What If . . .?
By Reno Bailey
What would Cliffside have been like if, instead of a privately owned enterprise, it had been an incorporated town?
For one thing, the private development of homes, industries, businesses and institutions would have lent more permanence to the community, providing many more choices of employment and skill development to a wider range of people, and a broader basis for individual growth in wages, lifestyles, tastes and ambition.
Had it been incorporated, Cliffside would have had a municipal government to build and maintain streets; run and maintain water, sewer and electrical facilities; enforce zoning standards; promote expansion; provide many other services such as libraries, schools, parks, security, etc.; all of which would have required some level of taxation.
Things would have been better in many ways. Individual home ownership would have prevented housing standards from languishing for decades at the levels of the 1920s. (Rows of outdoor toilets would not have been visible in 1950s photos.) Homes would have appreciated in value, for they would have been upgraded by individual owners long before reaching a state of disrepair that, by the 1960s, offered no alternative to anything but demolition.
In an atmosphere of private development, there would have been a variety of businesses hiring professionals, tradesmen, craftsmen, technicians and laborers, whose livelihoods and futures would have been independent of the fortunes of a single employer like Cliffside Mills.
There would have been much more than a life in the mill to entice young people to remain and raise their families.
In this scenario Cliffside would probably still exist—but as a much larger place populated mostly by strangers, with homes and businesses intact, with big city problems, with the river paved over and a shiny big Wal-Mart taking up the top half of what used to be River Street.
On the other hand…
As it was, people in Cliffside were tenants in housing that was at least adequate for the time, and practically rent-free. We were secure in the knowledge we would not face eviction if times turned bad. We paid no local taxes, for most of our municipal needs were met by a generous, paternal employer who cared for our welfare in dozens of ways.
The company made certain, with substantial corporate funding, that ours was the best run, best equipped school in the county. For many years, the company quietly gave quarterly supplements and free housing to our state-paid teachers. It saw to it that we had convenient and adequate sources of food, clothing, medical care, and entertainment—so convenient that many Cliffside families never owned an automobile; they could, for the most part, walk wherever they needed to go.
In return, the company asked only that we earn our pay, act responsibly and decently, and show respect for our fellow citizens.
One of the effects of all this, for better or worse, was uniformity. Most of us were pretty much alike, in income, dress, attitudes, values, and behavior. To our fellow townspeople, whom we all knew, we were caring, supportive, compassionate and appreciative.
And we were (and still are) intensely proud of a town that, for all practical purposes, no longer exists. We couldn’t have it both ways.