Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gray Towers: Part Two

Mayor, freemason, and businessman Lewis M. Green owned significant land and property throughout Woodbury. His patent medicine laboratory was situated on the lot on the corner of Green and Cooper, near where the Gray Towers' Stable House now sits. Before Green owned the land it was the site of a brickyard, according to a Woodbury Daily Times article from 1910 ("Some Recollections..," 1910). In 1872, Green's son George Gill, got involved with the growing family enterprise and sometime in the late 1870's, the 8-acre parcel of land adjacent to the factory fronting Hester's Branch (a natural creek runoff from the Delaware River) was landscaped. "A map from 1880 suggests that Hester's Branch, behind Green's mansion and factory, was dammed to create a scenic lake as part of the picturesque landscaping. An aerial drawing of the same lake in 1886 depicts a fountain in the center of this small body of water. By 1892, Hester's Branch resumes its smaller, original path as depicted in 1876" (Bensinger & Glahn, 1988). For a glimpse of the Hester's Branch landscaping, see the photo at the bottom of this post.

Gray Towers. G.G. Green's Victorian era mansion. Woodbury, NJ
Paschal Medara (I've also seen spellings of Paskell Madera) was the contractor / carpenter turned architect employed to design the centerpiece to this location; G.G.'s eventual residence. In the Victorian era, there was no formal education required to practice architecture and training was largely journeyman-based. At some point in his career Medara settled in Woodbury and befriended the Green family. He not only designed G.G.'s Gray Towers but also the large brick patent medicine laboratory (now the Woodbury Mews), Green's Opera House block (which is currently being restored to National Preservation Standards), and Lewis M. Green's mansion which once stood at the corner of Broad and German (now Barber). Medara worked for a number of years with a Mr. Allen and erected many houses in the Woodbury area; his contracting firm known as Allen & Medara. Medara died at age 66 in Philadelphia and is buried in the Mantua Cemetery ("Paskell madera dead," 1910). Fortunately we still have a couple of his magnificent structures standing to remember him by.

Not much else is known about Medara, but fortunately primary source recollections and papers have survived pertaining to his magnificent creation, Gray Towers. Thanks to G.G.'s Great Great Grandson, Scott Drake, these important Woodbury recollections have been preserved and shared. Much of the following was collected by Drake from a Mr. Robert Luba who worked for G.G. Green Jr. at his 2nd home "Fox Ledge" in Sparta, NJ in the 1940s. I am excited to be able to share this very detailed information that until now, has remained largely unknown.

The following is the architectural description and floorplan renderings of Gray Towers from Medara's firm:

G.G. Green's private library in his Victorian era mansion Gray Towers in Woodbury, NJ
Just one corner of one room!
Believed to be the Northwest corner of the Parlor.
The house is built of Blue Gray Stone of rubble and broken range style, pointed in white ; the windows are all of French Plate Glass ; the Verandas are large 12 to 14 deep ; the inside finish is of Walnut, Butternut, and Chestnut ; Hardware made especially for the house, is of Nickel and Gold finish, does not tarnish ; the plumbing was done by the day and all pipes run perpendicular to and from cellar ; each stationary basin and water pipe has a separate trap ; bath porcelain lined ; wood work of fine furniture finish ; house heated by steam ; electric bells all through each and every room ; burglar alarms, & ; ventilation in every room, top and bottom ; manufacture gas from a machine of 110 lights capacity, which gives excellent satisfaction ; chandeliers all imported patterns, and made especially for the house, and hundreds of other matters necessary to make a first-class house which we have not room to mention. Mr. Paschal Medara, the architect, now living at Woodbury, would be pleased to give plans and specifications for any style house or cottage required at a low price by sending any kind of rough sketch on paper with some description of what is wanted, he will return his estimate for plans and detail drawings, which is the only way to build even the cheapest kind of cottage, in order to have no mistakes. For any further information please address Mr. Paschal Medara, Architect, Woodbury, New Jersey.

The Floorplans for each level. NOTE: this was before the back mansard tower addition was designed (click for larger):
Gray Towers floor plans. G.G. Green's mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey

So now that we have a feel for the layout and some of the features found throughout the mansion, let me further illustrate the quality of the items. According to a 1917 article in The Gas Record, the chandelier in the parlor (pictured above) is described as a "beautiful French bronze affair originally costing over $400." This may not sound like much by today's standards, but $400 in the 19th century is equivalent to approximately $9,000 today! Stop to think how many of these were most likely in the house!

Gray Towers, G.G. Green's Mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey

Other stories of interest regarding Gray Towers recorded by Mr. Luba include:

*It took 1500 tons of coal a year to heat.
*Naturally very cool in the Summer.
*G.G. Jr. would take cigars from his father's billiard room to the tower to smoke. The Japanese servants would bring food up to him.
*The mansion was reopened for Blanche Green, G.G. Jr.'s daughter's wedding in the 40's after being closed 7 years.
*Some of the original furniture was relocated to G.G. Jr.'s Fox Ledge house in Sparta, NJ.
*Used to have a watchman with a 62 inch waist.
*School kids were always breaking in but never damaged anything. G.G. Jr. said he found a neat row of school books on front steps one day while kids were inside. He would block up the entrance but they would find another way out. Kids used to get in through coal chute.
*G.G. the III used to skip school and go up in the towers and stay all day, the house was so big that no one ever saw him go in or out.

Read Part Three: The Deconstruction, Remuddling, and Demise of Gray Towers.

engraving of Gray Towers, G.G. Green's Mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey

 Read Part One: HERE
Read Part Three: HERE

from the 1st Green Almanac 1877
Gray Towers on right from 1886 Woodbury map
Gray Towers and grounds, Woodbury, NJ 1886
Bensinger, T., & Glahn, D. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. (1988). Woodbury multiple resource area: Partial inventory of historic and architectural resources (0MB No. 1024-0018). Retrieved from website:

Paskell Madera dead. (1910, July 30). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Some recollections of Deptford Township 55 years ago. (1910, January 25). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

the lake and grounds of Gray Towers, G.G. Green's Mansion in Woodbury, New Jersey
The lake and grounds surrounding Gray Towers