Livingston Manor Historic District
The Livingston Manor Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. 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 Livingston estate was purchased on January 14,1897 for subdivision and development by Watson Whittlesey, whose credentials included the development of Watchung Heights, a section of West Orange, New Jersey and Hyde Park in East Orange, New Jersey. From 1897 until his death on April 7, 1914, Whittlesey marketed this subdivided estate, known as the Livingston Manor, for residential development. Whittlesey was more than a typical land speculator; he was a community builder, which was noted by his residency in various Livingston Manor houses from 1906 to 1914, and by his active involvement in the municipal affairs of Highland Park. Instead of auctioning lots like his 19th century predecessors, Whittlesey sold subdivided lots with either a house completely built by his company or with the promise of providing a company-constructed house similar to those previously constructed. Through its history and appearance, the Livingston Manor Historic District meets National Register criteria because it is an excellent example of early-20th century, private, planned, suburban development, it has an association with community founder Watson Whittlesey, and it has a large number of houses that were constructed with quality architectural design and construction, many of which have retained high levels of integrity.
Although a local agent, Mr. Moffitt, sold lots with promised $1,500 houses beginning in 1897, the houses in Livingston Manor were not constructed until the summer of 1906. It is thought that Whittlesey was otherwise occupied with his other developments and that there might have been an inability to secure water services due to local politics. Before 1905, Highland Park was a small hamlet of the much larger Raritan Township rather than the independent borough it would become on March 15,1905. Beginning in 1906, Whittlesey provided all of the elements of the neighborhood's infrastructure, including roads, sidewalks, and sewers. All the lots in the residential section had deed restrictions from such nuisances as multiple-family dwellings, chicken coops, barns, brewing establishments, solid fences over 4-feet tall, and foundries. Standardized setbacks and height restrictions were established for each block.
Whittlesey was born and raised in Rochester, New York. As a young man, he learned the contracting business in Providence, Rhode Island. He then relocated to New York City and Newark and continued his work in the field of real estate development. By 1896, he had been elected to the board of directors for the Second National Bank of the Oranges, creating business ties with architects, builders, designers, and other real estate developers. His first developments were in Hyde Park, East Orange, Watchung Heights in West Orange, and near the Netherwood train station in Plainfield, New Jersey.
In Highland Park, Whittlesey was president of the Livingston Manor Corporation, which was incorporated on November 17, 1906. Thomas A. Davis was the agent. The firm overseeing Livingston Manor's financial affairs was Rogers & Thompson, Inc., a company established on April 9, 1906, with Watson Whittlesey as its agent. The Highland Park Lumber Company, supplier of the construction materials for the tract, was formed in June of 1906. The three investors included Whittlesey, and William and Herbert Waldron. The Waldron brothers were the sons of industrialist John Waldron, who would purchase the Livingston Homestead (81 Harrison Avenue) property in 1909.
The summer of 1906 marked the beginning of the construction by Whittlesey's crew of 75 men. Whittlesey had appealed to the New Brunswick Board of Water Commissioners for the Highland Park water mains to be extended toward his tract, which was quickly granted upon proof of his company's investment. By September 1, 1906, the Daily Home News noted: "the old Livingston estate has undergone a wonderful change. It now bears the name of Livingston Manor, and where once there were waving fields of corn, grain or other things of the farm, there are now fifteen concrete foundations for dwelling houses, some houses partially completed, and some under roof." On December 1,1906, Whittlesey transferred the remaining unsold lots from his original 1,090 building lots to the Livingston Manor Corporation. This day also saw the transfer of the first deeds from the Livingston Manor Corporation to two individual homeowners. It signaled that the first group of houses constructed on the south side of Grant Avenue west of North Second Avenue was complete and they were ready for occupancy.
Whittlesey wanted to provide villas and cottages for every type of home buyer and he succeeded by grouping small and moderate size, single-family houses with larger ones. He used plans from architects based in Orange, New Jersey, and most likely, plans generated by several local architects. Two architects based in the area of his two previous developments, Orange, New Jersey were George Edward Krug and Francis George Hasselman (1877-1932). They are noted as having created plans for the Livingston Manor houses because several houses in Whittlesey's first development in West Orange are identical to several of the first houses constructed in Livingston Manor. George Krug's plan for a two-story dwelling was illustrated in early Livingston Manor promotional material. It is the only floor plan available. Krug was the architect of the Hyde Park Club House and many residential properties in Hyde Park. No plans by Francis Hasselman have been found; however, two c.1907 representational drawings of houses similar to those found in Livingston Manor were accredited to him. Hasselman was the architect of the Hale Building in East Orange, New Jersey, All Soul's Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey, the Rumson Country Club, and the Greenpoint Savings Bank in Brooklyn, New York. He was also the architect along with George A. Freeman, of the "Spring Brook House," residence of Robert D. Foote in Morristown, New Jersey, an impressive Georgian Revival mansion listed in National Register on November 13, 1986.
Several Livingston Manor Tudor Revival houses were designed by Highland Park's most eminent architect, Alexander Merchant. Merchant created many New Brunswick buildings including the high school, and the Weingart, Volkert, and Shuck buildings on George Street. He designed the Highland Park High School in 1924 and he was also commissioned in 1926 to construct a Music Building for the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass College at Rutgers University). Merchant not only constructed his own Colonial Revival dwelling on Highland Park's South Adelaide Avenue in 1909, he also designed several Colonial Revival houses for clients who became his neighbors. He is the architect of the c.1928 Georgian Revival style George W.F. Mulliss House in Martinsburg, West Virginia (National Register listed; May 2,1991). Like the other architects, he was active during the period of early American modernism, but having trained under John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, Merchant developed and maintained a classical design vocabulary.
Another local architect, John Arthur Blish, became a resident of the Livingston Manor in 1911 (58 Harrison Avenue). Surely, he designed his own house plans for the Livingston Manor Corporation builders to follow during construction. A third local architect, William Boylan, designed the house at 55 Harrison Avenue, which is an exact copy of the house he designed for himself in 1918 on South Second Avenue in Highland Park. Boylan designed Highland Park's St. Paul's Church in 1914 and the Town Hall in Woodbridge, New Jersey in 1915. The fourth local architect, Harry G. Bach, is noted in a 1927 publication as having designed a house for Lawrence Rice. In 1925, Rice was a resident of 252 Grant Avenue. An architect from South Plainfield, George H. Fisher, designed a 1913 Colonial Revival style house at 248 Lawrence Avenue.
Many workers in the building trades remained with the Livingston Manor Corporation and its successor, the Highland Park Building Company for a long time, including Harvey E. Dodge. Dodge was noted in a newspaper article as "an architect of high skill, who has left gratifying traces of his work all through the Manor and has done much to establish the high standard of architectural excellence and beauty which the Livingston Manor Corporation makes it a point that all dwellings erected there shall maintain." Despite the description, Dodge was not a licensed architect, but more likely, the master builder. Skilled craftsmen, such as Frederick Nietscke, a carpenter, Harold Richard Segoine, a contractor, and Harvey Dodge, have been identified as Livingston Manor Corporation employees as well as Livingston Manor residents. The fact that the workers and designers bought houses they helped design and build is a testament to the high level of quality with which this development came into being. Whittlesey himself, lived in several Livingston Manor houses including the Spanish Colonial style house at 35 Harrison Avenue.
The workshops Whittlesey provided his workmen covered twenty lots. They included two storage barns and plumbing, paint, and carpenter shops, as well as a yard for the stacks of lumber. These facilities were moved three times in 1911, 1912, and 1913, each time opening up property for the construction of houses. Because the workshops and the supplies were close to the job site, building proceeded at a rapid pace.
Many prominent New Brunswick and Highland Park residents secured houses in this new neighborhood. They included several Rutgers College professors, school teachers, bank employees, factory and store owners and employees. Most of the women were housewives and mothers. There were many extended families. Some families took in boarders and several households included live-in servants. The development became so popular that beginning in 1910, the local newspaper's social column changed its name from "Highland Park Notes" to "Highland Park and Livingston Manor Notes" (author's emphasis). It was the only housing development in the New Brunswick area to receive this kind of special acknowledgment. By 1910, 62 houses had been constructed in Livingston Manor.
Watson Whittlesey was a firm believer in healthful living. To that end, he served on Highland Park's Board of Health and Welfare. To promote social interactions through athletic activities among the Livingston Manor residents, in January of 1909, Whittlesey had begun construction of a clubhouse, athletic fields, and a playground on a triangular shaped piece of land bounded by Lincoln, Lawrence, and North Second Avenues. Officers were elected and the clubhouse opened that spring. The Livingston Manor Club sponsored "smokers," lectures, amateur theatrical productions, baseball games, beauty pageants, and annual Fourth of July fireworks for two years. $1,300 worth of playground equipment was installed for the children, which included swings, see-saws, and a jungle gym. This play area and club house facilitated the residents' socialization and helped consolidate this small but growing community. During May of 1910, Professor Prentiss of 15 Grant Avenue, gave nightly reports about Halley's Comet and set up his telescope on the playground lot. In 1910, Whittlesey convinced his neighboring landholders to allow for the creation of a road extending Lincoln Avenue from Livingston Manor to Raritan Avenue at the eastern end of the Albany Street Bridge over the Raritan River. It was opened with great fanfare on Labor Day, September 5th. Bonn's Band played the Star Spangled Banner and a baby parade proceeded in front of a grandstand that had been erected for that purpose. The Lincoln Avenue and Grant Avenue baseball teams played a spirited game on the athletic field. Despite two years of success, in 1911, the Livingston Manor Club disbanded and by the following year, houses began to cover the former playground lot.
In 1912, Watson Whittlesey hired a sales agent, John F. Green, and announced the sales of bungalow lots. These smaller properties were less expensive and a set of plans for a bungalow were given to any purchaser free of charge. These lots included all the modern amenities including "macadam streets, concrete gutters, curbing, sidewalks, sewers, water, gas and electric lights, and other advantages." By 1913, 120 houses had been constructed in Livingston Manor. Sales agent Charles H. Bruce joined the company.
Watson Whittlesey was generally well-loved and was dubbed "the Lord of the Manor." For Whittlesey did not content himself with just building and selling houses. He created a neighborhood spirit by giving receptions to the residents; by trying to make the people of the Manor just one big happy family; by providing playgrounds for the children; and by encouraging the men to take a more active part in public affairs. Upon his death on April 8, 1914, the local newspapers paid many tributes to him. Livingston Manor residents turned out in the hundreds to attend a memorial service at his house on Harrison Avenue. Five days later, the New Brunswick Board of Trade made a proclamation stating: "Whereas, Watson Whittlesey's influence upon our community has been one which will increase for good as time goes on, and whereas the spirit of progress which he evidenced has been emulated by others and has done an untold amount of good for this community, particularly in creating and disseminating a belief in the many advantages for residential and industrial location possessed by our city and its suburbs...Be it resolved that this Board of Trade take this occasion to express its thanks on behalf of the community in which he lived for the work he did among us."
In 1915, a monument paying tribute to Whittlesey was installed at the corner of Lincoln and Lawrence Avenues. It was accompanied by a fountain with a light atop it set onto a stone base. This fountain fell into disrepair and was demolished in the 1950s, however, a brick base with its bronze plaque remains at the intersection to this day. The plaque reads "In Memory of Watson Whittlesey — Founder of Livingston Manor — Erected By His Friends, A.D. 1915." It is the only such commemorative plaque in Highland Park dedicated to a neighborhood planner.
Whittlesey's successors included his wife Anna Wilcox Whittlesey (d. 1918) as president of the Livingston Manor Corporation, and the Highland Park Building Company. Both continued to uphold Whittlesey's vision for this community of homeowners. It was certain that Whittlesey's wishes had been clear before his death, as sales agent Clarence Bruce stated in 1914: "The Livingston Manor Corporation will not dissolve, and all the ideas of the founder will be followed. The Manor was Mr. Whittlesey's greatest development. The organization he left behind him intends to make it his greatest monument, one planned by himself, when no thought of death was in his mind. The men of this organization venerate his memory. Some have worked for him for 15 years, and some of the laborers, 10. Many of them have been tided over spells of illness or misfortune by his generosity."
The Highland Park Building Company was incorporated after Whittlesey's death by long-standing members of his company including builder Robert Lufburrow and engineer Harold Richard Segoine. The quality of the houses this company constructed in Livingston Manor between 1914 and 1925 show the same high standards of materiality and design as the houses constructed during the previous decade.
Livingston Manor's privately owned streets, sidewalks, and curbs were turned over to the Borough of Highland Park by Anna Whittlesey on June 17, 1916. Remarkably, there were no provisions for the borough to accept public ownership of the sewers. That required an act of legislation at the statehouse in Trenton, which was accomplished by Senator Florance, Assemblyman Edgar, and signed by Governor Edge the following year in March of 1917.
Anna Wilcox Whittlesey, "The Lady of the Manor," died on August 16,1918. She was remembered as "a woman of rare refinement and culture, and the soul of hospitality." Long-time business partner, Vernon J. Miller was executor of the estate and Thomas A. Davis became president of the Livingston Manor Corporation.
Highland Park's identity as a streetcar suburb was transformed to that of an automobile suburb during the 1920s. But Whittlesey's initial design in Livingston Manor accommodated this transportation change with no undue strain. The broad avenues once planned to allow for trolley lines provided both abundant street parking and travel lanes. In 1919, bus service was provided between Livingston Manor and New Brunswick every half hour. The route followed Grant Avenue to Lincoln Avenue to the Albany Street Bridge and New Brunswick with the reverse order for the return trip. The last six years of this neighborhood's development continued to see the construction of individually designed houses filling in the remaining open lots, for example, the Mediterranean Revival style house at 252 Grant Avenue, which was constructed c.1924. As the suburb matured, the well-crafted houses were complemented by impromptu gardening competitions between neighbors. By 1922, 210 residences had been constructed in Livingston Manor. The Grantor index to the Middlesex County deeds show that the Livingston Manor Corporation continued to have transactions into the 1960s; nevertheless, Livingston Manor's significant development had taken place by 1925.
It has always been locally recognized that Livingston Manor is an important neighborhood in Highland Park. Its early success provided inspiration to the rest of the townsfolk and the borough's development became quite remarkable after Watson Whittlesey and his successors showed the way.
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† Jeanne Kolva, Highland Park Borough Historian, Livingston Manor Historic District, Middlesex County, New Jersey, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.