Grand Army of the Republic. On August 10, the party arrived at Pennsylvania Station at 8:30 in the morning.(239) A detail of troops escorted the body to the receiving vault at Arlington National Cemetery to await the funeral ceremony. The Washington Times, in an account that evening, stated:

Mrs. Stone, accompanied by her son-in-law and daughter, went immediately to the New Willard, where a number of telegrams and messages of condolence were received from the comrades of General Stone and from friends of the family.

They went to the site of General Stone's grave on the hill near the Custis-Lee Mansion (now called Arlington House):

A few minutes before 10 o'clock the firing party clattered down the road, turned into the cemetery and proceeded to the receiving vault. A detail of soldier body-bearers lifted the casket to a waiting caisson, and the little party filed through the cemetery to the family lot of General Stone. Brief services were conducted by the Rev. Dr. Fall, who read the Episcopal service.

When the first sad notes of "Taps" came from the bugle, the body was slowly lifted from the caisson and gently lowered into the waiting grave. The firing squad lined up and a volley was fired over the grave, the last earthly rite to be accorded one of America's bravest and best known soldiers . . . .

Among the many handsome floral offerings which were banked up on the grave was a beautiful wreath from President and Mrs. Roosevelt. The wreath was sent from the White House conservatory, and was placed on General Stone's casket. At the conclusion of the burial service the wreath was placed in the grave.(240)

Good Roads Magazine put it this way:

General Stone died at the Phoenix House, Mendham, N.J., August 6, after a short illness. Such is the brief statement of the transition from life to life of a man of exceptional vigor of mind and strength of character.(241)

Mrs. Stone's Pension

In April 1877, Stone had applied to the Pension Office, Department of the Interior, for a pension based on disability related to injuries sustained during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was granted a pension of $22.50 a month.

He forfeited the pension when he returned to service for the Spanish-American War. After again leaving the service, he applied for restoration of the pension. On the form, he explained that the original pension was "the result of a wound in the hip and abdomen received at the Gettysburg battle, the shock of which permanently weakened the stomach and bowell [sic]." The pension was reinstated, but following his death, the pension was again stopped.

In January 1906, Mrs. Stone, 59 years old, petitioned for a widow's pension. In an affidavit, she explained her financial situation:

Deponent . . . says that she is wholly without any annual income or regular and settled means of support and is now living with assistance given her by her only child, who is a married woman residing in England; and with the kindness and hospitality of more distant relatives and of friends not related to or connected with her by marriage; and that deponent is in immediate and pressing need of funds for her ordinary living expenses.

The previously mentioned affidavits, by Eldridge and Price, were in support of this request.

In a later statement, Mrs. Stone said:

I do not own any real estate or personal property of any kind whatsoever except my clothing and articles of personal and domestic use . . . . I have absolutely no source of income whatever but am dependent for my support upon such voluntary contributions as may be made to me from time to time by my friends and relatives.

The Pension Office approved the request later that year, increasing the pension to $50 a month in accordance with a Special Act dated June 29, 1906.

Mrs. Stone survived until October 1925. She died, at the age of 80, while on a visit in England with her daughter and son-in-law. Mrs. Stone's remains were returned to the United States for burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Stone Avenue

At Gettysburg National Military Park, the sign for Stone Avenue was lost years ago. In 1993, as part of the FHWA's Centennial celebration, Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater decided to do something about it. At the time, the FHWA's Federal Lands Highway Office was administering a series of contracts for the National Park Service to reconstruct the road network at the National Park. While this work was underway, Slater visited the park on the 130th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to dedicate a new sign in honor of his predecessor on November 19, 1993.During the ceremony, Slater said:

General Stone was one of the many brave men President Lincoln spoke of in his Gettysburg Address when he said, "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

With reconstruction underway, the sign dedicated that day was only temporary. Today, Stone Avenue has been permanently marked in honor of General Roy Stone, Civil War hero and good roads advocate.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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