Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gray Towers: Part One

Gray Towers, G.G. Green's Mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey view from Peppermint Hill
Once upon a time, there sat a most exquisite estate in Woodbury, New Jersey. Behind an ornate wrought iron fence, surrounded by weeping willows with picturesque wooden bridges criss-crossing Hester's Branch creek, upon a gentle sloping hill stood a world class Victorian era mansion constructed in the Second Empire style, honorably named Gray Towers. Here is its story and of the family that had it built.

Lewis M. Green, former clock salesman and eventual mayor of Woodbury had in 1866 attained the rights to a medicinal formula that he was successful with treating his dyspepsia. He began marketing this formula, which he called Green's August Flower and also purchased the rights to the already successful Boschee's German Syrup. (Later in 1880, son G. G. Green would introduce Green's Ague Conqueror to their line.) These formulas, like many medicines of the day, were essentially laudanum, containing healing herbs, alcohol, and opium. Around 1872, Lewis' son George Gil Green (G. G.), after becoming disenchanted with the medical industry and having spent some time with the One Hundred and Forty-second Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, returned to Woodbury, his birthplace, to help his father manage the growing business. G. G. was, for the times, a modern day business man and quickly invested in the printing of personalized almanacs which were distributed worldwide. Green even held a patent on these almanacs (see image below). So many were mailed from Woodbury that the Woodbury post office became the 7th highest ranking in the nation for revenue!

All of this slick marketing along with the manufacturing of some pretty potent elixirs paid off and G. G. and family became Woodbury's first multi-millionaires. As the almanacs announced, his success was the "result of true merit." The Green's owned multiple steamboats, a boathouse and wharf on the Woodbury Creek near Wood St, a factory in Toronto, a state-of-the-art laboratory on Green Street with printing press,  a summer "cottage" on Lake Hopatcong, and a deluxe railroad passenger car that they traveled in every year to their hotel, the Castle Green in Pasadena, CA (not to be confused with the Green Castle Hotel built by Lewis Green on Cooper and Railroad, which is currently threatened to be razed by the Catholic parish). Obviously, the Greens were not afraid to spend money on themselves. However they were also extremely civic-minded and funded out of their own pockets the construction of beautiful buildings around Woodbury. The use of these buildings ranged from retail use such as "drugstore corner" on Broad and Cooper, factory spaces such as the one used by Blasius Piano manufacturers, a Stock Farm featuring popular horse and bicycle races, and an Opera House for the public's entertainment; all built with the beautification and growth of Woodbury in mind. They also constructed numerous beautiful residential houses in the area, some of which are fortunately still standing. Out of everything they had built, the most impressive must surely be G. G. and family's personal residence, Gray Towers.

Gray Towers and original Green's August Flower Laboratory circa 1877
Gray Towers circa 1877
note: 2nd back tower was not
yet added.
Gray Towers was built circa 1876. Sands (2006) in his Woodbury: Images of America book gives the date as 1889, but this is surely incorrect. According to the History of Woodbury, New Jersey: from 1681 to 1936: The first Green's laboratory stood on West German (now Barber) just West of Lewis M. Green's mansion. In June 1873 the lab was moved to the corner of Cooper and Green (site of Green's carriage house) and in October 1879 to the large brick laboratory further down on Green Street. "Dr. [George] Green's first residence in Woodbury was the cottage on the Reeves lot, site of the present Court apartments on South Broad Street; the second on Euclid street; and in 1876 he moved to the stone mansion [Gray Towers] on Cooper Street." The first issue of the widely popular Green's August Flower Almanacs (the first issue being called Green's Pictorial Almanac 1878/79) was printed in 1877. In this issue are depicted images of their original factory on the corner of Green Ave and Cooper St, near where the Coachman's Residence for the Gray Towers estate was eventually built and currently sits. The factory shows a building date of 1877 on the roof line, a common practice of the time. The same images also show the unmistakable visage of Gray Towers (see above image). Some form of Green's laboratory existed in this location prior to this date. An August Flower check dated 1876 shows the old factory and what appears to be an early form of Gray Towers. See below. This image differs from the eventual look of the mansion and could possibly be a prototype of the building which appeared on paper only.

1876 Green check showing early model Gray Towers

Above image also shown on early promo material for Green

Be sure to check out Part Two! The Woodbury architect and the Gray Towers Floor Plans.

An Extremely Rare Photo of a Young G.G.Green
and Family On the Steps of Their Woodbury
Mansion, Gray Towers
Gray Towers, G.G. Green's Mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey



Sands, R. W. (2006). Woodbury: Images of America. (p. 128). Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.


Jacks said...

WOW! What a loss for Woodbury. Can't believe how lovely that property was and not so long ago.

Village Green said...

Jacks, I think a lot of folks underestimate the importance of having structures like this stick around! They have the potential to contribute to the beautification, interest, and economy of Woodbury. Stay tuned, there is a LOT more to this story.

Scott Drake said...

This is an awesome post. Col Green as always been that black and white photo on our wall, grew up not knowing much about my great great grandfather except that he was an important business leader, civic minded and successful. As I started to get frustrated at my lack of knowledge I dove in full force about 10 years ago to change that. Connecting with people like you that have a love of history and a passion for it is great to see. Nice job and as always I hope we can continue to dig around and find more and share it as we always have.
Scott Drake

Castle Catering said...

I enjoy this location, its a beautiful location and in a historic zone