The Water Witch Club Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡] .
The Water Witch Club Historic District is significant in the areas of Community Planning and Development, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, and Entertainment/Recreation. The Water Witch Club Historic District, historically known as the Water Witch Club, is an important surviving example of a late-19th and early-20th century romantically designed summer community. Similar to Tuxedo Park in New York State, it was designed in its entirety by architects who were also members and residents of the Club. The architecture from the early years of the Club featured important examples of the Shingle, Colonial Revival and Rustic styles. The location of the Club on a steep wooded hill overlooking Sandy Hook Bay enhances the picturesque qualities of the site, and the strongly curvilinear street plan gives the site visual diversity and a sense of harmony with nature.
Four of the Water Witch Club Historic District's contributing buildings are considered individually eligible for their architecture and association with the lives of persons significant in our past. Three of the buildings were designed and occupied by well-known New York architects: Frederick P. Hill, Lyman A. Ford and Austin W. Lord. In addition, during his retirement, Gen. Charles W. Raymond, an important marine engineer, explorer and professor for the U.S. Army, serving between 1861 and 1904, was a member and resident of the Water Witch Club. Each is considered to be a significant figure in the architectural profession, at least on the local or regional level.
The period of significance for the Water Witch Club Historic District is from 1895 until 1930. This is the time period for which the Water Witch Club was most active as a recreational summer community for wealthy architects and businessmen, mostly from New York City. All 40 of the original cottages and the Water Witch Club Casino were constructed in the period from 1896 until 1909. The Water Witch Club was very active from the inception of the Club in 1895 up until the years of the Great Depression. During this period the majority of the cottages were used primarily during the summer months. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Club was transformed into a year-round community, during which time many of the cottages were altered or left to fall into disrepair.
Although the club is now a corporation (Monmouth Hills, Inc.) and many of the original buildings have burned, been demolished, or have been altered in the conversion to year-round residences, the Water Witch Club Historic District retains its essential character. Approximately half of the houses from the early period survive substantially intact. Over the past 20 years, interest in the history of the Club has revived, and many of the residents have been making efforts to restore the houses to their original appearance.
Community Planning and Development
The Water Witch Club Historic District is significant to New Jersey's suburban and shoreline development. During the 19th century, rise of business fortunes, the growth of an affluent middle class, the corresponding expansion of leisure time, and improved transportation, made resort development along the New Jersey shore possible. Residents of Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey began visiting the Jersey shore during the early 19th century seeking a healthy retreat from city life. Initially, they stayed at a few inns, boardinghouses and farmhouses with rooms to let. A very important impetus for the promotion of resort communities was the railroad. The construction of the shore railroads in the late 1860's and 1870's catalyzed vacation trade along the coast. By the end of the 1880s the New Jersey shore front had become nearly a continuous line of resort communities. These communities were established for clientele based on differing economic levels, ethnic backgrounds and religious persuasions, "creating sub-communities of 19th century American society along the shore."
The Water Witch Club was established in 1895, during the peak years of this period. The Club was patterned after New York's Tuxedo Park, being established roughly ten years earlier in Orange County, New York. Similar to Tuxedo Park the layout of the Water Witch Club was specially designed as to provide a summer environment, which would encourage recreation and social interaction. The earliest buildings were constructed in close proximity to the clubhouse. In addition, the community's small lots and network of curvilinear roads and walking paths increased the occurrence of social interaction. New members were recruited by word of mouth and through the association of the members. Prospective members had to be approved by a vote of the membership committee, theoretically insuring a certain degree of compatibility among the membership. The membership was largely drawn from the business and professional community of New York City.
Within the Monmouth County, New Jersey region, the closest in design to that of the Water Witch Club was Atlantic Highlands located about two miles to the east-northeast of the Club. Atlantic Highlands also took advantage of the picturesque Highlands of Navesink, but was designed as a religious retreat instead. It initially began in 1879 by the Atlantic Highlands Association, as a Methodist camp meeting group. The plan of the community featured concentric roads ascending the hills overlooking Sandy Hook Bay. By 1881, the community featured an outdoor amphitheater and an indoor auditorium, both being designed to hold religious meetings. By 1900, Atlantic Highlands consisted of three hotels and more than 150 cottages. Also around this time, individuals and groups came from New York City and the surrounding vicinity to camp along the water in tent colonies.
Other earlier religious retreats included Ocean Grove founded in 1869 by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and Asbury Park founded in 1871. Unlike the Water Witch Club, both Ocean Grove and Asbury Park were laid out on formal grid-iron plans with well defined edges. Ocean Grove's design was village-like, consisting of small lots and narrow streets lined with cottages and seasonal tents set close to the road. Asbury Park, on the other hand, was built to be more spacious and urban in scale, with broad avenues, relatively large lots, and defined land use districts.
Around the same time period as the creation of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, the community of Short Hills was established in Millburn Township, Essex County. The community was built along the irregular and undulating hills formed by a terminal moraine of the Wisconsin Glacier. It had sweeping vistas across the New Jersey coastal plain all the way to New York. Similar to the Water Witch Club it had a Casino, but the community was designed as a commuter suburb of New York City rather than a resort.
Around the same time the Water Witch Club was being established the community of Monmouth Beach was thriving, although on a much smaller scale than that of the Water Witch Club. Monmouth Beach reached a maximum of about a dozen cottages as opposed to the 40 cottages of the Water Witch Club. In 1902, Monmouth Beach had a clubhouse and a Casino, which contained a hall and stage for private theatrical performances, a billiard room and a bowling alley. Similarly it was exclusive community that was only open to those approved by the permanent residential circle.
The purpose of the Water Witch Club was to provide a summer retreat, which would encourage recreation and social interaction. The landscape plan for the Club itself contributed to this goal. Its small lots and network of curvilinear roads and walking paths increased the occurrence of social interaction. The establishment of a clubhouse and Casino as a community center and the fact that the majority of the cottages were situated within close proximity to these buildings also assisted with enhancing this endeavor. The use of the local quarried peanut-stone for other landscaping features situated throughout the district, such as for the embankments at road cuts, gateposts, drainage ditches and culverts, helped blend these man-made landscape attributes with those of the natural environment of the Highlands. The entire landscape plan of the Club was considered important to the overall vision.
Architecture played an important role in the formation of the Water Witch Club, which was patterned after the already successful Tuxedo Park, established in Orange County, New York in 1886. Originally, there were 50 charter members of the Water Witch Club, many of which were architects or engineers. The Club's first Board of Governors had four architects and two civil engineers on it. Some of the original architects involved during the planning stages of the Club were Ehrick Rossiter, Frank A. Wright (early Secretary for the Club), Hugh Lamb, Charles A. Rich, Frank E. Wallis, F.L. Ellingwood, John H. Duncan, Charles H. Humphreys, Charles Eaton and the Constable Brothers. Others, such as Austin W. Lord, Lyman A. Ford, Ernest M.A. Machado and Frederick P. Hill joined the club shortly after its creation. Many of these men had already been actively working at the Jersey Shore as well as throughout the metropolitan area in the rapidly developing New York suburbs. These architects involved themselves in many aspects of the Club's business from the time they joined.
Lamb and Rich, Wright and Rossiter, Charles H. Humphreys, Lyman A. Ford, Frederick P. Hill, and Austin W. Lord, all had New York offices. Ernest M.A. Machado had an office in Boston. Nearly all had connections with important well-known architectural firms. Frederick P. Hill was a close associate of Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White. Both Austin W. Lord and Charles A. Rich had also worked with this famous firm. Lyman A. Ford was associated with the prestigious firm of Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul of Boston before he became the head draftsman with Carrere and Hastings from 1893 to 1907, during the construction of the New York Public Library.
The various architects affected the stylistic development of the Park. The constitution of the Club made provisions for the construction of many community buildings. Designs for these buildings were published in a promotional booklet in 1895. The following buildings were planned: a gatehouse by Charles H. Humphreys, a boathouse and water station by the Constable Bros., stables and a bowling/billiard house by Rossiter & Wright, and a clubhouse by Lamb & Rich. However, the clubhouse was the only of these planned community buildings that came to fruition.
The majority of the summer cottages of the Club were revival styles, predominately combinations of the Shingle style and Colonial Revival style. A few were constructed in the Tudor, Swiss Chalet, Italian Renaissance and Spanish Eclectic styles. The Club's Shingle style summer cottages with Colonial Revival elements also incorporated newer styles such as Craftsman. Most were very eclectic and of a more simple design than was commonly associated with the Victorian period.
As initially indicated three of the Water Witch Club Historic District's contributing buildings are considered significant for their architecture and association with the lives of persons significant in our past. Three of the Water Witch Club cottages were designed and occupied by well-known New York architects: Frederick P. Hill, Lyman A. Ford and Austin W. Lord.
The Frederick P. Hill House (12 Serpentine Drive) designed and built by Hill in 1901, also for a time served as his summer home. Frederick Parsell Hill, a New York architect is known to have designed a total of five buildings within the Water Witch Club, including the Water Witch Club Casino. Hill was the only one of the group of architects working at the Club who was a native of New Jersey. He received both his B.A. and M.A. from Rutgers University and joined the firm of Mead, McKim and White in 1882. He spent 17 years as assistant and draftsman to Charles Pollen McKim, who was the head designer and decision-maker of the firm. Hill's forte was translating the artistic ideas of McKim into reality. To accomplish this, Hill was sent to work throughout Europe in the shops learning ornamental plaster, clay modeling, wood carving, marble work, specialized painting and finishing techniques. McKim saw to it that he met the best known architects, artists and sculptors of the time, among them H.H. Richardson, Daniel C. French and Augustus Saint Gaudens. While working with Mead, McKim and White, Frederick P. Hill assisted in the design of the Library at Columbia University, the Capitol Building in Providence, Rhode Island, the Boston Public Library, the Agricultural Building of the World's Fair of 1883, and Pennsylvania Station. In 1900, Hill opened his own firm. In addition to designing the Water Witch Club Casino he also designed the Siasconset Casino in Nantucket, Massachusetts. He also designed the Sankaty Head Golf Club and the Cliffside Beach Club. Other works by Hill include the gates at the George Street entrance at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Great American Insurance Company, located on Liberty Street, New York, and many schools, hospitals and private residences throughout the New York metropolitan area.
The Lyman A. Ford House (38 East Twin Road), built around 1898, was initially the summer home of Lyman A. Ford who was also the architect for the building. Ford was a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked for the important Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul. From 1893 until 1907, he was the head draftsman for the New York firm of Carrere and Hastings. During this time, the firm created a number of outstanding buildings including the New York Public Library and the House and Senate Buildings in Washington, D.C. In the early 1890s, the firm also brought the newest rage in architecture to New York, the Beaux Arts style. Carrere and Hastings were active at the New Jersey Shore working for, among others, the Guggenheims in Long Branch and Elberon. In 1907, Ford formed a New York firm that would become Ford, Butler and Oliver. Within the Water Witch Club, Ford is known to have designed a total of six cottages, two additions to the Austin W. Lord House, and a club house addition to the Water Witch Casino.
The Austin W. Lord House (5 Coquette Lane) was built around 1901 and was initially the summer home of Austin W. Lord, who was an architect for the New York City firm of Lord and Hewlett. Austin W. Lord joined the Water Witch Club in 1900. His primary residence was 202 West 81st Street and he had an office at 16 East 73rd Street, New York. Lord studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Academy in Rome. Following his schooling, he worked for four years in the offices of McKim, Mead and White. A well-known artist, Lord exhibited several times at the National Academy. He was also a professor and then the director of the School of Architecture at Columbia University. In addition, he was director of the American Academy in Rome from 1894-1896. Lord designed many urban and country homes as well as public buildings in the greater New York area. His works included the Brooklyn Masonic Temple located at 317 Clermont Avenue.
Another important aspect of the Water Witch Club was its ability to provide entertainment and recreational activities for its members. The Club's clubhouse and later its casino were the foci of these activities. In 1897, two years after its inception, the Water Witch Club had its first clubhouse built. It was designed by Richard Lamb and Charles A. Rich of Lamb and Rich. In 1904, it was relocated to make way for a casino. The Casino was designed by Frederick P. Hill and constructed in the following year. In 1911, the original clubhouse was destroyed by fire. In that same year, Lyman A. Ford designed and built a large addition to the Casino that would serve as the new clubhouse containing a dining room, sitting room and five bedrooms.
The clubhouse/casino was the social center of the community and a gathering place for games and entertainment. All activities were managed and approved by a committee of five members. The committee hired individuals to organize the events for the club. Activities included cards, billiards, dancing, music, plays and vaudeville. An admission fee was charged to offset some of the expenses. Apparently, cards and games were played exclusively on Thursdays. The Monmouth Hills Archives possess many of the original programs and invitations to these events.
Water Witch Club was part of a larger planned community to be known as Water Witch Park. The entire plan was conceived in 1895. As envisioned it was to include all of the land presently known as Monmouth Hills and the property to the northeast located between Navesink Avenue (present-day N.J. Route 36) and Sandy Hook Bay. The Monmouth Hills portion of the Park was ultimately established by the Water Witch Club, a private summer club organized by a group of New York businessmen and architects led by New York real estate entrepreneur, Ferdinand Fish. Prior to this venture Fish had been instrumental in establishing the communities of Highland Beach and Navesink Beach located at the north end of what is today Sea Bright.The Park was named after a novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper, who is known to have visited the Highlands area in the 1830s. The romantic novelist Cooper described the area as "the most beautiful combination of land and water in America."
Initially, all of the land today containing Monmouth Hills was owned by the Highlands of Navesink Improvement Company (HNIC) established by Fish in the spring of 1895. Later, in that same year, Fish established the Water Witch Club, an entity that would ultimately be the driving force behind the development of the Park. Immediately after its formation, the Club purchased the southeastern half of the Monmouth Hills portion of the Park property from the HNIC.
By June of 1895, Ferdinand Fish had launched a sophisticated campaign for the development of Water Witch Park. He created and published the Oracleth, a monthly paper to help promote the Park and his other real estate ventures (Highlands and Navesink Beach). The paper was printed on high quality paper and included colored illustrations and photographs. Charles Humphreys, architect and son-in-law of Fish, was its illustrator and F.R. Warley, a New York business manager, assisted with its content. Both Humphreys and Warley were members of the Water Witch Club.
In the early stages of the development of the Park, the Club also purchased property on Sandy Hook Bay for the construction of a boathouse and a bathing area. The bathing area was known as "Bathing Lot 14" and had a frontage of 66 feet and a depth of 1,000 feet. The Park also had its own stop on the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the station being named "Water-Witch." In addition, plans for a commercial section along Bay Avenue were formulated. This area was to contain stores, office buildings, stables, an ice house, docks and additional cottages. Although this area appears to have continued to be described as the Water Witch Park into the at least the second quarter of the 20 century, the actual Park as Ferdinand Fish envisioned was never realized. The Monmouth Hills portion of the Park, historically known as the Water Witch Club, wound up to be the only portion to be fully developed.
The Water Witch Club was managed by a President, Secretary, Treasurer and six directors. Each member was elected annually, but could only serve three terms. A $250.00 membership fee was levied to join the Club, but this included one lot of the Club's property located in present-day Monmouth Hills. Subsequent lots could be purchased, but no member was allowed to own more than four. The purpose of the club was outlined in the constitution, a portion of which, reads: "To buy, improve, and apportion land among its members; to provide suitable club buildings, water, lighting, and sewerage systems, to promote social intercourse among its members, and to encourage aquatic and athletic sports."
Civil Engineer, F. Adelbert Dunham of Plainfield, New Jersey was brought on board and by November 1895 he had made surveys of both the lands of the Club and of those of the HNIC. He divided the property into several lots all fronting on curvilinear roads. The first map filed with the County Clerk's Office of Water Witch Park showing the proposed roads and lots was drafted in December of that year. The first two lots of the Water Witch Club's property (southeast portion of Monmouth Hills) were officially sold to Ferdinand Fish on April 22, 1896. The first three houses erected within the Water Witch Club portion of the Park are believed to be the Frank A. Wright House (34 Sea View Terrace), the Livingston Middleditch House (39 East Twin Road) and the William B. Taber House (40 East Twin Road). All three were completed and occupied by June 1896. Development within the HNIC portion of Monmouth Hills was not planned until around 1898.
In 1896, the Club hired the Highlands Water & Light Company "to lay down and maintain water pipes, sewer mains, electric mains and connections underground in the streets, etc. for the purpose of operating water works, gas works, sewerage systems and electric works." By April 1897, the company had completed the water works. A well had been established at the foot of the hill and water was pumped to a holding tank and then supplied via underground pipes by gravity to those residents of the club.
Construction of the first clubhouse of the Water Witch Club was started in the summer of 1896 and finished on June 15,1897. It was designed by Richard Lamb and Charles A. Rich of Lamb and Rich. The opening day register from the clubhouse, dating from July 1897, indicates that the clubhouse functioned as a community center for the Club. In addition to housing some of the Club's guests, the clubhouse was used for social events and community meals. Records indicate that Charles A. Rich and Lyman A. Ford signed the register.
In 1898 Ferdinand Fish and others of the HNIC began promoting the development of the remaining portion of present-day Monmouth Hills. It appears as though they wanted to develop this portion of the Park as a separate entity to be known as the Navesink Country Club. The organization plan was very similar to that of the Water Witch Club. In fact, several of the architects connected with the Water Witch Club planned to be part of this new venture. Plans for the Navesink Country Club included a Club-hotel, tennis courts, croquet grounds, a beach clubhouse and a boathouse. The first sale of the lots took place in May of that year.
However, there appears to have been rifts among the majority stock holders (Ferdinand Fish being one of those) of the HNIC and by the close of 1899, Ferdinand Fish had given up his interests in the development of the Navesink Country Club. In 1900, the Navesink Country Club merged with the Water Witch Club, a situation that became official on May 1,1901.
In 1899, the year before the Navesink Country Club and the Water Witch Club merged, the Water Witch Club had 70 members, most being New York businessmen. By this time, 14 cottages had been constructed and five more were being built.
In 1902 a committee was appointed to investigate the feasibility of building a new clubhouse. Although a competition was held and six sets of plans were submitted, nothing further was done for the next two years. In June 1904, another committee was appointed to look into raising funds to build "a Casino and a small lodge." The Board's recommendations, similar to those in 1902, were to move the present clubhouse to the north side of West Twin Road and make it an annex to the new Casino. On September 26, 1904 it was resolved to move the clubhouse across the road and build a casino. It was designed by Frederick P. Hill and constructed in the following year. The Casino and the original clubhouse (now relocated) are shown on the Sanborn Map of Water Witch Park in 1907. At this time, the Club community contained 39 cottages. In 1911, the original clubhouse was destroyed by fire. In that same year, Lyman A. Ford designed and built a large addition to the Casino that would serve as the new clubhouse containing a dining room, sitting room and five bedrooms.
By the close of the first decade of the 20th century, some of the residences of the Water Witch Club began to be fitted with electricity. Up until this time the cottages were equipped with gas only. Gas was first installed in the Casino in 1910. Nine more years would pass before it switched over to electricity.
Prior to the 1920s, only a few members used their cottages year-round. During the winter the Club's main water supply was turned off and those residents who did stay had cisterns built to collect water from their roofs. By the mid-1920s, however, a few homes began to be supplied with metered water service from the Borough of Highlands. By 1940, all of the cottages were equipped with metered water supplied by the Monmouth Consolidated Company, who re-installed the water mains below the frost line.
As was the case with many Americans, the Great Depression of the 1930s changed the social life of the Club members and the composition of the community forever. Unable to maintain two residences, some members sold their townhouses and winterized their summer homes, while others are likely to have sold their cottages all together. By the late 1940s, the Water Witch Club became a year-round community, but with less of a recreational emphasis. It did, however, continue to function as a club and the spirit of club life continues in the community to this day with the Club Casino as its foci.
By 1950, out of the 40 cottages originally built within the Water Witch Club, 26 remained extant. In 1957, Monmouth Hills, Inc. purchased all of the remaining property of the HNIC situated within present-day Monmouth Hills. It was around this time that the first new house was built within Monmouth Hills. Since that time, approximately 18 additional new houses have been constructed and four more of the original cottages have been razed (three destroyed by fire and one demolished). Today, the Water Witch Club entity has been replaced by Monmouth Hills, Inc. The Water Witch Club Casino, now owned and managed by the Monmouth Hills, Inc., is still used for recreational purposes. Presently, a total of 22 of the original cottages still exist. Many have been altered to facilitate year-round living, but the area still retains its essential historic and natural character.
‡ Michael Tomkins, Historian, Tomkins Historical Research, Water Witch Club Historic District, Monmouth County, NJ, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Bayview Terrace • Bluff Edge • Coquette Lane • Fennimore Terrace • Park Way • Sea View Terrace • Serpentine Drive • Twin Road East • Twin Road West • Valley Drive • Waterwitch Drive • Witches Lane