Highland Farm (70 East Rd.) was the principal residence of Oscar Hammerstein II from 1940 until his death in 1960. It was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Text below was excerpted from a copy of the original nomination document. The farm, nearly 5 acres, was sold in 2003 for slightly more than $1 million.
Highland Farm consists of almost five acres of land on the outskirts of Doylestown Borough at the top of a small rise. The farm is landscaped and includes the farmhouse (which faces East Road) at the peak of the hill, a mid-nineteenth century frame bank barn at the rear of the house, and a mid-nineteenth century frame carriage house north of the barn and northeast of the house. The farm is surrounded on three sides by fields and pine woods; to the south, over an embankment and screened by shrubs and trees, lies the 202 bypass. The large, deep cut made for the bypass separated the nominated resource from the majority of the land with which it was associated.
The farmhouse, a mid-nineteenth century stuccoed masonry, three story, three bay, double pile, hip roof residence, faces east. A one story porch with modified Doric columns runs the length of the facade and wraps around the south elevation of the main block; spindles interspersed with diamond shapes surmounts the porch and features pineapples at the top of the newels. The balustrade was added by Dorothy Hammerstein in 1954 as a present to her husband on the occasion of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary; the pineapples on top of the newels were stage props from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway production of their musical, South Pacific. There is an interior, masonry chimney on the south end of the main block and an exterior, masonry chimney on the north elevation. The primary entrance features a wide rectangular transom with sidelights and is centrally located on the facade; the door features two oval shaped panels. Windows are symmetrically spaced on the facade and side elevations; windows on the first floor are 2/2 sash; the second floor windows contain 6/6 sash and the third floor windows have smaller 6/6 sashes. Shutters flank the windows on the facade and the first floor windows on the main block. A mid-nineteenth century (original to the house) two story kitchen ell with a shallow gable roof stands at the southwest corner. A circa 1900 two story frame addition with a gable roof connects the ell to a once free-standing, one story masonry building with a shed roof; below this building is a barrel vaulted root cellar. A two story frame addition featuring a glassed-in porch on the first floor was added during the Hammerstein ownership (it does not appear in an August 1940 photograph), as was a small one story frame vestibule; these additions adjoin the north elevation of the ell and the west elevation of the main block. The rear portions of the house are covered with siding; all windows in the rear are 1/1 sash. All exterior window and door surrounds are simple with no elaborate ornamentation. The cornice is also plain.
Highland Farm, Doylestown Township, Bucks County, is of national significance in the category of performing arts as the home of Broadway lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960). According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Hammerstein is considered "the most significant and influential author of musical plays" (1) for the years 1925 to 1959. Hammerstein's plays changed the course of musical theatre. Hammerstein's Show Boat (1927) was the first musical with a serious plot and Oklahoma! (1943) was the first musical "in which the story, dialogue, songs, ballet and ensembles were written into a single cohesive whole." (2) Due to Hammerstein's influence, integrated musicals with serious plots are now de rigueur on Broadway. Many of Hammerstein's songs, especially those written in collaboration with Richard Rodgers, his partner from 1943 to 1960, "have passed into the country's folkways." (3) Unlike the songs of many of his contemporaries, Hammerstein's works remain popular today, enjoying countless revivals including two recent releases in compact discs of South Pacific performed by the London Symphony with Kiri Te Kawana and Carousel with Samuel Ramey accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The King and I also had a successful revival on Broadway in 1985. Hammerstein, with Rodgers, also produced plays on Broadway from 1944 until his death in 1960. Producing was always a secondary interest for Hammerstein who concentrated most of his efforts on writing musicals.
Hammerstein was born in New York City, the son of William Hammerstein, a producer of musical shows, and the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein I (1846-1919) "one of the most significant American opera impresarios of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." (4) Following his graduation from Columbia University where he both wrote and acted in university shows, Hammerstein immediately began his career as a writer for the theatre. He collaborated with such notables as Jerome Kern, Sigmind Romberg, and George Gershwin on musical such as Wildflower (1923), Rose Marie (1924), Sunny (1925), Desert Song (1926), and The New Moon (1927). Hammerstein's most popular and critically acclaimed work, prior to his collaboration with Richard Rodgers, was Show Boat (1927) which had a musical score by Jerome Kern. It was an extremely successful show with both critics and the public.
Following the success of Show Boat Hammerstein spent ten years writing musical motion pictures for Hollywood; later the 19430s were considered "a dark period for him." (5) In 1929, Hammerstein divorced his first wife, Mirna Finn; shortly thereafter, he married Dorothy Blanchard, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.
In 1940, the Hammersteins purchased Highland Farm in Doylestown Township. The farm consisted of forty acres, which had been subdivided from a larger farm in 1848. Wilson Malone, who purchased this land in 1848, most likely built the house, barn and carriage house during his tenure which lasted until 1872. According to Hugh Fordin, Hammerstein's biographer, the Hammersteins bought the farm because Dorothy disliked their home in Great Neck, New York (they sold two houses to purchase the farm) and because Oscar wanted "'the peace and systematic' living that the country represented." (6) The Hammersteins kept an apartment in New York "where Dorothy spent the weekdays attending to her decorating business, Oscar stayed in Doylestown much of the week." (7) Hammerstein also had an office on Madison Avenue, "but Mr. Hammerstein did most of his work at his farm near Doylestown." (8) Both family members and historians agree that Hammerstein wrote the majority of his work at the farm.
Hammerstein was one of many New York celebrities to buy a farm in Bucks County during the 1930s and 1940s. An article in The American Antiques Journal declared in 1948 that "this section of Pennsylvania [Bucks County] has become a Mecca for artists, poets, novelists, playwrights, and musicians ... No doubt it is the charm of these quaint old homes that has been the leading factor in drawing those ... to this locality." (9) In addition to the Hammersteins, many other Broadway figures purchased houses here: S. J. Perlman, writer and playwright, and Dorothy Parker, writer, moved to Tinicum Township; George S. Kaufman, playwright and director, moved to Buckingham; Moss Hart, playwright, moved to Aquetong in Solebury Township. Writers such as Pearl S. Buck and James A. Michener also lived in Bucks County. While not the only Broadway figure or writer to move to Bucks County during the mid-twentieth century, Hammerstein was certainly one of the most popular and famous (Highland Farm is almost always featured in articles about Buck County farmhouses owned by celebrities). Hammerstein also made the farm his primary residence, unlike many other New York figures who only used their Bucks County homes as weekend or country retreats.
For the next twenty years (the remainder of his life), Hammerstein worked at Highland Farm and collaborated with Richard Rodgers (who worked on his farm in Fairfield, Connecticut); these years were the most important ones of Hammerstein's career. In 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein's first work together, an adaptation of Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilies, opened on Broadway and played for a run of 2,212 performances to sold-out houses; the musical was Oklahoma!. Hammersteins inspiration for the lyrics to the opening song came from the stage directions by Riggs which included the images of cattle, corn and golden haze and "added some observations of his own based on his experience with beautiful mornings at Highland Farm." (10) The result was the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most popular works. The musical Oklahoma! is regarded by music historians as the first play which incorporated all the elements found in a musical into a unified body; it permanently changed the structure of Broadway musicals. H. Wiley Hickock in Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction called Oklahoma! "a new form of American vernacular opera." (11)
Hammerstein with his partner, Richard Rodgers, followed their smash hit Oklahoma! with a string of Broadway hits, including Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).
Music historians praise Hammerstein's works "for their succinct dialogue and taut construction, as well as the excellence of their lyrics ... [they] often display a simplicity and poetic freshness rare in the musical theatre." (12) The contribution which Hammerstein made to the field of performing arts is, perhaps, best summed up by Ronald L. Davis who wrote that Hammerstein: "helped change the direction of the musical stage, having produced some of the warmest, most sincere lyrics ever written for the musical theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein ... lifted the American musical theatre to a new artistic level, and proved the most influential force of their generation." (13)
In early 1960, Hammerstein was diagnosed with terminal cancer; Hammerstein told Rodgers "I'm just going down to Doylestown and stay on the Farm until I die." (14) Hammerstein died at Highland Farm on August 23, 1960. His obituary made the front page of the New York Times. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the songwriters' performing rights organization, closed its offices for a day in tribute to a man who had been a member of the board of directors for twenty-one years. The entire Times Square area in New York City was blacked out, all traffic halted, and taps played in his honor. A crowd of 5,000 attended a brief ceremony in Times Square. It was described as the greatest tribute of its kind ever paid to one man. A similar tribute was paid to Hammerstein in London's West End theatre district.
The Oscar Hammerstein House still accurately reflects its period of significance: the twenty years during his ownership when he wrote his most popular and influential works here. The nineteenth century house was renovated under the direction of Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein. According to circa 1940 photographs and articles on the Farm, the Hammersteins commissioned the substantial additions to the rear of the house and installed the ornate cupboard, fireplace mantels, and built the wood balcony atop the wraparound porch.
Hammerstein's long ownership and residence at Highland Farm, and the knowledge that he produced his best work here, make this property the most significant property associated with one of the most influential American lyricists of the twentieth century, Oscar Hammerstein II.
School District: Central Bucks