During the second half of the Great Depression, Laurel was led by Everard E. Hatch, a retired army general who waged an unrelenting campaign against lawlessness in all forms. His no-nonsense style of communicating struck a chord with voters, who elected him to two terms as mayor.
Distinguished military career
Everard E. Hatch was born in 1859 on his family’s farm in Maine. His father, Enos, was a Civil War veteran, a private in the Union Army’s 4th Marine Infantry. Enos saw action in every battle of the Army of the Potomac from the first Bull Run to the Battle of the Wilderness near Spotsylvania, Virginia, where he was wounded and had his right arm amputated.
Succeeding generations continued the military legacy. Everard Hatch (Enos’ son and the future mayor of Laurel) graduated from West Point in 1884, and Everard’s son and grandson were both West Point graduates.
Hatch served with the expeditionary forces to the Philippines and participated in the capture of Manila during the Spanish-American War. In 1914, he served on the Mexican border and was with the Vera Cruz occupation. After attending the Army War College for two years, he took command of the 148th Infantry Brigade at Camp Meade in 1917 and was promoted to brigadier general. In between posts, Hatch taught at military colleges. He retired from the Army in 1921, after serving for 40 years.
Political career starts at the bottom
Hatch and his family moved to Laurel shortly after he retired. The career military man was soon bored and saw civil service as the logical next career move. Even though he started out on the bottom rung of elected offices in Laurel, his military countenance continued.
In 1923, Hatch was elected to office of librarian of the Laurel Free Public Library. Immediately after taking office, his first communication was a letter “To The People of Laurel” in the Laurel Leader, alerting them that a new sheriff was in town. After thanking them for electing him, he admonished patrons:
“Some of the books appear to have received hard usage. Patrons are requested to take reasonable care of books while in their possession.
“The records show that a number of books are out of the library in the possession of the public, beyond the authorized time. Cards of notification will be mailed to those whom the records show to be in possession of books and who do not return them.”
Apparently, to Hatch there wasn’t much difference between a brigadier general and a librarian.
A week later, at a meeting of the Library Association, Hatch reported that overdue books were being returned posthaste. He also published the library’s financial condition in the Leader, which listed moneys owed and revenue. He concluded that “for the first time since the war [WWI] the Library is out of debt.”
Hatch’s performance was quickly noticed. Less than three months later, he was appointed Laurel’s city health officer, ending his career as a librarian.
Once again, he got right to work. Just three weeks after taking office he issued his first report on “health conditions” in the city. It became an annual tradition with him. The first report listed ways to prevent typhoid fever, which was on the decline in 1924 but far from eradicated. His advice to citizens illustrated the rural conditions of the time.
“First — Connect with the sewer. Abolish all old-time surface toilets.
“Second — Drink only city water. Don’t drink from wells or springs.
“Third — Drink milk that has been produced and handled in a clean and sanitary manner. Milk is a favorite breeding place for germs.
“Fourth — Keep horse stables clean and eliminate flies. Accumulations should be hauled every day.
“Fifth — Burn or bury garbage. Don’t feed it to flies, and give aid to their multiplication.
“Sixth — Pig pens should not exist within city limits. The pig is fine in his place, but ‘pigs is pigs’ and their place is not in the parlor or even within city limits.”
In addition to writing his annual reports, Hatch sponsored tuberculosis clinics and other health-related events in town.
His workload doubled later in 1923 when he was appointed as a justice of the peace for Prince George’s County, based in Laurel. He would continue to serve both offices simultaneously for the next five years.
He was a very efficient judge. In his report to Laurel’s City Council in 1926, he claimed to have “tried cases and imposed fines amounting to $1,173.00, which has been turned in to you, and for which I hold the cancelled checks.” Considering that most fines were a dollar or two (or less), that’s quite a lot. He also disclosed that “of the cases tried, more than 99 per cent have been for being drunk and acting in a disorderly manner.”
His hard-line stance for law and order and against public drunkenness was on display in a 1932 letter to the editor of the Leader, toward the end of Prohibition. In the letter, Hatch passed on comments from fellow residents: “The lady looked with utmost disgust at the loafers and then towards the well-known bootlegging joints and said: ‘There is no law in Laurel — Lawless Laurel.’”
He also claimed a city official told him “You can violate any law in Laurel except to run through the red light.” (There was only one traffic light in town then, on the corner of Route 1 and Main Street.) He asked “Does anyone remember that Laurel a generation ago voted a local option law? What has become of this law?” (Local option laws were Prohibition-style laws against alcohol sales and consumption.)
As if he wasn’t busy enough, in 1926 Hatch organized an unnamed committee to provide for the poor in Laurel. The committee included the mayor, postmaster and other notable citizens. Eventually, the committee became the Laurel Welfare Association and Hatch remained involved with it until his death.
In 1934, mayoral candidate Julian B. Anderson announced his slate of candidates, calling them the Progressive Ticket. Included on the ticket was a candidate for city councilman-at-large, Everard E. Hatch. The Progressive Ticket swept all its candidates into office, with Anderson winning the mayor’s office by 43 votes and Hatch coming in second in a field of four to win one of the two at-large seats. His two years on the City Council were quiet and uneventful.
Laurel’s oldest mayor
If the old warhorse was slowing down, he didn’t let on. After a single term on the City Council, and five months shy of turning 77 years old, in February 1936, Hatch announced his candidacy for mayor. Anderson had declined to run again.
As usual, the general was brief and to the point in his announcement: “I hereby offer my services as Mayor to the electorate of Laurel for determination at the next municipal election. I have no other purpose in mind than faithful service to the town.”
Hatch’s entire ticket of candidates ran unopposed, and he was sworn into office in April 1936, becoming the oldest first term mayor in Laurel’s history. The Leader was supportive of his election but tepid in their forecast for his administration.
“The election of last Monday brings to the Mayoralty of Laurel Gen. Everard E. Hatch, a retired officer of the Army, who by reason of his training and experience, should give us a painstaking and progressive administration. Frankness impels us to admit that there is not a great deal that anyone could do in the administrative affairs of the town, but what can be done, we feel warranted in predicting, will be done.”
It’s unclear why the newspaper thought “there is not a great deal that anyone could do.”
Barely three months later, two events gave the new mayor some welcome good publicity. On July 10, Hatch announced in the Leader that “AT LAST! The city of Laurel owns a dumping ground.” The town purchased 4.5 acres just across Brooklyn Bridge for an official city dump, which was badly needed. Again, the new sheriff in town showed he meant business. “No dumping signs will be placed where dumping is now illegally done. Anyone dumping anywhere except on the regular dumping ground will be prosecuted.”
The other good publicity was unexpectedly dropped into the General’s lap. Hatch was asked to meet with Arch McDonald, the radio announcer for the Washington Senators. McDonald pitched to Hatch his idea for “Laurel Day” during an upcoming series with the New York Yankees. Hatch readily agreed and pledged the town’s support.
The promotion, co-sponsored by The Washington Post and People’s Drug Store, was a big success. According to the Post, a delegation of several hundred fans left Laurel “in a long automobile caravan behind an escort of Maryland State Police.” The large contingent attending the game left Laurel “a virtually deserted township,” according to the Post.
The pregame ceremony was for the fans from Laurel to honor Maryland-born Yankees outfielder Jake Powell, a former Senator who now played for the visiting Yankees. Powell never played in Laurel, and there was no connection between the ballplayer and the town. It was apparently a random pairing for the sake of the promotion. But it was an unfortunate random pairing, as Powell was well known as a hustler, thief, liar and one of the worst racists in baseball. As expected, none of this was mentioned in any news clips about the day.
In his presentation, Hatch “lauded Powell for his success as a big leaguer, cited the pride with which Maryland fans regarded him, and presented to the Takoma Park lad a handsome leather wallet,” according to the Post. Although it was an interesting choice to honor the despicable Powell, the publicity for “Laurel Day” was all positive.
Hatch ran for another two-year term in 1938. This time, all the races were contested but Hatch’s entire slate of candidates won. He ramped up his no-nonsense law-and-order position and never let an opportunity go to alert the public to any lawlessness.
In 1937 he took up the cause of speeding through Laurel on Route 1. In a letter to the commissioner of motor vehicles, and published in the Leader, he wrote:
“My estimate of the number of drivers who are reckless or do not intend to obey any law of God or man, is in excess of that of the editor [of the Leader]. I estimate such number as 25 per cent. … Cars go through Laurel at a rate of 60 miles per hour or over. Such speed is hazardous to life and limb. The boulevard has become a death lane.”
He managed to also make his case in the letter for another of his pet peeves:
“If you have State police sufficient, give us protection on this State road. … Give us a State police, a constabulatory. We don’t want any county police. They are no good. They have always been the playthings of politics. We ask protection!”
“LAWLESSNESS” was also the title of another letter to the editor he wrote in 1939. As usual, there was no confusion on where he stood, and this time gambling was his target:
“I hereby give full notice to all concerned that ‘slot machines,’ ‘pinball machines,’ and any other form of gambling device must disappear from public places by May 15. … I have seen school children and women who, by their family acts showed they could not afford it, feverishly feeding nickels into these machines.
“I am aware of the plea that has been made that to license these machines would produce revenue. The same argument could be made for any other form of lawlessness. There is no doubt that to license highway robbery would produce revenue.”
Under his watch, the new Laurel Post Office on Main Street was dedicated. He gave the opening remarks at the ceremony and received another dose of good publicity, despite the fact he and the city had nothing to do with the construction of the Federal building.
The end comes fast
In 1940, with the end of his second term in sight (until April), the 80-year-old general seemed to slow down.
The State Board of Health notified the city that a replacement sewer disposal plant needed to be built. The dilapidated plant was not up to standards anymore. As Hatch said in the Leader, “We tried for years by shoveling out this old plant, to make it work. Our efforts have failed. The sewerage is going straight into the [Patuxent] river.”
You would think the old city health officer and current mayor would tackle this problem head-on. But a few weeks before the election — Hatch had declined to run again — he published the following letter in the Leader:
“To the Tax payers of Laurel: I am sorry to inform you that the sewage disposal plant of Laurel has collapsed. Forty years ago, a great mistake was made in placing the Septic tank on the banks of the Patuxent River. The tank was subject to its rising and overflow. This overflow completely put the tank out of commission. Our sewage goes straight in the river! The State Board of Health is writing us polite but emphatic letters regarding this condition. Surveyors recommend the abandonment of the old Septic Tank, and the building of a new one on higher ground. I am in full accord. And the cost! Now hold your breath — $62,000! If I were younger, I would like to have taken hold of this problem to solve it. But I am too old, and must leave it to other hands. — Everard E. Hatch, Mayor”
Latest Laurel Leader
On April 24, a week after the election of his successor, Hatch was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital with an undisclosed illness. He never left. Three weeks later, on May 14, the general died. His remarkable career deserves to be remembered.