Explore New Jersey’s Famous Estates and Historic Homes
Whether it sits on a Revolutionary War battlefield, a village of times long past, or it’s the grand estate of a president, poet or industrial legend, New Jersey's historic homes and grand estates are architectural and decorative masterpieces just waiting to be discovered. Spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, you can learn more about these fantastic historic resources and their place in New Jersey history on your next getaway.
- Cape May’s Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts operates the Emlen Physick Estate (609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278), the town’s only Victorian house museum. This historic estate is a prime example of the late 1800s trend toward highly personalized architecture, a staple of the Victorian and Arts & Crafts periods. Designed in 1879 by renowned Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, this 18-room mansion was constructed for Dr. Emlen Physick, his widowed mother and his maiden aunt. The Physick Estate drew immediate attention because of its “Stick Style” design. The exterior is distinguished by a grid-like pattern (sticks) of timbers, gigantic (upside down) chimneys and hooded "jerkin-head" dormers. Visitors inside the house will find many original decorations and furnishings reflecting Furness’s unique style.
- While visiting Camden, venture to 328 Mickle Boulevard and find yourself at the humble dwelling of the "Good Gray Poet," Walt Whitman (856-964-5383). This modest two-story, wooden-framed structure designed in Greek-revival style was the only home ever owned by the Leaves of Grass author. Today, as a New Jersey State Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark, the restored Whitman House welcomes visitors from around the world looking to experience the last worldly surroundings of America's great "Poet of Democracy." The renowned poet’s house is furnished with a number of pieces owned and used by Whitman himself from the time he bought the house in 1884 until his death in 1892.
- When in the Ivy-league town of Princeton, explore Drumthwacket (609-683-0057), the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey. In fact, Drumthwacket is one of the most fabled and elegant of America’s executive residences. Its history contains the stories of three unique families that made immense contributions to New Jersey and America’s history. Charles Smith Olden began the construction of Drumthwacket in 1835, possibly using a design by architect Charles Steadman. For its name, he borrowed two Scottish Gaelic words meaning “wooded hill.” Typical of the Greek Revival style, the house features a large portico with six Ionic columns. Drumthwacket is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been the official governor’s mansion since the late 1980s. Nearby is Morven, (609-924-8144, www.historicmorven.org/) the former New Jersey Governor’s Mansion and 18th century home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The mansion’s museum features thirteen elegant galleries exhibiting both public and never-before-seen private collections from New Jersey.
- If you’re interested in gardens, try Doris Duke Farms & Gardens (908-722-3700) in Hillsborough, the estate of the late daughter of James Buchanan Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company and one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs. Upon the death of her father, 12 year-old Doris, dubbed by the press as "the richest girl in the world," inherited the massive 2,700-acre farm. Landscaped by America’s foremost landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, the estate featured man-made lakes, waterfalls allées and ornamental fountains. She created 11 fabulous greenhouse gardens, representing English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian Indo-Persian, Colonial, Edwardian, American Desert and Tropical Jungles. In 1964, she opened her greenhouses to the public and was actively involved with the estate until her death. Today, visitors can partake in four individual tours, educational programs and recreational activities featuring different aspects of Duke Farms.
- View the Ballantine House (973-596-6550) in Newark, a 27-room late-Victorian style mansion built in 1885 for Jeannette and John Holme Ballantine of the celebrated Newark beer-brewing family. The House contains eight bedrooms and three bathrooms, and has been a part of The Newark Museum since 1937 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985. With two floors of the Ballantine House open to the public, including eight period rooms, two hallways and six new galleries, visitors will delight in observing objects found in people's homes from the 1650s to the present.
- Situated on Garret Mountain in Paterson is Lambert Castle (973-247-0085) built in 1892 for Catholina Lambert, an English immigrant who made his fortune in this “silk city of the new world.” Fashioned after an English castle, interior rooms reflect the eclectic styles of America’s “Gilded Age.” Naming the house “Belle Vista,” Lambert displayed his valuable paintings by Rembrandt, Renoir, Courbet, Monet and others in his three-story skylight atrium. In the late 1990s, the entire castle was transformed into a museum, managed by the Passaic County Historical Society. Visitors to the first floor will find restored period rooms, while the second and third floors showcase alternating exhibitions and the basement level is a complete historical research library.
- Liberty Hall (908-527-0400) in Union is positioned on 23 gorgeous acres and has been designated as a National Historic site. Built in 1772 for William Livingston, New Jersey’s first governor, Liberty Hall was lived in until 1995 by seven generations of the Livingston/Kean family. Pre-dating the American Revolution, Liberty Hall was a great colonial plantation during the 18th century and evolved into an Italianate-style Victorian country home in the 19th century. As a result of this continual occupancy by the same family for more than two hundred years, the fifty lavishly furnished period rooms are completely furnished with American furniture and furnishings, art, ceramics, textiles, toys, books, portraits and memorabilia.
- Near the top of the state is Skylands Manor (973-962-7031) in Ringwood, a 117-acre former estate of Clarence Lewis, a civil engineer and stepson of William Salomon, founder of the New York banking house. Built in 1924, the magnificent, Tudor-style stone mansion was designed by John Russell Pope, one of America’s foremost architects during the country’s turn-of-the-century “gilded age.” Every detail of Skylands Manor is a work of art, from decorative copper downspouts, iron fixtures and stair railings to carved American oak paneling with stained and leaded glass windows. Lewis and his wife were enthusiastic amateur horticulturists who hired Vitale and Geiffert, the most prominent landscape architects of the day, to create Italianate gardens. Purchased by the state in 1966, the 96 acres surrounding the manor house are now designated as the New Jersey State Botanical Garden.
- Part of the National Historic Landmark District, Ringwood Manor (973-962-7031) in Ringwood is a beautiful country house that was home to a succession of well-known ironmasters for nearly 200 years. The manor house was constructed in 1807 by the Ryerson family in Federal-style and subsequent owners, the Abram S. Hewitt family, America’s foremost ironmaster, added Italianate and Gothic Revival styles to the estate. The resulting eclectic mix, totaling 51 rooms, was the largest house in America until the late 1800’s. When the Hewitt family sold the manor in the early 1900’s, the house remained as the family had left it, complete with family books, furniture, clothing, paintings and period furniture, providing a rare view of wealthy country lifestyles during the 19th century.
As spring blossoms, now is the time to explore New Jersey’s historic homes and great estates. The attractive, rural areas of the Garden State that attracted wealthy industrialists and financiers of the past continue to attract thousands of visitors today to explore these grand, architectural works of art.