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Short Hills Park Historic District


Off New Jersey Route 24, Short Hills Park Historic District, Millburn, NJ, National Register

Photo: Off New Jersey Route 24, Short Hills Park Historic District, Millburn, NJ. Photographed by User:Daniel Case (own work), 2007, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed November, 2013.

The Short Hills Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.

The Short Hills Park Historic District is an excellent example of a romantic planned suburb. Founded in 1874 by Stewart Hartshorn, a wealthy inventor and manufacturer, the community is significant because (1) picturesque urban planning typical of the Downing/Olmsted era was effectively employed and remains intact today and (2) stylistic developments of the architecture of the period are represented by many significant structures. For the most part, the architectural integrity of these buildings has not been compromised.

Community Planning

As a boy, Stewart Hartshorn had become fascinated by the concept of the "ideal" or planned community. This settlement pattern arose in the 19th century in response to increasing urban congestion, squalor and pollution resulting from rapid industrialization. Delineated by such authors as A.J. Downing (A Treatise on the Theory of Landscape Architecture, 1841) and such practitioners as Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York Central Park, the movement achieved considerable popularity. Although research has not turned up any reference to Downing or Olmsted in Hartshorn's few remaining papers, Hartshorn was an avid reader, and it seems likely he was aware of the major forces affecting the development of suburban communities. Llewellyn Park, which Olmsted helped to plan (1857) must have been familiar to him, as it is only a few miles from Short Hills.

The vision of a planned community might well have been lost in the rigors of earning a living, but for two circumstances which coincided when he was under thirty: he acquired substantial income from the invention, patent, and manufacture of the spring-roller window shade; and he suffered from poor health (probably tuberculosis), for which the only cure was rest and clean air. He and his wife began searching for acreage on which to build a country home not too far away from the company headquarters in New York, with adjacent property suitable for development as an ideal community.

After first buying in Hoboken and Springfield, Hartshorn purchased thirteen acres in the Short Hills section of Millburn in 1874 and built a home (now demolished) for his family where Crescent Place is today. The choice proved propitious; the area to the north and west was hilly, picturesque, and well watered. It was close to the railroad, it was sparsely settled and the owners were willing to sell Mr. Hartshorn land at reasonable prices.

Hartshorn set about acquiring more property and built roads that followed natural land contours using blue trap rock from the quarry on his Springfield property to telfordize them (this trap rock was also used in some of his houses). He searched for more land with springs and water-bearing aquifers, and local farmers used to say "dump a pail of water with a frog in it in front of Stewart Hartshorn, and you can sell him land anytime." To add to the natural picturesque quality, residences were constructed on irregular lots usually no less than two acres. As Mr. Hartshorn put it: "My sole purpose was to create a harmonious community filled with people who appreciated nature...I find that whenever people are lovers of nature they have some taste and feeling about the place they want. I have no trouble with that sort of people."

At first it was not easy to find people willing to move to a relatively unimproved tract, so Mr. Hartshorn built his first houses within view of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad where they would attract the attention of passengers traveling between New York City and Morristown. The young architect, Stanford White (1853-1906), was commissioned to design a "Music Hall" in 1879 (destroyed by fire in 1978), again near the tracks, to serve as a visual focus, a sign of communal identity. Hartshorn put a road through his property just a few feet north of the railroad tracks because, as his daughter, Cora explained "he had passed by long rows of privies backing on the railroad on his trips to New York, and he was damned if he would have a row of them in his village."

A number of the early Hartshorn Houses were rented as city people were not accustomed to buying and felt more comfortable leasing. However, Hartshorn was also willing to sell property but only after he had thoroughly investigated the proposed design of the house and landscaping. Early residents of the Park were primarily prosperous import merchants, commodity dealers, and life-insurance and banking executives, and almost all of them worked in New York. Research confirms James Marston Fitch's observation of the sort of person who chose to live in the new community: "Clearly, in their confidence and lack of pretension, they represented standards quite different from the world of high fashion and great wealth."

By 1884 Mr. Hartshorn had built thirty-three houses. At least twenty-five of those are still standing. Mr. Hartshorn's own residence, a Gothic Revival structure, burned about 1890. His second home was built in 1893 and razed just before World War II. The carriage house for both buildings has been converted into a home at 26 Crescent Place. Bill books of the firm of McKim, Mead and White confirm the design of the Music Hall by Stanford White, and also include billings for other houses in Short Hills Park Historic District which have not been definitely identified. It is not certain whether Hartshorn's first residence was designed by McKim (who was doing work in the Oranges during that period), or whether the 1893 house was designed by the firm. However, the change in styles of his own homes, Gothic Revival to Neo-Classical, parallels the change in styles of this firm.

A central sewage system for Short Hills Park was installed (the Waring, first used in Memphis, 1878). Deed restrictions prohibited owners from erecting any building that would adversely affect adjoining property and gave Mr. Hartshorn perpetual rights to repair roadways and maintain water and sewage systems on any land that he sold. Plans and sitings had to be submitted to Mr. Hartshorn for approval before construction. The main requirements for a house were "originality, taste, livableness, and suitability to the location."

Park residents boarded the train in Millburn Center until 1880 when Mr. Hartshorn persuaded the D.L. and W. to stop two trains a day in Short Hills at a station which he built on the site of the present depot (he paid the attendant himself, and that same year a post office was installed there, too). No commerce was permitted in the Park except for a nursery and a store, the latter controlled by Mr. Hartshorn. Two private schools were organized, and a newspaper began publishing monthly in 1878. In the middle of the Park, local architect Charles Rich designed the Gothic Revival Christ Church in 1884 on land donated by Hartshorn.

By the 1890's, Short Hills Park had become an established community. In 1895, when there were about 60 houses in the Park, the New York Daily Tribune reported: "in a remarkably short time the woodland has been converted into a veritable park traversed by perfect drives and paths which wind over the gently rolling ground past a collection of artistic and substantial homes, each occupying ample grounds and each different from its neighbor."

Articles of incorporation for the Hartshorn Estate were filed in 1915. At the age of 75, Mr. Hartshorn evidently felt the need for a legal agency to continue the work he had begun (the income-tax amendment was doubtless a factor, too) . The Newark Evening News termed the corporate certificate "novel" because "unlike the usual documents of that nature, [it] sets forth that the corporation is formed for the purpose of idealization rather than commercial organization." The purpose of the company was "to promote the building of sanitary, tasteful and substantial homes as free as possible from the blight of commercial surroundings..." The scope of the enterprise was to include "aiding residents or would-be residents in making plans for houses and especially in planning the site and surroundings, employing only architects of taste and ability." This was to make "each home, so far as may be practical, express the individuality of the occupant."

Mr. Hartshorn continued to be active in his community until his death in 1937 at the age of 97. In 1946 the company was liquidated and about 500 acres sold; a total of over 1,600 acres had been acquired and these 500 were a "green belt" which surrounded the Park. These are not part of the Short Hills Park Historic District.

Architecture

Houses in the Park cover a broad spectrum of American domestic architecture of the period 1870-1928. Early homes in the Shingle, Queen Anne, and Stick styles exhibit considerable originality and show the influence of the picturesque eclectic movement. This picturesque eclecticism may well have been influenced by the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 which exhibited English vernacular revival houses by Norman Shaw. The exposition also seems to have encouraged an early picturesque interpretation of our own colonial past. Houses built after 1900 reflect a movement away from the picturesque to the more formal Neoclassicism popularized by the Columbian Exposition at Chicago (1893). Following in alphabetical order are sketches of some of the architects who worked in the Short Hills Park Historic District.

Albro & Lindeberg (1906-1914). This was one of America's most prestigious residential firms, specializing in opulent suburban and country homes in the fashionable Tudor Revival, Neo-Georgian, and Neo-Colonial styles. A flair for inventive reworking of period detail and a sensitivity to picturesque effects of contour, massing, and texture recalls the mannerist virtuosity of English contemporary, Edwin L. Lutyens (1869-1944). Houses at 44 Montview Avenue and 160 Highland Avenue (c.1908) are half-timbered under boldy raked roofs that were one of the firm's hallmarks. The house at 17 Northern Drive is a good example of how they manipulated 18th century motifs; it combines an eclectic, free-form picturesque style with elements of Neo-Georgian.

M.H. Baillie Scott (1865-1945). Although he practiced until 1939, this English architect's greatest accomplishments predate World War I. His pristine cottage-style exteriors emulate the sophisticated simplicity of compatriot C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941) but interiors are distinctive, based on an easy flow of complex interlocking spaces not unlike those designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Baillie Scott's richly patterned furniture and decoration — exotic renderings of Art Nouveau ornaments and folk motifs — were copied widely in America and abroad. His lasting architectural influence, however, comes from his houses in Tudor and rural English designs.

The only known residence designed by Baillie Scott in this country is "The Close" at 19 Western Drive. It was built in 1913 for Henry Binsse and was modeled after a typical English inn — half-timbered and set around a central courtyard. Constructed of nine-inch chestnut-framed walls hewn from trees felled on the site, roofed with English tile, this house is, according to J.D. Kornwolf, "probably the only entirely half-timbered house that Scott built."

Lamb & Rich (1882-1902). Bold massing, rugged textures, and lively if sometimes eccentric details made this New York firm one of the leading Shingle style designers. It specialized in large urban commissions, private residences, apartments, schools, theaters, and public buildings. During the first year of their partnership, Lamb and Rich designed a Shingle style house at 12 The Crescent. It was remarkable at the time for its multi-colored shingles stained deep Indian-red at the base. George Sheldon in his two-volume Artistic Country Seats wrote: "Sunset Cottage is one of the finest houses in this country where the weather boards or shingles have been stained in gradation so as to give the appearance of age." Today the building has monochromatic weathered shingles. Intended as a residence for A.B. Rich, D.D., the plans included a studio and photographic darkroom for his architect son, Charles Rich. These rooms may have been bachelor quarters before his marriage to Harriet R. Bradbury, another resident of the Park. In 1883, the firm began building Christ Church, an example of Cyclopean masonry and medieval detail combined to resemble an English parish church.

The firm also designed "Redstone" (burned 1934) which was considerably larger than Sunset Cottage and even more asymmetrical with enormous ribbed chimney stacks, in the manner of Norman Shaw, an octagonal pepper-pot tower, and a bewildering variety of gables, rising from a Richardsonian stone basement.

Lamb had been in practice with L.B. Wheeler, and they designed the "Anchorage," an outstanding Queen Anne Shingle style house, at 40 Knollwood Road which is illustrated in the Bicknell and Comstock pattern book (1881).

James Brown Lord (1859-1902). Although not as well known as contemporaries McKim, Mead & White, Carrere & Hastings; and Richard Morris Hunt; Lord's career paralleled the practice of many fashionable East Coast architects during the last quarter of the 19th century. After proving himself proficient in the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles of the 1870's and 1880's, Lord turned to the monumental Neo-Classism popularized by the Chicago Exposition of 1893.

He designed the house at 54 Western Drive in 1883 for John Farr. It is a handsome rendering combining vernacular Tudor elements (half-timbered gables and dormers and fluted chimney stacks) and classical motifs (a Palladian porch and Georgian sash windows). Asymmetrically massed under a steep roofline, this house resembles Norman Shaw's work in England during the preceding decade. However, Lord adapted Shaw (1831-1912) to local conditions by substituting wood shingles for English tiles and attaching several verandas which were suited to the American climate.

McKim, Mead & White (1878-1915). The largest and most prominent architectural firm in America from the late 19th to the early 20th century, it produced many of the most influential examples of the Shingle style. An early enthusiasm for Colonial architecture evolved into an espousal of full-fledged Neo-Classcism. Almost from its inception the firm was involved with Short Hills. In July 1879 Stewart Hartshorn commissioned plans for a $5,350 cottage whose function was apparently similar to that of a modern model home. In November of the same year, Stanford White began work on the famous Shingle Style Music Hall which was destroyed by fire in 1978. The bill books in the New York Historical Society Archives also refer to plans provided for two other cottages in 1880 and 1882. The sample cottage and the two later ones have yet to be located.

Frederick B. White (1862-1886). During a tragically brief career, White designed an astonishing number of distinctive Queen Anne and Shingle style residences. He was the architect for two houses and two stores combined with dwellings, c.1885. One house (razed) and stable at 190 Forest Drive and a store/dwelling (now entirely converted to residential use) at 128 Hobart Avenue illustrate White's skillful handling of the Shingle style. The stone and shingle house at 109 Forest Drive exhibited the textural consistency, the calm horizontal lines, the interpenetration of interior and exterior spaces, the clustered roof planes that typify the best of the Shingle style.

William Halsey Wood (1855-1918). Wood has been described as an architect who reflects both 19th-century eclecticism and 20th-century formalism. He was associated with New York and Newark firms (1870-1894) and is best known for his ecclesiastical designs. One of the two extant domestic buildings he designed is at 177 Hobart Avenue. Built of trap rock from Mr. Hartshorn's quarry at Springfield, its most imposing feature is a large tower on the front facade. Like many of the houses in Short Hills, this house reflects the picturesque eclecticism of English domestic architecture of the period.

† Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society and David Gibson & Associates, Short Hills Park Historic District, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Short Hills Park Historic District Map

Street Names
Barberry Lane • Chestnut Place • Crescent Place • East Lane • Forest Drive • Highland Avenue • Hobart Avenue • Knollwood Road • Lake Road • Minnisink Road • Montview Avenue • Moraine Place • Northern Drive • Park Place • Short Hills Avenue • Stewart Road • Taylor Road • The Crescent • Western Drive • Wyndham Road

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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