Olcott Avenue Historic District
The Olcott Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2010, The Gombach Group.
The Olcott Avenue neighborhood in the Borough of Bernardsville, located in northeast Somerset County, was developed at the turn of the 20th century as a carefully laid out middle class residential neighborhood. The streets in the district, Olcott, Childsworth and Highview Avenues, are characterized by lots of moderate size with regular setbacks with moderate to substantial dwellings constructed in a variety of late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles, several of which are particularly noteworthy examples. Located just north of the downtown commercial district, the Olcott Avenue Historic District also includes three prominent community institutions, the Bernardsville Methodist Episcopal Church and Parsonage, and the original Bernards High School, which are characterized by their distinctive architecture, and the former headquarters of the Visiting Nurse Association.
Location and Setting; Geography and Topography
Approximately 700 feet in width, the Olcott Avenue Historic District extends in length approximately four tenths of a mile, sloping upward from the southwest to northeast along a gentle southern flank of the New Jersey Highlands region. The Olcott Avenue Historic District encompasses all of Olcott Avenue and portions of two intersecting streets (Highview and Childsworth Avenues) where residential development coincided with Olcott Avenue, but excludes adjacent areas where residential development is distinct in conception and architecture. Also excluded is most of the Bernardsville Board of Education property that adjoins the district on the south, including a 1928 school building that has been expanded and altered during several subsequent building campaigns, thereby losing its historic integrity. All district streets are asphalt paved. Distinctive in Bernardsville for its broad width, Olcott Avenue has long had curbing and sidewalks on each side; other streets in the district have no sidewalks. Houses along Olcott and Childsworth Avenues are set back generally about fifty feet, while setbacks on Highview Avenue are somewhat less. Noticeably, very few of the front yards are fenced, a tradition that stemmed from early deed restrictions. Mature shade trees, which line the district streets in most places, are a distinguishing feature along Olcott Avenue, where they are regularly spaced. Mature landscape plantings such as rhododendron (genus Rhododendron) and forsythia (genus Forsythia) exist throughout the Olcott Avenue Historic District. A substantial part of the character of the district is derived from the proximity of the dwellings to the imposing Olcott school building and its adjacent grounds. Not only does the school property provide active recreation space, but also a portion of school property located west the Olcott building and a triangle area at the intersection of Olcott and Childsworth Avenues serve as the district's only park-like spaces.
Erected over a period of about thirty years, c.1900 to c.1930, the contributing resources of the Olcott Avenue Historic District comprise a number of relatively high-style buildings as well as examples of vernacular building types popularized during the late nineteenth century. The district is characterized by buildings in a variety of construction materials and types. Materials used for roofs, walls, foundations and details include stone, stucco, shingle, clapboard, tile and brick, varying in accordance with the particular architectural style employed in a building's design. Frame and stucco construction are most common, frequently in combination with local stone. Two of the most significant buildings, the church and the high school, are entirely of stone construction. Architectural and technological innovations of the period are evident in a number of the buildings, as a result of designs created by architects who were among the most notable in America at the time. Freestanding garages present from the first years of construction as well as several carriage houses stand behind many of the houses, reflecting the residents' early embrace of the automobile. The Olcott Avenue Historic District includes fifty-six contributing buildings composed of thirty-seven dwellings, a school, a church, a parsonage, garages and carriage houses; and two objects, both World War I memorial plaques. Non-contributing resources are comprised of sixteen buildings representing a Methodist Church education building, modern infill dwellings and garages dating from the second half of the 20th century, and a dentist office. As a whole, the Olcott Avenue Historic District possesses excellent integrity in aspects of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association to convey its significance.
In keeping with the original deed restrictions, there are no commercial or industrial resources in the district. Institutional buildings in the district represent two of its most notable resources, the public school and the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1905, the Olcott school building (25 Olcott Avenue) was constructed on property adjacent to the parsonage. Another Bernardsville resident, Frederic P. Olcott, who was a financier and funded the public school project, selected prominent New York architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to design the striking Tudor Revival building. The parapeted gables, prominent square tower, large chimneys, and Tudor arch entry are hallmarks of the style. Hardenbergh selected rough faced ashlar stonework in a light colored granite and a contrasting red clay tile roof. The shed roof dormers are an unusual detail for the style.
The Tudor Revival trend in the neighborhood continued with the construction in 1913/1914 of a new Methodist Episcopal Church to replace an earlier frame building (22 Church Street). Selected to design the new church was yet another New York architectural firm, Dennison and Hirons, whose connection with Bernardsville was via William Childs, founder of the Childs Restaurant chain for whom the firm designed a number of restaurants. Characterized by rough-hewn, random-laid native stone walls, steep roof, parapeted gables, heavy buttresses, and massive square tower, the church was modeled after the rural English parish church, a popular inspiration during the early 20th century for suburban Protestant churches in the region. Relatively small in scale, the church is rectangular in plan with the flat roof tower, which contains the main entry, appended to the southeast corner of the building. A secondary Tudor arch entry is located in a projecting bay on the west side of the church. The south gable end of the building faces the intersection of Wesley and Church Streets and is dominated by a grouping of three Tudor arch windows fitted with stained glass. Other windows are Tudor arch openings that feature wooden tracery or fixed diamond pane sashes.
House Types and Architecture Styles
No traditional house types are found in the Olcott Avenue Historic District. The district includes six gable-fronted, two-story houses, a popular house type widely built in New Jersey towns during the late 19th- to early 20th-century period (12 Olcott Avenue, 18 Olcott Avenue, 27 Highview Avenue, 33 Highview Avenue, 41 Highview Avenue, and 42 Highview Avenue), as well as two gambrel front houses (15 Olcott Avenue and 38 Highview Avenue). A second popular house type found in the district is the Craftsman Bungalow, which is represented by one example (44 Highview Avenue). The American Foursquare house, another popular type widespread in New Jersey towns, is present at 1 Olcott Avenue, 26 Olcott Avenue, 23 Anderson Hill Road, and 34 Highview Avenue. In accordance with the post-Victorian period, plans of district houses include several with the asymmetrical configurations characteristic of exuberant architect designed houses during the early decades of the 20th century. Several examples of symmetrical center hall plans that are characteristic of the Colonial Revival style are found in the district at 28 Olcott Avenue, 66 Highview Avenue, and 6 Childsworth Avenue.
Not surprisingly, dwellings featuring 19th century Victorian styles such as Italianate, Queen Anne and Second Empire, are largely absent from the district. For the most part, the 19th-century Victorian styles had a limited impact on district architecture, largely confined to Italianate and Queen Anne details at 27 Highview Avenue, paneled posts and a spindle railing. Noteworthy in the district are a number of substantial homes along Olcott Avenue with careful — and sometimes elaborate — architectural detailing characteristic of Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Eclectic Revival, Craftsman and Shingle styles that were popular during the first decades of the 20th century. A particularly fine example of the Tudor Revival style is the 1902 parsonage, which was designed by the firm of George B. Post, most likely by Post's son, William Stone Post, who along with his father and siblings were Bernardsville residents (22 Church Street). The parsonage is a relatively early example of Tudor Revival style and displays a number of distinctive Tudor features, such as its steeply pitched roof, cross gables, use of multiple wall materials, multi-paned windows arranged in groups, massive chimneys, and decorated vergeboards. However, other features of the house are illustrative of a transitional design. The integral front porch, shingled gables, and rustic stone are features perhaps more common to Shingle style, which appeared a decade or so before Tudor Revival. The Gothic arch window in the front door is a surprising detail.
Smaller homes in the Olcott Avenue Historic District also feature architectural details that are perhaps in some instances truer in style to the styles they represent. Most prevalent in the district are Colonial Revival dwellings, which are divided among gable, gambrel and hipped roof designs, with either symmetrical or asymmetrical facades. All types have multi-paned, double hung window. Seven of the Olcott Avenue Historic District dwellings, including several of the largest, have hipped roofs (1 Olcott Avenue, 23 Anderson Hill Road, 20 Olcott Avenue, 28 Olcott Avenue, 54 Olcott Avenue, 14 Childsworth Avenue, and 24 Childsworth Avenue). Colonial Revival elements are found on a number of district dwellings. Good examples are the porch at 18 Olcott Avenue and the entry at 34 Highview Avenue. The former headquarters of the Visiting Nurse Association at 12 Olcott Avenue, which provided office space on the first floor and living accommodations for the nurses on the second floor, was designed to fit into the residential neighborhood as an understated gable front Colonial Revival dwelling. The original architect is unknown; however, in 1916 the firm of George Post & Sons designed an operating room addition as a memorial to Bernardsville resident Cynthia Fairchild Dryden, wife of John Fairfield Dryden, the founder of the Prudential Insurance Company and later United States Senator.
Displaying features such as boxy shape and Foursquare design, Craftsman houses typically employ natural materials such as stucco, shingle siding, stone walls and chimneys (17 Olcott Avenue, 26 Olcott Avenue, 60 Olcott Avenue, 44 Highview Avenue, 61 Highview Avenue, and 24 Childsworth Avenue). Craftsman features include deep, overhanging eaves, stone foundations and chimneys, and open porches. Craftsman houses in the district include only one illustration of the ubiquitous 1-1/2 story Bungalow type (44 Highview Avenue); the remainder are two-story examples. Tudor Revival homes are characterized by steep roofs, front gables, and prominent chimneys. 67 Highview Avenue and 69 Olcott Avenue are brick, stucco and frame. The main gable roof of 69 Olcott Avenue is extended in a curving line to cover a first-floor side room, a typical Tudor Revival feature. The Shingle style, which is typically identified by shingle wall cladding and roofing, and asymmetrical facade, frequently with gambreled cross gable, is represented in the district by an excellent, though somewhat late, example at 36 Olcott Avenue.
Large front porches in a variety of styles appear on many of the early district houses, designed to help families enjoy the healthful effects of the country environment, and most have remained open (for example, 23 Anderson Hill Road, 1 Olcott Avenue, 17 Olcott Avenue, 18 Olcott Avenue, 20 Olcott Avenue, 26 Olcott Avenue, 28 Olcott Avenue, 36 Olcott Avenue, and 54 Olcott Avenue). Dwellings constructed later in the period of significance have small entry porches, reflecting a general trend away from front porch socializing.
Most of the houses were designed after the automobile began to be common on local streets, and the large majority of the houses have freestanding garages, many of which echo the house in design and materials. Several dwellings that were built in the later years of the period of significance have integral garages that reflect the further integration of the automobile into daily routine. A carriage house (now converted into a dwelling) is found at 29 Highview Avenue.
Condition and Integrity
In general, Olcott Avenue Historic District buildings are very well maintained. Several have been restored in recent years, and a number have had additions over time, generally in a sympathetic manner. Inappropriate alterations are in the main limited to the vinyl siding found on several buildings and the plastic window coverings placed over the stained glass windows of the church, which are now cloudy and conceal the stained glass. Noteworthy is the school, which has retained a very high degree of integrity. The noncontributing buildings within in the district include several mid and late 20th century dwellings, which were erected on lots that were subdivided from several of the larger original lots. These houses exhibit either Cape Cod or Colonial Revival influence. In addition, there are a number of noncontributing secondary buildings on contributing properties. These are mainly freestanding garages that do not detract from the primary contributing resources and are compatible with the original neighborhood character. Overall, the noncontributing buildings and structures do not detract from the ability of the district to convey a feeling of a planned neighborhood during the period of significance.
The Olcott Avenue Historic District is significant in the areas of architecture, community development, and education, for the period c.1899 to c.1930, beginning with the year Olcott Avenue (originally named Wolfe Avenue) was laid out and ending with the conclusion of original residential development activity. Architectural significance derives from a number of notable examples of revival styles that were popular at turn of the 20th century as well as four outstanding buildings designed by prominent American architects of the period: William Stone Post (son of George B. Post), who designed the 1903 Tudor Revival Methodist Episcopal Parsonage; Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, who designed the 1905 Tudor Revival Olcott School; Dennison & Hirons, who designed the 1914 Methodist Episcopal Church, also Tudor Revival; and William Davenport Jones, who designed the 1905 Shingle style house at 36 Olcott Avenue. Significance in the area of community development stems from Olcott Avenue as the first street in Bernardsville designed to specifically appeal to the local rising class of merchants and entrepreneurs. It did so by means of deed restrictions regarding lot size, building setbacks, property use, and fence limitations that were harbingers of future local zoning ordinances. The district has significance in the area of education for the Olcott School, constructed as a public school and first local high school by wealthy financier and philanthropist Frederick P. Olcott, on property he purchased for the purpose and then donated to the local Board of Education. Despite some modern residential infill development, the district still reflects its appearance from the early decades of the 20th century. Notwithstanding the presence of several modern buildings as well as the loss of some early fabric to modern alterations, the Olcott Avenue Historic District possesses significance and retains integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association necessary for National Register eligibility.
The Olcott Avenue Historic District benefited from its proximity to the Mountain Colony, a well-established enclave of lavish country mansions in the surrounding Somerset Hills that were designed by prestigious American architects. Several of those architects had summer homes in the Mountain Colony, and as a result became involved in a number of local civic projects. Probably the most prominent of that group was George B. Post. Descended from a socially prominent New York merchant family, George Browne Post (1837-1913) was born in New York City and began his architectural practice there following the Civil War after earning a degree in civil engineering and architecture from New York University in 1858. Seeking a healthful environment for his wife who suffered from rheumatism, Post first came to the Bernardsville area in 1871 and became one of the founding members of what would eventually be transformed into an enclave of summer estates known as the Mountain Colony that stretched across portions of the Somerset Hills municipalities of Bernardsville, Mendham, Peapack-Gladstone, Far Hills, and Bedminster. By 1871, Post had already launched his own practice. His first commercial commission, the Equitable Building, was highly significant as the first office building to utilize elevators. Considered a major monument in the evolution of American architecture, and a prelude to the development of the skyscraper, the building was designed with the elevator in mind. Post leased the upper floors of the building, demonstrating his confidence in and support of the elevator scheme. A prolific architect, George Post was most well known for his commercial work, which included most notably the New York Stock Exchange (1901-3) on which his son, William S. Post, collaborated. William Stone Post (1866-1940) joined the firm shortly after he graduated from Columbia University in 1890 and became a partner in 1904. William is also credited with drawing the general plan for the buildings of the campus of City College of New York (c.1903), and the design of the Wisconsin State Capitol, two of the firm's most noteworthy projects. The Post firm is also identified with numerous residential projects, a number in the Somerset Hills.
George Browne Post's earliest known local commission was a stone residence he designed in 1886 and altered in 1898 for its second owner, John F. Dryden, who was founder of the Prudential Insurance Company, later a United Stated Senator from New Jersey, and the most prominent resident of the Mountain Colony. Post designed numerous residences in the area, which has the greatest concentration of his residential designs in the country. Aside from the houses he designed for members of the Post family, altogether his firm provided original designs or alterations for more than twenty-five projects in the area. Noteworthy among the local residential projects in addition to Stronghold were Appletrees (designed for financier Ramsay Turnbull in 1893); Malvern (designed for Post relative Malvina Appleton, c.1898); Woodedge (William Stone Post's own residence, designed in 1900); Kenilwood (designed in 1901 or 1902 by William Stone Post for his older brother George B. Post, Jr); Boulderwood (originally designed for businessman Edward A. LeRoy, c.1902-1904); and Claremont (George Browne Post's second residence of that name, constructed in 1904). Apart from the Methodist Episcopal Parsonage (1902) and alterations to the Visiting Nurse Association headquarters (1916), local civic commissions undertaken by the firm included the Virginia Day Nursery (c.1901), alterations to the Bernardsville public library (1903-04), the Italian Evangelical Church (1909-10), alterations to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church (1908), and the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Manse (1922).
William Stone Post is thought to have been responsible for a number of the elaborate Mountain Colony homes designed by the Post firm. A coachman's cottage on New York financier's Percy R. Pyne's Upton Pyne estate that was built in 1902 — the same year that the Bernardsville Methodist Episcopal Parsonage was constructed — has been attributed to William. Although he later substantially altered and enlarged the cottage, the original plan was almost identical to the Parsonage (22 Church Street). Each picturesque dwelling was made distinctive through the use of different architectural details. For example, while both featured stone first stories and shingled second stories, the parsonage has flared eaves while the coachman's cottage did not; and windows on the parsonage have diamond-pane upper sashes over single-pane lower sashes, while the coachman's cottage had 4-over-4 sashes. The borrowed design almost certainly resulted in savings that would have made it possible for the firm to donate the parsonage plans to the church.
Considered by architectural historians to be one of the great architects of his time, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (1847-1918) is most well known for his New York commissions, particularly the 1884 Dakota apartment building, the 1893 Waldorf and 1897 Astoria hotels, and, most famously, the 1907 Plaza hotel. The hotels he designed were considered at the time they were built to be the finest in the world and gave him a worldwide reputation. His design for the Copley-Plaza in Boston has been called his best work. Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and a descendent of Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh who was the founder of that city's Queens (later Rutgers) College, Hardenbergh designed and superintended the construction of a library and chapel for the college in 1871. He was drawn to Bernardsville during the early years of the Mountain Colony, and built his first summer house there in the 1880s. Hardenbergh replaced the dwelling, known as Renemede, in 1906 after it was destroyed by fire. Although primarily only a weekend and summer resident of the Mountain Colony, Hardenbergh became a trustee of the St. Bernards Episcopal Church in Bernardsville, and, in 1912, designed its Gothic style Parish House. Hardenbergh collaborated with Boston architect Guy Lowell in creating the Natirar, a Tudor style residence in the Peapack section of the Mountain Colony completed in 1912 for Walter Ladd and his invalid wife, Kate Macy Ladd. Hardenbergh's design for the Olcott School (25 Olcott Avenue) may have served as the genesis for the much larger Natirar mansion. Both buildings feature large hip roofed central blocks with tower-like Tudor-arch central entries, flanked on each end by projecting bays. Tall chimneys and bands of tall, narrow windows are distinctive features of each building. Natirar's brick facade, accented by light colored stone trim, gives a lighter, more refined appearance than the rough hewn granite facade and red tile roof of the school building.
Although not as well known as that of Post or Hardenbergh, the work of New York architects Dennison & Hirons has been previously recognized through several landmark designations in New York City, including the 1923 Childs' Restaurant on the Boardwalk at Coney Island, the 1928 Beaux Arts Institute of Design Building in Manhattan, and the 1929 Art Deco style Suffolk Title and Guarantee Company Building in Queens. The partnership of Ethan Allen Dennison and Frederick Charles Hirons, which was formed in 1910 and lasted until 1929, usually specialized in mid-rise office buildings, and normally worked in either a restrained classical or Art Deco style; but the firm was also responsible for designing several of the Childs Restaurants, which numbered 107 by 1925. The fanciful ocean-themed Childs Restaurant on the Boardwalk at Coney Island was one of the first to adapt the design to the building's specific location. The chain was founded in 1889 by Samuel and William Childs, who grew up on a large, prosperous farm in the northeastern part of Bernards Township, and who may have been the local link between the architects and the 1913 Bernardsville Methodist Episcopal Church project (22 Church Street). The Tudor church seems neither typical nor representative of the firm's born projects, although little is known about other non-commercial work they may have undertaken.
Ethan Allen Dennison (1881-1954) was born in Summit, New Jersey, studied architecture at the Godfrey Architectural Preparatory School and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, afterward entering the office of Trowbridge & Livingston in New York in 1905. After the dissolution of his partnership with Hirons in 1929, Dennison headed his own New York firm and designed numerous banks in Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Delaware. He won the Medal of Honor of the Society of Diploma Architects of France and was a member of the Beaux Arts Society of New York, as well as the American Society of the French Legion of Honor.
Frederick Charles Hirons (1883-1942) came to the United States from England as a youth. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received the Rotch scholarship, after which he went to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He won the Paris Prize in 1906, which allowed him to continue his studies and travel in Europe through 1909. Hirons taught architecture at Columbia University, and was a founder of the Beaux Arts Institute of Design. It was his design for the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York that won the competition for the Dennison & Hirons firm. Polychrome terra cotta panels were a prominent feature in that building's facade, and the firm was recognized for its terra cotta work in 1928, when an entire issue of Atlantic Terra Cotta Magazine was devoted to the partners' work. After 1929, Hirons formed a partnership with F.W. Mellor for two years and later practiced on his own until 1940. He designed many public buildings, including the war memorials at Worcester, Massachusetts and Vincennes, Indiana.
Comparatively little is known about W. Davenport Jones, who was the architect of the largest dwelling in the district at 36 Olcott Avenue, the striking 1905 Shingle style dwelling designed for Ulrich Eberhardt, Jr., son of a wealthy industrialist from Newark, New Jersey. W. Davenport Jones was undoubtedly William Davenport Jones, son of Edward Henry Jones and Mary Ann Davenport, who was born in 1868 and died in 1933 in Newark. The 1910 United States Census listed Jones and his wife, Jennie B. Jones, living on Fourth Avenue in Newark and working as an architect. His home address in Newark continued to be the same in the 1920 and 1930 census reports. Records show that Jones maintained an architectural office in New York between 1895 and 1899 and again between 1902 and 1908. Jones was apparently engaged in general work. According to his obituary, he was the architect for the Hospital for Women and Children, the Woodmen's Junior Order, and the Woodside Building and Loan Association buildings in Newark as well as many private residences in the Forest Hill section of that city. The earliest known residential design by him was the 1899 W.J. Leggett residence in the affluent Forest Hill neighborhood. An article in 1910 about the desirability of some of New Jersey's developing suburbs contains a description of another Forest Hill residence designed by Jones:
"The building has the homelike effect of the old English style in its great, overhanging, half-timbered gable and mission style touches. It is a stucco building, two and a half stories in height designed by William Davenport Jones of Newark. It contains ten rooms and two baths. The living room and dining room are trimmed in chestnut, the parlor and the bathrooms in basswood, cypress trim prevailing elsewhere...Among the details of the interior work are parquet flooring, tiled bathrooms and vestibule, steam heat, and electric lights...It cost about $20,000."
As a Newark resident, Ulrich Eberhardt, Jr. may have been familiar with Jones' work, or Jones may have come to Eberhardt's attention through Olcott Avenue developer Frank B. Allen, a Newark attorney who was the son-in-law of Newark resident Jacob Skinkle, one of the wealthiest landowners in that city during the late 19th century.
During the opening decades of the 20th century, Olcott Avenue was the most fashionable street in Bernards Township, outside the Mountain Colony. Eberhardt's Shingle style house, a late example of the style, was the sole example of that style constructed in the district. Several of the other dwellings in the district are good examples of Period Revival architecture chosen by people of means in America's growing communities during the first decades of the 20th century. The substantial Colonial Revival center hall dwellings at 28 Olcott Avenue and 54 Olcott Avenue, both free interpretations of colonial precedents, feature such hallmarks of the style as symmetrical hipped roof shape, broad windows, and columned entry porch. Dwellings at 17 and 26 Olcott Avenue are robust hipped-roof examples of the Craftsman style. Both are similarly restrained in stylistic elaboration and feature typical wide eaves and solid railings on their front porches.
Olcott Avenue was significant during the period of its development as a neighborhood intended to appeal to an increasingly prosperous class of local merchants and business owners by means of deed restrictions placed on each property, which were to be the forerunners of local zoning ordinances enacted several decades later. While not unique in America at the time, the deed restrictions were a novel introduction in a traditionally rural area. For more than 150 years, Bernards Township had been an agrarian community composed of dispersed farmsteads with several small crossroads hamlets to provide needed services. Bernardsville, which was originally known as Vealtown, was one of those hamlets. The late 19th-century development of the Mountain Colony brought a group of Gilded Age tycoons who needed local services and goods for their baronial estates. They needed carpenters, masons, farm workers, and servants, and Bernardsville saw an influx of workers, including Italian, German, Irish, and East European immigrants, who moved into new neighborhoods of simple working class houses, such as a section south of the railroad depot that was established before the turn of the 20th century and was later known as Little Italy. This was a dramatic change for Bernardsville and for the township as a whole that would stir up anxieties among the older residents for a number of decades. At the same time, a middle class of local professionals and merchants was emerging in Bernardsville, as a by-product of the development of Bernardsville's enclave of baronial summer estates, which resulted in an increasing population of workers who benefited from wages paid by the tycoons of the Mountain Colony. The workers, in turn, spent their wages in Bernardsville's shops and businesses, thereby increasing the prosperity of the local merchants and professionals.
Thus, by the late nineteenth century, there was a developing market for homes that would appeal to this newly prosperous middle class. Several substantial homes were built on the old main road leading south from the center of Bernardsville; however, Olcott Avenue was unique in the township as a planned neighborhood of comfortable homes constructed in the most fashionable architectural styles, on a broad new avenue set comfortably apart from the working class neighborhoods. To further distinguish the new neighborhood model, restrictions were written into each deed by the developer to control how each buyer could use and lay out his property, and even the minimum value of the home that could be built. The result of the constraints, which included specific prohibitions against many business uses as well as home slaughtering-related activities that might be found in lower income communities, was a residential district of substantial dwellings in homogenous settings.
In Bernards Township, three new multi-room schools were constructed between 1903 and 1905, a remarkable accomplishment for a rural community that resulted in the closure of five outdated schoolhouses. New four-room schools were built in Basking Ridge (1903) and Liberty Corner (1904). In Bernardsville, the new school building built in 1905 and donated to the Bernards Township Board of Education by Frederic P. Olcott provided space for the first public high school in the township. Prior to that year, the nearest public high school would have been eight to ten miles away in Morristown (established in 1869), or Summit (established 1888). The attention paid to the local schools was not unique to Bernardsville. There was a focus on public education throughout America around the turn of the century, as progressives campaigned to improve its quality and make it mandatory. Progressives campaigned to replace one-room country schools with consolidated schools, improve school buildings, provide vocational training for working-class children and add high school to the curriculum. In Bernards Township, a small group of progressives organized in 1903 the Basking Ridge Improvement Society, with the modernization of the local school system as one of their major concerns. That year, the Society worked to have men sympathetic with progressive ideas, including William Childs, elected to the local school board. Childs, who was by then a successful New York City restaurant entrepreneur, attended the local public school as a child, but then had to travel to Morristown to attend high school. In 1905, the group backed efforts by the Board of Education to establish a high school in the township, one of the first high school departments in the county. And in 1906 they supported the election of Olcott Avenue resident Dr. Clare Henry to the Board. In his 1904 School Report, Somerset County Superintendent H.C. Krebs singled out Bernards Township for taking the lead — through its ambitious school construction program — in a movement toward "an awakening and an enterprise that augur well for the educational future of the county." In 1905, the number of grammar school graduates was only sixty-five in all of Somerset County; no high school graduates were reported in the county that year or the following year.
By 1900 the need for a new school in Bernardsville had become evident. In fact, the Board of Education was facing overcrowding that year in schools throughout Bernards Township. Discussions of the school problem continued until 1904, when Frederic P. Olcott, a wealthy financier and summer resident, made an offer to the Board of Education to personally secure land and erect a school in Bernardsville. His offer was accepted. The handsome new Bernardsville schoolhouse, designed by renowned New York architect, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, was comprised of two floors with four classrooms each and a third floor with a large hall and four small classrooms. It was erected at what was for the time and rural locale an extraordinary cost of over $100,000 on land purchased for $10,600. A Newark newspaper commented that the new schoolhouse would be "one of the most striking features of this part of the State." The building was equipped with "every modern appliance, and...made not only useful, but beautiful." The deed conveyed by Olcott to the Board of Education contained restrictions to assure that the property would be used in perpetuity for nonsectarian educational purposes, that the school would be free to all township school children, and that the property should not be sold, mortgaged, or pledged for any reason. This "splendid gift," as it was still called years later, suddenly transformed the education opportunities in the township. By the time the new building was dedicated, the Board of Education had approved adding two grades for a new "high school department," and for the first time a public high school education was available in Bernards Township. In his report that year, Superintendent Krebs specifically called out Olcott's gift to the township, remarking "This will, undoubtedly, be one of the finest public school buildings in the United Sates, as Mr. Olcott will spare no pains to construct and equip it according to the most modern ideas of school requirement." Unlike most other rural communities, Bernards Township was clearly in the vanguard to provide a publicly financed higher education. A grateful population passed resolutions of appreciation in Olcott's honor and promptly elected him to the Board of Education. Wolfe Avenue was swiftly renamed in recognition of his gift, and the central square in Bernardsville was dedicated to him. An inscription beneath a portrait of Olcott that still hangs in the old school building reads: "Patron and Benefactor of Education."
Late 19th Century
Bernardsville remained secondary in importance within Bernards Township to Basking Ridge until the late 19th century. An 1873 atlas shows Bernardsville with two mills, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, and a store clustered in the vicinity of the intersection along with a handful of residences, while a Methodist Episcopal Church, another blacksmith shop and a school are shown scattered along the roads north of the intersection. In contrast, the nearby village of Basking Ridge is depicted with a far denser concentration of dwellings, institutions and businesses, including four churches, an academy, two doctors, a store, a hotel, a bakery, a blacksmith shop, a wheelwright shop, and a proposed development of small house lots. Somerset County historian James P. Snell noted in 1881 that Basking Ridge was "the most considerable village in the township" with 800 residents, four churches, a dozen businesses, and six physicians. His list for Bernardsville was considerably shorter, with one church, two general stores, a hotel, two blacksmiths, and a dressmaker.
Visible on the Bernardsville detail of the 1873 atlas is the station for the West Line Rail Road, which inaugurated service in January 1872 from Bernardsville, the end of the line, to Summit where the line connected with the Morris and Essex Rail Road, providing service to Newark and New York. Also visible on the atlas are the names of two wealthy New Yorkers, George B. Post and George I. Seney, who had recently established summer residences in the hills north of the railroad. The arrival in the area of the railroad and these two men would dramatically alter the future course of Bernardsville's development. Seney, who was on a path to become president of Metropolitan Bank of New York, and Post, already an established architect with a national reputation and a scion of New York society, both visited the area as boarders. Shortly afterward, they became the first of the Gilded Age plutocrats to purchase large tracts in an area that would become famous as a summer resort for the fabulously wealthy, on a par with enclaves at Lenox, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island. In his 1881 county history, James P. Snell took note of the wealthy New York men who had summer residences in Bernardsville, naming Seney, Post, and A.V. Stout, president of Shoe and Leather Manufacturers' Bank in New York.
Although the West Line Rail Road immediately began promoting the sale of nearly a thousand proposed tiny lots in Basking Ridge, hoping to create a commuter suburb that would provide steady revenue to the railroad, little development occurred there; instead, the railroad would help Bernardsville become the dominant town center of the region by facilitating the lifestyle of the enormously wealthy newcomers. Basking Ridge would continue as an inexpensive summer destination for families of more moderate means, who boarded at several hotels or with local farm families. In the final years of the century, Bernardsville was a "flourishing little place." The village acquired its own post office in 1872. The Methodist Episcopal Church outgrew its frame building and in 1880 George I. Seney (1826-1893), the son of a Methodist minister and by then a bank president, gave a donation of land and a frame church, a gift valued at $10,000, located a short distance east of the intersection, at the intersection of two new streets, appropriately named Church and Wesley. The church was described by historian James Snell shortly after its erection as "one of the most beautiful and convenient ecclesiastical structures in this portion of the state." A neighborhood of mainly small dwellings soon developed around the church. By 1891, according to a business review published that year, Bernardsville was "an enterprising and growing post-village,...in the centre of a highly fertile and productive agricultural district with which the place enjoys a considerable trade. The educational and religious facilities are good; the intellectual and moral status are of a high order." Businesses listed were L. Manker, harness maker; Calvin D. Smith, proprietor of a general merchandise business employing three assistants; Chas. McMichael, proprietor of Bernardsville Mill employing three mill workers; and Edward Daily, proprietor of a meat market employing one assistant and two wagons "to serve the distant trade."
A local history provides a description of the thriving service economy at the turn of the century, which owed much to the residents of the burgeoning Mountain Colony:
"H. N. Miller and Barker and Higgins had hay and grain; Ludlow, Mayberry, and Getzoff did a good business in groceries and meats; Allshesky and Gianquitti and Corrado had hardware; Conkling Lumber and Dave Neill had coal. There were painters, electricians, plumbers, upholsterers, masons, carpenters, builders, shoemakers, and even a Chinese laundry. There were a great many errands to be run; there were a great many packages to be handled and delivered, for a great many thing came by railway express, and such things as fresh fish, boxed in ice, had to be delivered upon arrival. There were big jobs and small jobs, and they gave a living to a good many people."
Residential development in the village was also booming as a result of the demand for construction workers, farm hands, and servants at the lavish Mountain Colony country places that were being built at a rapid pace. A plat for seventy-five small lots south of the railroad was filed in 1892, a neighborhood largely populated by immigrants that would eventually be called Little Italy. The timing was right for a development that would appeal to the local merchants and professional population. Growing increasingly affluent, this segment of the population comprised the local emerging middle class.
Wolfe Avenue (the original name for Olcott Avenue) was laid out as a public road in 1899, per a deed between heirs of Stewart Wolfe and Frank B. Allen, who would control all the land fronting on the broad new road, which was originally dirt. In 1869, Stewart Wolfe, who lived in New York City at the time, had purchased fifty-seven acres for $5,700 from Walter K. Sturges, who had owned the property for only three years when he sold it. At Wolfe's death several years later, his heirs — Mary, his wife, and Henry S. Wolfe and Minnie Wolfe Hull, his children — were left a sizable tract of land a short distance east of the center of Bernardsville, adjacent to land owned by the estate of Anna Skinkle Allen, wife of Frank Bell Allen. In 1889, at the age of thirty-eight, Allen had married Anna Skinkle, the twenty-eight year old only surviving child of Jacob Skinkle, reportedly one of the wealthiest landowners in Newark. Anna's father died a year after her wedding, and she died five years later at her home in East Orange, leaving an infant daughter, also Anna. Her estate included twenty-two acres in Bernardsville she acquired from John Mullen for $3,423 in 1892. Little is known of Frank Allen's professional life; however, by 1899 he was president of Newark Home Builders and had built a large house for himself across from the north end of Wolfe Avenue.
Particularly noteworthy in the 1899 deed between Stewart and Allen are the strict restrictions imposed on lots fronting on the broad new avenue:
"It is understood and agreed between said parties that said Wolfe Avenue...is hereby dedicated to public use as a public street or highway and that all the premises binding upon said Wolfe Avenue and belonging to the parties hereto, but in no case to exceed a depth greater than two hundred feet...are hereby made subject to the restrictions, that for the space of twenty years from the date here of, said premises shall be used only for erection and use of dwelling houses, and necessary outbuildings, each dwelling house to cost at least three thousand dollars ($3000) and to be set back at least fifteen feet from the line of said avenue and other buildings at least seventy-five feet from the line of said avenue, and for the period of aforesaid shall not be used for a brewery, distillery, slaughter house, smith shop, forge or furnace, steam engine, brass foundry, nail or other foundry, soap, candle, starch, varnish, blue, ink, turpentine, bone or entrail factory or manufactory of gun power or any bone boiling establishment or factory for tanning, dressing or preparing skins, hides or leather, or a livery stable or hog pen or any other dangerous, noxious or offensive purpose, or establishment whatsoever, or for any retail business purposes."
The restrictions were a method used to distinguish the new middle class neighborhood from the working class neighborhoods in a time before zoning ordinances existed, a concept that was not limited to Bernardsville, but in this instance comprised an unusually specific and lengthy list of prohibited uses. Also in 1899, Albemarle Road in Brooklyn's Prospect Park was laid out according to its original prospectus to create a suburb for "people of intelligence and good breeding" by controlling the design of the houses and the arrangement of the streets. The goal was to shape an environment "where a wife and children, in going to and fro, are not subjected to the annoyance of contact with the undesirable elements of society."
Typical of the Wolfe Avenue residents was Dr. Clare Henry, a young dentist, and his wife, Ermonce Eberhardt Henry. According to family history, during the summers of the 1890s, Ermonce Eberhardt, her mother, and her brothers and sister, took the Delaware Lackawanna & Western Railroad from Newark to Basking Ridge, where they spent their vacation in the country. It was in Basking Ridge that Ermonce met Clare Henry in his father's general store, the P.C. Henry store. Ermonce's father, Ulrich Eberhardt, Sr. (1841-1901) emigrated from Switzerland to Newark in 1850 and apprenticed at Ezra Gould's machine shop there commencing in 1859. In 1867, he married Emeline Hudson, and they built a house in the Ironbound Section of the city, a working class neighborhood with a sizable immigrant population. Eberhardt became Gould's partner in 1877 and purchased Gould's share of the business in 1890, which by then had earned a high reputation for building automatic tools. The Eberhardts continued to live in their familiar working class neighborhood, even as their wealth increased substantially. Summering in Basking Ridge rather than in the grander Bernardsville Mountain Colony would have been in keeping with the family's lifestyle.
Ulrich Eberhardt died in March of 1901. In October of the same year, Ermonce married Clare Henry, who by that time was a dentist with a new practice in Bernardsville. Evidently in anticipation of the wedding, in April of 1901 Ermonce's mother purchased "Lot #10" on Wolfe Avenue from the heirs of Stewart Wolfe and by December a house in the most fashionable Colonial Revival style had been constructed (28 Olcott Avenue) Mrs. Eberhardt conveyed the property to her daughter in February of the following year. Ermonce's brother, Ulrich Eberhardt, Jr., was also married in 1901, and continued to live in Newark. In 1902 he purchased property next to his sister, acquiring Lots 11 through 16 of the Wolfe tract. In 1905, he acquired a parcel from Frank Allen's Newark Home Builders Company and started construction on what had grown to become a two-acre lot. Eberhardt used architect William Davenport Jones, who built a number of substantial homes in Forest Hills, a wealthy enclave in Newark, to design a large Shingle-style dwelling. Ulrich eventually subdivided several lots from his property, including, in 1911, a lot that he sold to his widowed sister, Emma (Emeline) N. Craig. The Eberhardt, Craig and Henry children attended the Bernardsville public schools.
As the residential building boom continued, by 1900 overcrowded schools had become a serious problem in Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, and Liberty Corner. The earliest known schoolhouse at Bernardsville, a stone building constructed north of the crossroads in 1824, was in use until around 1840, when another stone schoolhouse was constructed about a mile north of the center of the hamlet, which was used until 1880. In that year the old Methodist church building was converted into a schoolhouse and the stone school was evidently abandoned. By 1871, there were eight schoolhouses in Bernards Township, with 170 children at Basking Ridge, 126 at Liberty Corner, and 90 at Bernardsville. According to historian Snell, the public schools had "always been a subject of interest to citizens, and...well supported." However, there was no local high school and few students even completed grammar school. During the 1890s teacher Kenneth Mathieson was reportedly the first to hold a commencement exercise and award diplomas to graduating eighth graders. According to one account, three diplomas were awarded in 1894. The few township students who went on to public high school traveled by horse to Morristown or by train to Summit. In 1900, overcrowding led to consideration being given to build a union school to serve Basking Ridge and Bernardsville; however, the proposed location was not conveniently located to either village, and concerns were raised about ownership of such a school in the event that Bernardsville should be made into a borough. The idea was dropped. That same year, Samuel Childs, president of the Board of Education, had plans drawn by architect John Corley Westervelt to add another story to the Bernardsville Public School (the former Methodist Church) and to remodel the Basking Ridge schoolhouse. Samuel S. Childs (1865-1925) was one of ten children of a prosperous farmer who had been in Bernards Township since the mid-1800s, eventually accumulating hundreds of acres of farmland. Samuel and his brother William (1865-1938) launched an innovative restaurant in New York City in 1889 which became so successful that they began to add new locations, eventually opening more than one hundred, including a number designed by John Westervelt. Westervelt's school plans seemed to focus primarily on stylistic changes, and neither plan substantially increased the capacity of the district.
Nothing came of Westervelt's plans, but efforts to address the overcrowded schools continued. In August 1902, voters approved an appropriation of $9,000 for a new school in Basking Ridge, and the school board worked for months "in fruitless endeavor" to secure the erection of a stone school house that was favored by Samuel Childs and his brother Luther. Samuel Childs gave the board his personal check for $1,500 to cover deficiencies, but then, for reasons not explained in the minutes, two months later asked for its return. The board subsequently voted, with the two Childs brothers dissenting, to adopt plans furnished by the state superintendent. Samuel Childs evidently continued to press his preference for a stone building, and eventually an agreement was achieved with contractors to make West Millington bluestone affordable, thereby establishing a precedent for stone construction that would be followed in Bernardsville and Liberty Corner. The new school was opened in September 1903.
Population growth continued in Bernardsville, fueling the residential building boom, as evidenced by a 1903 article in the Bernardsville News:
"The demand for houses in our midst continues unabated but there is not a house to be had here. In view of this condition, which, as a matter of fact has existed for many months, it seems strange that some person or persons with money to invest do not take steps to supply this urgent demand. It is estimated that as many as 20 or 25 houses could be immediately rented upon their completion, and as rents are comparatively high here, the investment should be a profitable one."
In January 1903, a U-shaped tract south of Wolfe Avenue was proposed for subdivision into ninety-five building lots of 50x200 feet and smaller. Some Bernardsville residents may have looked upon the proposal with alarm at the potential for many additional school children. Prosperous Wolfe Avenue residents may also have felt conflicted at the prospect that the proposed subdivision might intrude upon the special nature of their neighborhood, with its restricted deeds, spacious lots, and substantial houses. While many of the residents of Wolfe Avenue had deep roots in the township, in all likelihood the proposed subdivision would attract many less affluent outsiders. On the other hand, the merchants and professionals who made up the majority of Wolfe Avenue residents could also view any new residents as potential new customers and clients.
At the January 29, 1904 school board meeting, a motion was passed to construct a new schoolhouse at Bernardsville. The proposal was subsequently discussed at two public meeting over the next several weeks, with no apparent resolution until what seems to have been a surprise announcement at the March 26th board meeting. It was then, according to board minutes, district clerk J. E. Ballentine "reported that Mr. F. P. Ollcot [sic] was a going to secure land and erect a School House at Bernardsville for the Township of Bernards." This surprising and brief entry remained the only mention within the minutes of Olcott or his extraordinary offer until the March 1905 annual school meeting, when Olcott was nominated from the floor and elected to the board; Olcott, however, was unable to accept the election due to ill health. With a new Bernardsville schoolhouse having been taken care of by a benefactor, the board was free to move forward to build a new schoolhouse at Liberty Corner. A proposal to spend $10,000 for a two-story stone schoolhouse was approved by township voters in April 1904; contracts were awarded in early August; the cornerstone was laid August 29; and the new schoolhouse was dedicated in January 1905.
In the meantime, Olcott worked quietly to fulfill his promise. Frederic Pepoon Olcott (1841-1909), the son of well-to-do Albany banker, moved to New York City after the Civil War, where he worked as stockbroker for ten years. In 1882, he joined the ten-year old Central Trust Company of New York, and was named president in 1884. In 1888, Olcott purchased a 125-acre farm from George I. Seney, eventually increasing his property to nearly 500 acres, which he called Round Top Farm. The Olcotts were summer residents of the Mountain Colony, retaining a handsome house on East Fifty-third Street in New York City.
He was representative of those among what was then a largely Protestant upper class who at that time held strong ideas regarding civic and Christian duty, which found expression in a variety of community projects. Olcott was not alone among the Mountain Colony residents in his locally directed paternalism, nor was he even the first to build and donate a public school to the Bernards Township. An article in New York Daily Tribune pointed out that "Mr. Olcott is the second member of the New-York colony in the Bernard[s] Hills to erect a public school for the benefit of the people of the mountains. Grant B. Schley built a handsome public school building near his summer home at Far Hills."
For the school project, Olcott moved quickly to acquire twenty-six acres from the heirs of Stewart Wolfe, paying $10,600 in April 1904 for the U-shaped tract on the south side of Wolfe Avenue that had been proposed for subdivision into ninety-five building lots the previous year. He engaged another resident of the Mountain Colony, the architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, to design the new high school. Prior to the Olcott school project, Hardenbergh had no other known commissions in the Mountain Colony vicinity. According to Mountain Colony architectural historians Jack Turpin and Barry Thomson, "in his most famous buildings, Hardenbergh made personal statements by using historical sources, especially European Renaissance styles." The renowned architect was known to carefully choose the details of a building himself. His Tudor Revival design for the school was neither average nor economical. Specified construction materials, such as Waterloo granite and red clay roof tiles, had to be imported. Above the Tudor arch in the front, the phrase, "Knowledge is Power" was elegantly engraved. Architectural elements, such as exposed rafter tails, raised mortar joints, and jig-sawn interior trim, all added cost, which Olcott apparently found acceptable. Hardenbergh's schoolhouse design was quite grand for the village, and certainly more sophisticated in detail than any other school in the township. Remarkably, despite having to import many of the materials, the school was designed and construction was completed within twelve months.
The pattern and attitude of the Mountain Colony toward the surrounding area had been established by 1900 in large part by George Seney and Frederick Olcott, but other wealthy residents of the Mountain Colony also contributed substantially to the local civic, religious, and educational institutions during this period. According to a local history, "The paternalistic attitude carried through into many fields, churches, the fire companies, and a good many other civic ventures looked to the Mountain for financial support, and they seldom looked in vain." In 1902, summer resident William Stone Post, who was a member of his father's prestigious firm, George B. Post, donated plans for a new Methodist Episcopal parsonage in the Olcott neighborhood, an event that was noteworthy enough to be reported by both the local Bernardsville News and the larger circulation Newark Evening News. The Newark paper described the picturesque Tudor Revival dwelling:
"It would be a difficult matter to find within the bounds of the Newark Methodist Episcopal Conference a more complete parsonage than the one that was completed last December in Bernardsville...The first story is of rustic stonework. The second story is of shingle finish, with slate roofing. The house has electric light, steam heat, hot and cold water throughout, with all other modern improvements. There are five rooms on the first floor, and five rooms besides the pastor's study and a bath on the second floor. There is a splendidly arranged cellar under the entire building, containing two storage rooms, a furnace room, kitchen cellar and laundry. There is a large attic over all. The cost of the building is about $8,500."
The death in 1893 of their primary benefactor, George Seney, had been a loss keenly felt by the church, which as a result his reliable financial support for more than ten years had not had to assume full responsibility for its expenses. According to a later church history, Frederic Olcott "stepped into the breach and...supported the church generously." It is not clear how the parsonage construction costs were funded, but Olcott may have provided assistance.
Another example of paternalistic community support appeared in the Olcott neighborhood in 1906. In 1903, the recently established St. Bernards Episcopal Church in Bernardsville initiated a parish nurse program that was soon transformed into the Visiting Nurse Committee, later renamed the Visiting Nurse Association, which became a nonsectarian community organization composed of women from the Mountain Colony. In 1906, Mrs. Walter P. Bliss, whose husband was a prominent New York banker, led an effort to construct a building that would serve as headquarters for the Association as well as housing for the nurses. A site on Olcott Avenue was selected despite the fact that less expensive building lots were available in other parts of the town. Mrs. Bliss organized the funding and oversaw the construction of the simple gable front Colonial Revival building (12 Olcott Avenue). Ten years later, George B. Post & Sons donated plans for an addition to the VNA building in memory of the wife of United States Senator John Dryden, another resident of the Mountain Colony.
The attention being paid to new school buildings in Bernards Township was being noticed outside of the community. In his 1904 report to the State Board of Education, County Superintendent H.C. Krebs noted the progress and specifically lauded Olcott's anticipated gift to the township." In March 1905, township residents acknowledged the significance of Olcott's donation by electing him to the Board of Education. Due to ill health, however, Olcott was not able to serve. Olcott donated the twenty-seven acre property and the completed schoolhouse to the Bernards Township Board of Education just one year after making his offer. As part of the school property conveyance, the owners along the avenue signed a release to assure nothing in their restricted deeds would prevent the construction of a school building. On April 24, 1905, township residents voted to accept the deed for the new school and grounds. At that time, the Board of Education adopted a resolution in appreciation, approved 92-1 by residents attending the meeting:
"Resolved that the hearty thanks and enduring gratitude of the people of Bernards Township are due to Frederic P. Olcott for his noble gift of a school property in the village of Bernardsville, which, for the size and arrangement of its grounds, and the convenience, stability and beauty of the school building which he has caused to be erected thereon, is unsurpassed by any similar property in the State.
Resolved further that appreciating the benefits of a thorough common school education as the best foundation for good citizenship and the greatest aid to success in life we pledge to the said Frederic P. Olcott to each other and to our children our earnest support both individually and collectively to this notable endeavor to raise the standard and extend the facilities of the free public school system of this Township."
Somerset County Superintendent Krebs singled out the new school for praise in his 1905 School Report:
"The magnificent stone school building donated to Bernards township by Mr. Frederick [sic] Olcott...has been completed...Its cost will approximate $80,000. When it is considered that it provides for but eight school rooms, it can be seen that no expense has been spared to make the building a model of beauty and convenience. The spacious grounds, the gymnasium, the fine offices and numerous toilet rooms are a few of the features that unite to make this new building an example of what a modern school should be. The effect of this gift on the welfare of the children cannot be estimated."
At their June 1905 meeting, the Board of Education voted to sell the old Bernardsville schoolhouse and use the proceeds to establish the first high school department in Bernards Township. No longer would township students have to travel to Morristown or Summit for a high school education. The new schoolhouse was formally dedicated September 9, 1905, the third new school to be opened in the township within the remarkable span of only three years. One thousand programs were printed for the event, an indication of the importance attached to the new school and the widespread support by the community. A newspaper article provided a description of the new school:
"The schoolhouse, which has been more than a year in construction, is a stone structure on an elevated tract of twenty-seven acres to the north of the village. Mr. Olcott's original intention was to spend $75,000 upon the building, but it has been found that it will cost more than $100,000. The building is equipped with every modern appliance, and is made not only useful, but beautiful...It is 125 feet front, 90 feet deep and three stories in height. The basement will contain a gymnasium, 30x90 fitted with all the latest apparatus. The twenty-seven acres surrounding the school will be made by Mr. Olcott, in addition to ordinary playgrounds, into a park for athletic enjoyment. A baseball and tennis ground will be made, a track laid out and a grove on the property turned into a picnic grove."
In 1906, the first closing exercises of the Bernardsville Public School attracted an impressive crowd estimated at 700 persons. Principal James T. Schock spoke of the work of the past school year and of the "many difficulties that had attended the organization of the various grades." These difficulties, he said, had practically been overcome, and by another year the work would be carried to the standard established by the State Board of Education. Of forty members of the high school at the beginning of the year, thirteen left before the end of the term. The first commencement exercises included an address by Republican Governor Edward C. Stokes, an indication of the magnitude and prestige attached to the event. The favorable response by the community to the improvements to local education, both in infrastructure and curriculum, was made evident at the 1906 annual school meeting, when a large crowd unanimously approved doubling the local school tax. Somerset County Superintendent Krebs singled out the township once again, remarking, "The people of that township were gratified with the progress of the schools, and were perfectly willing to bear the expense of the improvement."
The new school was much appreciated by the community and frequently lauded. There was at least a belief that Bernards High School was one of the most highly rated high schools in the state because of the financial support that it received and because of the quality of its faculty. An editorial in the 1910 yearbook stated: "The scholars of Bernards High School be ever mindful of the unusual advantages they possess in their attractive building and extensive grounds. If this school should be contrasted with others of its size, the superiority of our school surroundings would at once become apparent. Situated as it is among the beautiful Bernardsville hills, no more suitable site could be found in the country." Many years later Olcott's gift was still being recognized, even as a new high school was dedicated: "For years we have been immensely proud of our extensive school grounds, and we feel very much indebted to Mr. Olcott who, some time ago, donated this splendid gift to the Board of Education."
The community also honored Frederic Olcott by promptly renaming Wolfe Avenue after him. At the time the new school building was completed in 1905, there were more than half a dozen substantial homes constructed on Olcott Avenue, which, with its substantial, architecturally distinctive houses lining a broad tree-lined street, was unique in Bernards Township. Early Olcott Avenue residents included William R. Bromfield, who established the first hardware, plumbing and tinning business in Basking Ridge; Benjamin Amster, a butcher and grocer; Charles Alpaugh, a local real estate broker; Dr. Clare Henry, the first dentist in the village; and Ulrich Eberhardt, Dr. Henry's brother-in-law, who as a commuter was atypical of the majority of residents in the neighborhood.
Bernardsville's economy continued to flourish and by 1905 Bernardsville's downtown had eclipsed Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner. Between 1901 and 1909, developer Frank B. Allen constructed several new commercial blocks in Bernardsville, including the first movie theater. Shortly before 1909, Ford Avenue, a street just north of Olcott Avenue that predated it, was extended eastward and renamed Highview Avenue, creating a number of new lots that had houses in place by 1909. In contrast to Olcott Avenue, Highview was comparatively narrow and there were no deed restrictions on the lots. The result was a markedly different appearance. Around 1910, William Childs, wealthy restaurateur and one-time member of the local board of education, acquired part of the remaining Anna Skinkle Allen tract east of the high school, which he proceeded to develop as Childsworth Avenue. A 1913 plat shows twelve 100' wide lots were planned, though by 1916 there was evidently only one house constructed (6 Childsworth Avenue). Sometime prior to 1916, sidewalks and curbs were constructed along Olcott Avenue. The avenue was paved around 1916.
In 1907, the first two students graduated from the Bernardsville high school. The following year, four students graduated, all of who went on to college. Olcott Avenue resident Dr. Clare Henry was elected to the Board of Education in 1908, and would serve on the board until 1927, a period of what would be one of continuous growth in the township. In October 1908, the Board of Education accepted another generous offer from Frederic Olcott for $10,000 to be used for scholarships. By 1910 the Olcott schoolhouse was already crowded. It had eight classrooms and was meant to hold 385 pupils but had 500. M. Louise Henry entered the new high school as a freshman in 1905 and later became a history teacher at the school. Years later she recalled the new school's first years of operation and the impact of the rapid growth:
"The high school consisted of two classes on the second floor and two teachers, one of whom was Mr. James Shock, principal. The grammar school had the four first floor rooms. By the time I graduated in 1909, the grammar school was crowded here and there, in the Methodist Church basement, the old railroad depot...and the high school was using as classrooms the little rooms on the third floor. A chicken wire cage in the basement served as a chemistry laboratory. Physics was not taught."
In 1912, the Board of Education undertook construction of a new stucco building behind the Olcott building to house the high school department, referred to as "B" building. The grammar school continued in the Olcott Building. Courses of study for Bernards High for the year 1912-1913 included Latin Scientific, English, and commercial. In 1913 there were thirteen graduates. In 1915, the high school was moved back to the Olcott building, where it remained until 1927, and the grammar school was placed in "B" building. In 1916 there were twenty-seven graduates from the flourishing high school representing Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, Gladstone, Far Hills, Pottersville, Bedminster, Liberty Corner and Millington. That year, there were thirty-eight juniors, forty-three sophomores, and eighty-two freshmen. Thirty-six of the freshmen were from Bernardsville, while eight were from Basking Ridge and one from Liberty Corner. The statistics express the population surge in Bernardsville as well as the probability that most farmers in Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner could not easily spare their children to attend school.
Bernardsville's population reached 2,220 in 1914. A directory published that year listed one bank; telegraph, telephone, and express service; Catholic, Congregational, Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian churches; two weekly newspapers; and four public schools. The town was described as "one of the finest and most attractive towns in the state." Advertisers included Joseph Dobbs, general building contractor, whose shop was equipped with electric power, and William C. Ludlow and Carl Wermelskirchen, meat purveyors, both of whom were residents of Olcott Avenue. In 1914, costs of repairs to the wood frame Methodist Episcopal Church proved prohibitive and it was decided to replace the church with one of more permanence. A stone Tudor Revival building, reminiscent of an English country church, was designed by Dennison and Hirons, New York architects who designed the very fanciful Coney Island Child's Restaurant. Never built, but included in the church plans, was a cloister to connect the parsonage and the church. The cost of the new church was $18,500, which was covered by a mortgage that was finally paid in 1948.
There had been a long and growing dissatisfaction among Bernardsville residents about a perceived inequality of property taxes. Attempts were made in 1900, 1908 and 1921 to create a separate Bernardsville borough. Finally, on April 29, 1924, a referendum was passed to approve creation of the new borough. In 1927, the first elected borough officials included Councilmen Dr. Clare M. Henry, President, Joseph Dobbs, and George B. Post, Jr. Bernardsville and Bernards Township continued with a joint school system, and the high school grew increasingly overcrowded in the 1920s, with the student population reaching 239 in 1926, an increase of 36% over 1920. The school board consulted with educators from Rutgers College, who found while the high school provided "good college preparatory courses and a fair training for those who intend to pursue commercial and semi-professional careers, such as nursing, etc., it had no facilities for those who want training for practical careers such as farming, mechanics, domestic science, or homemaking." A citizens' committee selected to work with Board of Education on a new school included Olcott neighbors Joseph Dobbs, Emma W. Eberhardt, Harry W. Hoffman, and Leslie A. Lummis. The committee recommended a new high school "of the least costly type consistent with school requirements and with artistic symmetry in relation to the existing school buildings." The building was to be located behind the Olcott Building for practical purposes and because, "if the building were placed on Olcott Avenue, it would require a more expensive exterior treatment to look sightly alongside the Olcott building." In contrast to the Olcott Building, the aim of the new high school plan was to be economical and practical, with the cost of $275,000 to be publicly funded over thirty-two years. The building was completed and occupied in 1928. Although the period of philanthropic underwriting was largely over, the widow of former Board of Education President Samuel S. Childs donated an up-to-date cafeteria for the new school that year as a memorial to her husband.
Prosperity continued in Bernardsville during the 1920s, which reached a population of 3,500 in 1930, the year Dr. Clare Henry of Olcott Avenue was elected to the first of two terms as mayor of the borough. A group of houses were constructed at the east end of Highview and Olcott Avenues during the decade. As a group they were somewhat smaller than the original Olcott Avenue residences, but nevertheless were refined examples of a variety of Revival styles. One house at 24 Childsworth Avenue was noticeably larger than the others constructed around that time. It belonged to Leslie A. Lummis, president of Lummis Glass Company in New York City. Lummis's New York City job was still atypical for the community. As late as 1928, in a graduating class of forty, only four or five had fathers who were commuters. In other words, roughly ninety percent of the families represented in that class made their living in the area, which meant that their living was greatly affected by the Mountain. By that time, however, the Mountain Colony had become more fragile as an economic engine. A local history described the impact on the larger community:
"The Mountain began to wither in the early 1920's. The Founders, the first generation, died...Besides, there was the progressive income tax...By far the greater part of the change was the cleavage between the generations. These young people could not be bothered with the discipline of noblesse oblige...Therefore, the Mountain was already weakened, it was already receding from its peak, when the Depression smashed at its foundations and its sources. ...A gritty grimness, an unpleasant sort of quietness, settled over the town, and one grew accustomed to the small knots of men, gathered on the corners of the Square, at any hour of the day. Up on the Mountain, the laborers and the stablemen were let go, then the gardeners, the maids, the horsemen, and even the chauffeurs...According to legend, the situation in the town might have been far more grim if John Roebling had not kept men off relief by various make-work projects."
In spite of the trying economic times, in 1932 Mayor Clare Henry led a week of celebration in honor of the George Washington Bicentennial, culminating in a gathering of a crowd estimated at 1,200 to witness the planting of an avenue of trees in front of Bernards High School. Twenty trees were planted in memory of the Bernardsville and Bernards Township soldiers who lost their lives during World War I, and two additional trees were dedicated by Mayor Henry to Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Fifty-two local organizations participated in the event, with the Sons of Italy and another Italian organization, the Bernardsville Progressive Club, taking leading roles.
Despite the impressive bicentennial ceremony, Bernardsville was feeling the impact of the Great Depression. The issue of the Bernardsville News that covered the festive Washington Bicentennial also contained an advertisement placed by the Bernardsville Unemployment Relief Committee asking residents to provide work opportunities for more than 194 local men who registered with the committee to seek jobs. The school population in the joint district nevertheless continued to grow during the 1930s, and the old Basking Ridge grammar school became inadequate and out of date. A new school erected nearby in 1939 was described as "one of the most modern structures of its kind." Bernards Township continued to grow at a faster pace than Bernardsville, which, with fewer students, was paying a larger percentage of the operating cost of the schools. Much to the disappointment of Dr. Clare Henry, Bernardsville formed its own school district in 1948. At the time, friends of Dr. Henry said the severance "would never have come about if Dr. Henry was on that board." According to one account of the reason for the split,
"Bernardsville is comparatively slow in present growth. Over half of its taxes come from an old estate region — the wealthy "mountain colony" — which appears to be in mild transition because of the death of older residents and the heavy hand of inheritance taxes. Bernards Township, the parent community, by comparison, has new streets for moderate-priced homes spreading all over the map like crab-grass. New young families are bringing a host of problems to the township, including the problem of educating their children."
A suit in Chancery Court over which municipality would get the Olcott school property was settled in 1948 in favor of Bernardsville.
The Olcott Avenue neighborhood remained largely unchanged during the Depression and World War II. Then, beginning in the 1950s, several of the larger lots were subdivided and modest Cape Cods and Ranches were built. The original dwellings constructed during the first three decades or so of the 20th century all still stand and the streetscape has changed relatively little since curbs and sidewalks were added and the road was paved around 1916. Residents of the district, which remains an upper middle class neighborhood, have continued the long tradition of participation in civic activities.
Remarkably, the institutional buildings in the neighborhood have all survived largely intact, too. A number of improvements to the school property were undertaken during the 1960s, including a large expansion of the 1928 high school and the demolition of the 1912 "B" building. A news article from 1963 promoted a proposed bond referendum to fund improvements to the Olcott building, including removing the wooden stairs, flooring and wainscoting, which were not carried out. In 1985, all classes were moved out of the Olcott Building, which was then converted into administrative offices while preserving the exterior and much of the original interior architecture. Similarly, the interiors of the Methodist Church and Parsonage have been remodeled over the years, yet the exteriors of the buildings are relatively unchanged with the exception of ill-advised panels placed on the exterior of the church's largest stained glass windows. The Visiting Nurse Association sold their headquarters in 2006 and moved to a larger facility they constructed in Bernards Township. Their Olcott Avenue building was subsequently converted to residential use.
Books, Manuscripts and Reports
Among the Blue Hills...Bernardsville...a History. Bernardsville, NJ: History Update Group, 1999.
Annual Report of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction of New Jersey for the School Year Ended June 30, 1904. Trenton, NJ: MacCrellish & Quigley, 1905.
Annual Report of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction of New Jersey for the School Year ending June 30th, 1905. Paterson, NJ: News Printing Co., 1906.
Annual Report of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction of New Jersey for the School Year Ending June 30th, 1906. Somerville, NJ: The Unionist-Gazette Printing House, 1907.
Bernards High School: 100 Years of Excellence, 1905-2005. [Bernardsville, NJ] Century Book Committee, 2005.
Business Review of the Counties of Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Publishing Co., 1891.
Eberhardt, H. Ezra, Jr., and Robert M. Hudson Our Hudson Family History. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, Inc., 1989.
Farm Journal Illustrated Farm and Business Directory of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Wilmer Atkinson Company, 1914.
Foster, Janet. "Basking Ridge Historic District National Register Nomination." Revised January 1993. On file at the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office.
Historical Booklet of Bernards Township, N.J. Bernardsville, NJ: Historical Booklet Committee, 1960.
A History of the City of Newark, New Jersey. Volume III. New York: The Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1913.
Kay, John L. and Chester M. Smith, Jr. New Jersey Postal History. Lawrence, MA: Quarterman Publications, Inc., 1977.
Landau, Sarah Bradford. George B. Post, Architect: Picturesque Designer and Determined Realist. New York: The Monacelli Press, 1998.
McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2003.
Mott, Schuylar, L. Editor. Among the Blue Hills: Bernardsville, a History. Bernardsville, NJ: Bernardsville History Book Committee, 1973.
Schroeder, Edward A. and Wayne F. Koppes, Basking Ridge Methodism, Vol. I. Bernardsville, NJ: Hill Press, .
Snell, James P. History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881.
Francis, Dennis Steadman, Architects in Practice: New York City, 1840-1900. [New York]: Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1979.
Turpin, John K. and W. Barry Thomson. New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills Volume I. Far Hills, NJ: Mountain Colony Press, Inc., 2004.
Turpin, John K. and W. Barry Thomson. New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills Volume II. Far Hills, NJ: Mountain Colony Press, Inc., 2005.
Visiting Nurse Association of Somerset Hills. Our First 100 Years: 1904-2004. [Bernardsville, NJ]: Visiting Nurse Association of Somerset Hills, 2004.
Waltz, Josephine M. Schoolhouses of Early Bernards Township. Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company, 2007.
Ward, James. Architects In Practice: New York City, 1900-1940. Union, NJ: J & D Associates, 1989.
William, Joan M., Compiler. In the Somerset Hills: Bernardsville, Far Hills and Peapack-Gladstone. Augusta, ME: Allan Sutton, 1994.
Periodicals and Yearbooks
The Crimson. Bernardsville NJ: Bernards High School Yearbook. The annual high school yearbook and the biweekly student newspaper had similar names. Early yearbooks are archived at The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, Basking Ridge, NJ.
Weisman, Winston. "The Commercial Architecture of George B. Post," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 30 (October 1972): 176-203.
"Necrology of Members," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, 51 (1933): 92.
Maps and Atlases
Beers, F.W. Atlas of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. 1873.
Hagstrom Road Map, 1928.
Sanborn-Perris Map Company. Bernardsville, Somerset County, NJ. December 1901.
Sanborn Map Company. Bernardsville, Somerset County, NJ. July 1909; October 1923; September, 1930.
Bernards Township Tax Records. 1892-1960 archived at the Bernards Township Public Library.
Email correspondence and personal interview with W. Barry Thomson, 2008.
Image and vertical files at the Bernardsville Library Local History Room, Bernardsville, NJ.
Image and vertical files at the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, Basking Ridge, NJ.
Friends of Terra Cotta website, www.preserve.org/fotc/. Accessed June 23, 2008.
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission website: www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/. Accessed June 23, 2008.
United States Census, Bernardsville, New Jersey, 1880-1930.
†, ‡ Ann Parsekian, James Armstrong, and Dennis Bertland, Dennis Bertland Associates, Olcott Avenue Historic District, Somerset County, NJ nomination document, 2008, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.