Morton Plant madness

UConn journalism professor Gail MacDonald hosts a talk, Q&A and book signing on her book, "Morton F. Plant and the Connecticut Shoreline" in UConn bookstore in Storrs Center on Wednesday evening. (Ryan Murace/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut journalism professor Gail B. MacDonald discussed her research book, “Morton F. Plant and the Connecticut Shoreline,” last night in the UConn Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Storrs Center.

Morton F. Plant was a significant Connecticut figure during the early 20th century.

A hotel and transportation mogul, MacDonald portrays Plant as a wealthy businessman that worked to bolster Connecticut’s economy and helped found Connecticut College.

MacDonald described how Plant piqued her interest during her time as an intern at New London’s “The Day” at the ripe age of 21. MacDonald was told to cover a story on the condition of Plant’s Brandford House, which fueled her fascination.

“Over the course of many years, I always came back to him in my research,” MacDonald said.

While Plant’s contributions that still affect the shoreline were not made until the final third of his life, Plant’s influence is still felt today.

The story is that Plant was sitting in a meeting regarding the funding for Connecticut College in 1911, waiting for the rendezvous to end so he would not miss a baseball game, MacDonald said.

According to MacDonald, Plant asked the committee, “If I just say I’m going to give you $1 million will that take care of your needs?”

In return for his generous endowment, two dorms at Connecticut College were named after his mother and father, respectively.

Plant then left a portion of his wealth to the college in his will, MacDonald said.

Having studied Plant’s life for many years, MacDonald addressed the question of what he was like as a person, as far as she could determine from her research.

“I found it hard to get a grip on a person a century past their lifetime,” MacDonald said, “It was really difficult to get a handle on him.”

While MacDonald admits that she does not believe she would have liked Plant as a person very much, she says it is primarily because “he was a man of his era.”

Known for being a bit aloof and taciturn, cold towards his only biological son and for having multiple extramarital affairs, Plant was not exactly a standup guy, MacDonald said.

MacDonald detailed a story about Plant’s extramarital affairs.

Plant’s son tried to deny two women their portion of his father’s will, one of whom claimed it was compensation for certain services, according to MacDonald.

Despite his downfalls, MacDonald also expressed the positive aspects of Plant’s legacy.

MacDonald explained that Plant was known for treating his workers well, paying them significantly more than they would receive elsewhere and giving them opportunities other members of their socioeconomic class were unable to experience.

As far as Plant’s connection to UConn goes, MacDonald explained his work in agricultural preservation in union with the school. Plant’s Branford House in Groton is owned by the university as part of UConn’s Avery Point campus.

While Plant’s legacy has been convoluted and his history is little-known, the family is still prominent in the state today.

“When [Plant] died he left a large estate,” MacDonald said. “But he also left a lot of debt. So, it is hard to say how much was handed down through the family.”

Towards the end of her discussion, MacDonald told an anecdote about Plant’s third wife, May Caldwell. Caldwell saw a necklace of pearls at Cartier, the jeweler, valued around $1 million, and decided she had to have them, according to MacDonald. Cartier offered to trade the pearls for Plant’s estate in downtown New York City.

MacDonald truly managed to highlight the positive and negative aspects of Plant as well as the mogul’s lasting impact on Connecticut and our industries.


Abby Brone is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at abigail.brone@uconn.edu.