For about 10 days in May this year, my daughter and I had the privilege of working as docents at the Mansion in May event held this year at Blairsden, sponsored by The Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center. The event raised funds for an An Expanded Pediatric Intensive Care Unit & New Autism Center at Goryeb Children’s Hospital Morristown Medical Center.
Found in the Bernardsville Mountains, it was originally owned by the banker/railroad magnate/stock exchange tycoon Clinton Ledyard Blair. Construction of the 62,000 sq. foot Louis XIV chateau-style, 38-room mansion took four years. Steel girders, steel mesh lathe, concrete floors and limestone and brick walls, inside and out, have kept the structure sound, began in 1898 and was completed in 1903. The driveway leading to the mansion is a mile long; it boasts 31 bedrooms, and 14 full and 5 half bathrooms and 25 fireplaces. He also spent lavishly on the grounds, creating spectacular tiered gardens that overlook a man-made lake. It was the masterpiece of the renowned architecture firm of Carrere and Hastings, who also designed the New York Public Library, the Frick mansion in New York City, the U.S. Senate and House office buildings and several large mansions in Newport, Rhode Island.
Clinton Ledyard Blair was born on July 16, 1867 in Belvidere, New Jersey, USA. He was a prominent American investment banker and was known for being a yachtsman. He was a son of DeWitt Clinton Blair and Mary Anna Kimball Blair. He attended the Lawrenceville School and then in 1890, he graduated with a B.A. degree from Princeton University. Blairsden, Ledyard Blair’s opulent 38-room mansion in Peapack-Gladstone, New Jersey, was built between 1898 and 1903. He also owned a mansion in New York City, now known as C. Ledyard Blair House. In addition to Blairsden, they entertained at their residences in Newport, Rhode Island (Honeysuckle Lodge) and Bermuda (Deepdene). An avid yachtsman, Blair was named Commodore of the New York Yacht Club in 1910. During World War I, he turned over his 254-foot steel yacht, Diana, to the U.S. government.
Ledyard Blair’s first wife died in 1931. Five years later, he married Harriet S. Browne Tailer. His fortune waned during the Great Depression. After his death in 1949, the property was broken up and sold by his heirs. The contents of the mansion were auctioned in 1950, and the house and 50 acres were sold for an incredible $65,000 to an order of Catholic nuns that same year. The Sisters of St. John the Baptist operated the building as St. Joseph’s Villa, a women’s retreat house, until the late 1990s. In 2002, the order sold the property to a private owner who retained the property for serveral years. The current owner purchased the property in 2011 and plans to restore both the house and gardens to their 1900 splendor.
My daughter and I have been fascinated with the lore of Blairsden and the Blair family since we moved into the area 15 years ago and the opportunity to work in and tour the house and grounds was a dream come true. We even put together our own 17 page history of the house and family to prepare for our work as docents.
The Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center is to be commended for an outstanding job of bringing Blairsden to life for so many to experience. And thank you to the current owner for making his home available to us all.
Carrere & Hastings: Architects. Acanthus Press, 2006. Mark Alan Hewitt, Kate Lemos, William Morrison, Charles D. Warren
Carrere & Hastings made alterations to Blairsden in 1912 and 1917; Entrance gate in 1917
Bill Powers is author of The Pharm House a debut suspense/thriller from DonnaInk Publications, L.L.C. To order and/oor purchase, “The Pharm House” visit http://www.donnaink.org. For bulk orders, signings and interviews contact Special Markets at firstname.lastname@example.org.