John Godfrey Moore loved Maine and money – not necessarily in that order. But it’s fitting that Acadia National Park, the state’s most popular destination for visitors, would not be what it is today if it weren’t for this son of Steuben. He went to New York to make his fortune, but left some of it behind for his native state to enjoy.
Moore was born in 1847, the son of a Steuben sea captain. Both he and his cousin Henry would leave Maine to make their fortunes. Henry in railroading and tobacco, John in the telegraph industry and then in finance.
His first success came in partnership with John Evans. Moore had moved to New York as a young man and worked for his uncle, trading lumber. He and Evans launched their own firm, National Dredging Company, and prospered as contractors for the War Department.
But the men saw a better opportunity in telegraphs. They built a telegraph company, American Union Telegraph Co., in competition with Western Union. They had one goal: to get so big that Western Union would have to buy them out. Moore and Evans succeeded and made a fortune. They then began building the Mutual Telegraph Co.
John Godfrey Moore Makes the Big Bucks
This time, Evans would die before the men completed their plans, but Moore managed to battle Western Union to a draw. The big company would lease Moore’s lines, making him even wealthier. Western Union put him on its board of directors, apparently preferring to cooperate rather than compete with him. But Moore didn’t stop there. He believed the way to bigger money was in banking, and he and Grant B. Schley established the banking and brokerage firm Moore and Schley.
Moore was the money; Schley was the hustle. Moore would serve on more than 20 boards of directors for the largest corporations in America, and his firm served as private bank and stockbroker for many of the famous fortunes of the gilded age – Whitney, Morgan, Rockefeller, Havemeyer.
In 1893, he became a hero to the wealthy Wall Streeters when he sued the government charging that the newly enacted income tax was unconstitutional. He won, too, delaying implementation of an income tax until 1913. Timing, shrewdness, hard work and good fortune were his hallmarks.
The Sugar Trust
His luck would hold again when his firm narrowly avoided being swept up in the Sugar Trust scandal of 1894. Rhode Island senator Nelson Aldrich was at the heart of that scandal. Aldrich accepted payoffs for years from wealthy Wall Street bankers who wanted a friend in the Senate.
Aldrich very publicly intervened for sugar importers in setting tariffs to benefit their industry, and he turned the floor of the Senate into a circus with his parliamentary maneuvering on their behalf. The spectacle raised eyebrows, but there was probably nothing corrupt about it initially. He was truly arguing his position.
By 1890, however, Aldrich needed money. His Senate salary was not providing an adequate income, and he began spreading the word about his plan to retire from politics so he could earn more. His industry friends’ blood ran cold at the thought of a future without Aldrich to represent them. So they stepped up with a straight-ahead bribe – an offer of more than $1 million – and more to come – so he could buy and improve the Union Railway Company. The investment Aldrich made in the railway made him a millionaire.
The manipulation of the sugar tariffs began to stink too much, however. President Taft allowed the tariff bill to become law, but he would not sign it because he didn’t want his signature on it.
The cry went out for an investigation, and senators convened an inquiry. Moore and Schley’s broker, Elverton Chapman, was called to testify. The senators wanted to know if other senators ever traded on insider information about the tariffs and other pending regulations. They also wanted to know whether Moore and Schley was the conduit for potential payoffs
Chapman stood up under fire. He refused to testify. The standoff continued until the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that Chapman had to talk before the Senate or go to jail. Chapman still refused, and he went to prison. Aldrich went on serving in the Senate until 1911.
Far From the Wolf
And John Godfrey Moore continued making money. In Maine, Moore had begun buying land in Winter Harbor. He enjoyed, he said, the horse-trading that went into assembling his 2,000-plus acre estate on the Schoodic Peninsula. He named his house (which was foreclosed and taken by a bank in 2014), “Far From the Wolf,” a reference to its comfortable distance from Wall Street.
Moore planned a luxury hotel, grand houses and a fine summer resort to match Bar Harbor. Best of all, he said, he could see his hometown of Steuben from the highest points on the land. Moore made as many waves in Maine as he did elsewhere, participating in a contentious fight to separate Winter Harbor from Gouldsboro to lower his and his neighbors’ property taxes.
Who knows what Moore might have made of his property if illness hadn’t intervened? At age 51, in 1899, he died. Moore’s second wife Louise and daughters Ruth and Faith did not share his aspirations for Winter Harbor, and their visits to the area became less frequent. His daughter married a British nobleman, and both Ruth and Faith moved to England.
His wife remarried, and keeping up with the taxes on the Schoodic land became a drain on the family finances. In 1922, more than 20 years after his death, Moore’s widow spoke with George Dorr about whether he might like to add the Moore property on Schoodic to the property on Mount Desert already set aside as a national park.
Dorr jumped at the opportunity. First they discussed adding only Louise’s share of the land, but soon they realized his daughters, too, were not eager to keep the property and might be willing to give it up as a permanent memorial to John Godfrey.
Before the deal could be realized, Louise died. But negotiations continued fitfully until just one minor hurdle remained – the name. Moore’s daughters were anglophiles, but Mount Desert has a deep French history. In creating Acadia as a park, it was first named Sieur de Monts National Monument for the French colonial governor who had overseen the area beginning in 1603.
Even after the American Revolution, the state legislature had seen fit to honor French land grants in Mount Desert, in part to recognize French support during the war. Sieur de Monts National Monument seemed a fitting name in 1916 when President Wilson commissioned it. In 1919, when he officially declared the land the first National Park east of the Mississippi, it was renamed Lafayette National Park for the French general who aided the American Revolution.
Such an honor for a French hero the Moores could not be a party to. And so Dorr, long accustomed to catering to the egos and peccadillos of the wealthy landowners that he needed to make his dream of Acadia come true, set a plan in motion.
He reached back to the name Acadia, a reference to the Greek region of Arcadia that early explorers from the 1500s, such as Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano, applied to the America. He told Ruth and Faith that he always thought it a very fitting name for the park, that it reflected the heritage of the region. With their blessing, be persuaded the government to change the name in order to clear the way for the gift of land, which was added to the new Acadia National Park in 1929.
The Schoodic slice of the park, roughly five percent of its total, isn’t the only charitable legacy left by the Moores. John’s cousin Henry provided funding for the Henry D. Moore Parish House and Library, which still serves Steuben today. And Ruth and her husband spent part of her fortune restoring an English country estate, Chequers, which they gave to the government of Britain. It is used to this day as the Prime Minister’s retreat and country house.
This story last updated in 2022.
Image of Jordan Pond and the Bubbles: By Plh1234us – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6837274.