Fairhope: A Sentimental Review
by Dian Arnold,
"really a late comer -- 1953-1999"
Actually I first remember Fairhope in the 40s when my grandparents rented a cottage in the Battles Wharf community. I remember walking on the beach and playing in Mobile Bay. It was cool and I enjoyed freedom here. One time my grandfather took me into Fairhope and I ordered an egg sandwich. The proprietor of the store (I don't remember where it was exactly) had to fix the sandwich three times before he got it right for a very picky eater of less than ten years of age.
In the fall of 1953 my Dad moved to Mobile and went to work with Morris Timbes in his advertising business. My Dad, thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Timbes, persuaded my mother to allow me to attend the Organic School, located in Fairhope, as a boarding student. My grandmother had tried to persuade my mother to allow me to attend the school several years earlier, so it was easier for her to agree to such an idea.
The school made a tremendous difference in my life and I shall always be grateful for that blessed experience. As a Senior in High School, I was required to take the course in Henry George's Progress and Poverty. The last session of that class was a brief summary of how George's philosophy played a large part in the founding of the Fairhope community and how Fairhope worked as a colony to demonstrate the validity of George's ideas.
After graduation I left Fairhope to pursue a career with horses. I learned a great deal in the two years away, but the most I learned was that there was something special about the community I loved so much in high school. I gave up a lot of the comforts money could buy to be a part of that community. I knew there were two things Fairhope had that no other southern community I'd ever heard of had: the Organic School and the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation.
I made up my mind to find a job, but devote my spare time to finding out all I could about the Organic School and the Single Tax Corp. I wanted to know what I could do to support and further the work of both organizations. It didn't take me long to learn the school and Fairhope Single Tax Corp. were closely related. The Corporation was founded by idealists who wanted to establish a colony to demonstrate the ability of all mankind to occupy this planet in harmony, productivity and provide a better life for all its inhabitants. They were concerned about the plight of so many poor people while there seemed to be so much wealth held by a very few.
The founders were educated people and believed strongly in a good education for all children. Founding a community in a remote location on agriculturally sub-standard land required hard work and a lot of time, so they needed a school to provide their children with quality education. Marietta Johnson had studied education and desperately wanted an opportunity to demonstrate the validity of the new ideas she was discovering about how children learn -- ideas different from the standard practice of the day, governed by the desire to help all children develop their full potential. These ideals made for a natural co-operation. About thirteen years after the founders set to work building Fairhope, the Organic school started in a one-room building and land furnished by the Corp.
It seems to me that lack of money, human mistakes in judgment and a lack of faith in the intelligence of the average citizen have plagued both these organizations over the years. Now the principles which provided the freedom and opportunity for so many to thrive and prosper have been replaced with the standard economic and educational practices of the day. But I'm still somewhat optimistic. If mankind truly makes progress and learns from past mistakes, there is a great deal to be learned from the Fairhope experience.
After I married in 1967, my husband was invited to attend a national Georgist Conference sponsored by the Henry George School of New York. The conference was held in Miami Beach, Florida, and he was to be the guest speaker at the closing banquet. He was to tell about the Fairhope community. I don't remember anything of his speech, what I remember is there I discovered the Georgist Philosophy. The founders of Fairhope were single taxers, but had many ideas that were not Georgist and by the 60s all the other ideas had sadly failed, and were pretty much forgotten, except in theory. But the idea of and validity of site value taxation, which my husband suggested was the practice in Fairhope, was to me still very much in evidence. It alone provided for individuals of various talents and capabilities to use those abilities freely in a community with less monetary restrictions. It seems to me it can provide a better life for everyone. It provides the freedom for people of different beliefs to work together -- which benefits all. There were plots of deeded property priced high and out of use or vastly under used -- but almost all of the Corp. lands were being used productively and to capacity.
There never was a Single Tax community in Fairhope because the residents pay income tax and State sales tax just like everyone else. What they didn't pay was improvement tax on personal property. What they couldn't do was profit by not using the sites they held by lease. It seems to me what they had was the freedom to be different and the responsibility to use the land profitably, pay for their inability to use it profitably or turn it over to someone who could use it to advantage. This left them with a keen interest in learning about the abilities and ideals of others. Somehow the prevailing human fear of new ideas just didn't seem to exist in Fairhope -- even as late as the '60s.
Now, though, I believe fear existed all through the development of Fairhope. The mistakes were largely because of fear -- inability to finance or provide the manpower to maintain services and public sites. Some strong willed individuals felt they had to provide what was "best" -- exercising judgement on behalf of the others. Had the founders been willing to charge non-lessees for using the parks as the city government of Fairhope now does they would have had funds to keep the parks up. Had they offered to pay tuition at the Organic School for the children of lessees who wished to attend the school both the school and the Corp. would have benefited. The school would have had sufficient funds to maintain good educational practices, the lessees would have had an alternative to the public school and choices of opportunity have made the difference in this country in my opinion.
Had the Fairhope Single Tax Corp. kept rents up and in line with the demand for the sites, in spite of the lawsuits filed against them, possibly there would not have been so much site value for the lessees to sell when the use of the land changed and became so much in demand. Had the officers of the Corp. been willing to communicate with lessees, public officials and the media until a clear understanding of the ideals the Corp. has found really provides for equality of opportunity were understood, maybe individuals would have been drawn to embrace the practices and promote the ideals on a broader scale through political action.
Had the Corp. had faith in humanity's basic desire to improve everyone's lot in life and the courage to stand up against the fear of greed and man's inhumanity to man, we might still have a community with the openness I found when I came here.
What we do have is a beautiful site, with some benefits in public parks -- but from an economic standpoint, Fairhope is now a place just like any other Alabama community, where taxes are collected on site and improvement value. Individuals sell site value on leased land and pay an extra $50 a year for their 99- year lease. There is no City sales tax. The city charges sufficiently for utilities to lessees and non-lessees alike to pay for the operation of city government and yet the charges aren't much more than any other community in this county.
We don't hear much about helping make a difference in this world, except for a handful of individuals. The corporation manages the paperwork for transfers and taxes, for a "not for profit" organization, on what amounts to about 1/8 of the land area now comprising the community. Oh, sure there have been some windfalls and some park area donated. Some land acquired and prepared for development. But I don't find anything to inspire and motivate me.
I sometimes wonder if the ideals Henry George espoused had been adopted by a County, State or Country, would it survive? Is it unrealistic to believe that mankind must continue with the inequality on this planet that seems so unjust for so many? Would human greed let a system that provided for a greater opportunity for freedom slip away when they became too comfortable in the material results? Sometimes it seems to me that is happening right here in the United States of America and yet it has taken quite some time in mankind's development to achieve the freedom we have experienced. Possibly this is just a period preparing us for the recognition, implementation and preservation of a still greater freedom and equality of opportunity. I must believe that is the case.