Thursday, January 31, 2013

Historic Fire at Gray Towers


If you've read my previous entries on G.G. Green's palatial Gray Towers estate, you'll know that the lovely mansion pictured in the foreground in the above image met its demise by a devastating fire in 1968. However it wasn't the only time the building experienced a blaze. In 1903, a fire was accidently started in a cedar closet on the southeast corner of the second floor by a candle carried by Mrs. Angie, Green's wife. Miss Altedena, Green's daughter in the confusion nearly walked into the blazing closet. Read the riveting story originally printed in the November 12th 1903 issue of the Woodbury Daily Times:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beautiful Estate

I absolutely love coming across things like this... what a find! This ad, from a 1922 edition of a Philadelphia Evening Ledger, features what is now 122 Delaware Street. The Victorian Queen Anne style building now houses a law office and is still a beautiful estate!

Friday, January 25, 2013

G.G. Green's Euclid St. Residence

I recently discovered something amazing in an 1870's era Atlas of Gloucester County. Many of us are familiar with G.G. Green's mansion, "Gray Towers" that once stood on Cooper St. But how many of us are aware that Green had a home on Euclid Street before he "struck it rich," let alone know what it looks like? I was very excited to find the below illustration in the Combination atlas map of Salem & Gloucester Counties, New Jersey:


It is commonly quoted that G.G. Green returned to Woodbury to help with his father's growing patent medicine business in November 1872. His mansion was not built until approx. 1879. So it makes sense that the above image of his first(?) house was found in an survey and map of Woodbury dating 1876. The accompanying map (see snippet below) shows G.G. Green on Euclid St and if examined closely, the above illustration shows a steam train on the tracks which sit behind and below Euclid even still.
 
** UPDATE: According to the History of Woodbury, New Jersey: from 1681 to 1936: "Dr. 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 on Cooper Street."


Further evidence reveals a house in the exact same style (at least originally) still standing on Euclid, quite near where the map shows; this may or may not be Green's. If you look closely at the top illustration there appears to be another house in the same style to the left of Green's house, which is not the case with the house still standing; in its place sits a mansard roofed building from the same era. Perhaps the house that still stands (pictured below) is the one to the left of Green's in the illustration and Green's was torn down at one point. Again, and I hate to sound ungrateful, as believe me, I am happy the current house is still there in the first place, but there was some serious stucco-happy contractors in Woodbury in the 80's. The current Euclid St. house, which functions as a lawyers office I believe, also suffers from the closed-in porch treatment. It does appear to be in great shape, although I wish non-preservationist minded contractors would stop forcing old Colonial and Victorian era structures to look like new "McMansion" architecture.


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Everts & Stewart (1970). Combination atlas map of Salem & Gloucester counties, New Jersey. Woodbury, NJ: Gloucester County Historical Society.
History of Woodbury, New Jersey: From 1681 to 1936. James D. Carpenter, Benjamin F. Carter. 1937.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

How Bad Architecture Wrecked Cities

This is the most important thing you could ever watch: How Bad Architecture Wrecked Cities.

I'm convinced this is the root of America's problems. We need to do better.

(language warning)



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No One is Willing to Remove Fallen Tree

Did Woodbury have a problem with absentee landlords in 1903? ; ) This one from a Philadelphia Inquirer article from that time. Click to enlarge and read. Can anyone identify the house on High Street?
 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mahlon W. Newton


Mahlon W. Newton was born in 1848 in Vincetown, NJ. He is considered one of Woodbury's greatest developers during the Victoria era, second only to G.G. Green. By 1892 his landholdings were extensive. His start in Woodbury was when Newton purchased the old inn on the corner of Broad Street & Delaware in 1878. Inexperienced in the hotel trade as he was, Newton proceeded to turn it into one of the finest, most up-to-date hotels of the day. It was of course known as Newton's Hotel and quickly garnered statewide attention. "He ran it upon a high plane, and its table was noted as one attracting many city boarders" (Warwick, 1913). Newton also "restored" two Colonial structures in Woodbury creating an early interest in preserving Woodbury's past. One of these being the Franklin House which is of course the oldest surviving residence in the city today (Woodbury, 1988), the other being the Summerill-Mickle House at the corner of NE corner of Broad and Newton dating back to the 1700s, also proudly still standing. Newton himself lived in a house at the corner of Broad and Newton, but it is not clear if this was the Summerill-Mickle house or if it was in the John C. Smallwood house, where the PNC Bank now sits. He also may have lived in a house on Centre Street at one time.



Mahlon Newton also owned at least two hotels in Atlantic City (one being located at Plaza Place, Chelsea circa 1910). He also owned hotels in Bridgeton (Hohenstatt Hotel, purchased in 1899), Wenonah (Wenonah House), and Brown's Mills-in-the-Pines in Burlington County. But his most famous hotel was the massive Green's Hotel (no relation to G.G. Green), in Philadelphia which Newton became involved with in 1892. He became the sole owner in 1897. Converted into a hotel in 1866, Green's was originally the grand residence of prominent Philadelphia family, the Shippens. When original owner Tom Green was converting the house into his hotel, he had the room preserved where Peggy Shippen was married to Benedict Arnold (Spector, 2007). "Tom Green created quite a stir a few years later by fitting up, at Green's Hotel, Eighth and Chestnut Streets, a, for that day, very showy barroom. One of its novel features was a ceiling effect suggestive of the Arctic, with tapering icicles and vistas of shimmering snow and frost" (Dillon). Newton continued this tradition of fine dining with extravagant 50 cent Table d'Hote dinners and world class hotel service at Green's.

As a humorous aside, I discovered during my research that Newton and his wife kept a fine Angora Cat at the hotel named, "Tix." Tix appeared in many advertisements for Green's Hotel (see below) and a large and quite expensive commissioned portrait in 1896 by Reading, PA artist, Ben Austrian, the creator of the Bon Ami chick was hung in the main corridor of the hotel. The painting cost Newton $2500 at the time, over $60,000 today's money. Helen M. Winslow in her 1900 book, Concerning Cats writes, "Ben Austrian, who has made a success in painting other animals, has done a cat picture of considerable merit. The subject was Tix, a beautiful tiger-gray, belonging to Mr. Mahlon W. Newton, of Philadelphia. The cat is noted, not only in Philadelphia, but among travelling men, as he resides at a hotel, and is quite a prominent member of the office force. He weighs fifteen pounds and is of a very affectionate nature, following his master to the park and about the establishment like a dog. During the day he lives in the office, lying on the counter or the key-rack, but at night he retires with his master at eleven or twelve o'clock, sleeping in his own basket in the bathroom, and waking his master promptly at seven every morning. Tix's picture hangs in the office of his hotel, and is becoming as famous as the cat." Tix was given a first class funeral when the animal passed in 1903. There are two stories as to what happened after the funeral. According to the next owner of the painting, Mrs. Walter Linn, "When all of Philadelphia had paid homage to Tix, the silk-lined coffin was closed and the Angora, proud still in death, was transported to the Newton estate at Woodbury, New Jersey, and buried in the garden" (Babbitt, 2001). However a 1909 Philadelphia Inquirer article stated that Newton planned to have Tix stuffed and mounted and placed in a prominent position in the lobby, near where the old cat greeted visitors for many years ("Tix hotel cat," 1909). It's funny the things that survive through history sometimes! Additional interesting information regarding Newton, according to Heston's 1924 book, South Jersey: A History Vol.5, includes that he was apparently the first person in Atlantic City to have a grass lawn and garden, owing to the fact of his transporting and transplanting of fertile soil from Woodbury, NJ. He also devised a method to construct basements a few blocks from the ocean!


Newton who eventually became President of the Philadelphia Hotel Association and who sold his Woodbury hotel in 1891 to John Rachor, never forgot where he started, and as it was written in 1913, he continued to add "greatly to the growth and the beauty of Woodbury whose loveliness as a country town has long been admitted by the erection of a large number of high-class dwellings and the opening of new streets. He is now one of the leading, if not the largest, individual property owners of Woodbury, having unlimited faith in its future" (Warwick, 1913). Newton went on to construct three new roads in Woodbury in the late 1800s/early 1900s. These were Curtis Avenue, Aberdeen Place, and his namesake road, Newton Avenue. He had many lovely brick and stone buildings constructed on these avenues, all shining examples at the time of the finest in Victorian living. "It is fair to state here that Mahlon W. Newton was one of the pioneering spirits who hastened the development of the city. … He employed the best workmen, carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers and every house was constructed on honor" (Carpenter, 1937). He also had constructed the lovely storefront/apartment building on the NE corner of Broad and Curtis designed by prominent local architect, Charles R. Peddle. The building, located at 48 Broad St. features unique and interesting porthole windows on the Curtis side and is proudly still standing.

On November 29, 1925 Mahlon W. Newton, for 35 years proprietor of Green's Hotel, Eighth and Chestnut streets, died at 122 South Tallahassee avenue (presumed to be one of his homes), Chelsea, Atlantic City, N. J., from heart disease.

Newton's Other Hotel: Green's Hotel, Philadelphia
This is Now a Parking Lot
Newton's Other Hotel: Green's Hotel, Philadelphia
image credit: Library of Congress
Dining Room Green's Hotel, Philadelphia
image credit: Library of Congress
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Newton's Hotel still stands, now known as the Woodbury Crossing, but the building itself IMHO has been poorly restored (at least from a preservationist viewpoint... meaning it has not been restored to National Park Services Secretary of the Interior's Historic Preservation Standards). It has been stuccoed over like icing on a cake completely covering its detailed ornate window and door lintels. It has also been stripped of its architectural corbels along the roof line, its center cupola had been previously removed, and the buildings formerly lovely and functional balcony, reminiscent of so many of those on highly sought after properties in New Orleans, has turned into some faux floating railing-thingy. BUT... the building is still there, thankfully. The location itself was where Abraham Chattin's and James Wood's Colonial Middle Tavern (later Washington House) once stood, which dated back to the 1700s. The date of the current building is usually given as 1828.

circa 1908

Before
After



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Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher (1900-1920). Philadelphia, pa., green's hotel [Print]. Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994002023/PP/
Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher (1900-1920). Philadelphia, pa., green's hotel dining room [Print]. Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994021599/PP/
Dillon, J. R. (n.d.). Old-time drinking places in Philadelphia. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/drinkingplaces.htm

History of Woodbury, New Jersey: From 1681 to 1936. James D. Carpenter, Benjamin F. Carter. 1937.
Heston, A. (1924). South Jersey: A history. (Vol. V). New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company.
Pines resort sold at master's sale famous browns-mills hotel property bid in at $23,000. (1916, June 3). Trenton Evening Times, p. 5.
Spector, G. (2007). Center city philadephia. (p. 59). Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=h-0Gcg3jbpMC&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=philadelphia "green's hotel"&source=bl&ots=Y0Z9pvwe6I&sig=ZySdrhcT98dKa6SVlqMfo5q1QzM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZBbbUJ7fEfGP0QHiuoGwAQ&ved=0CJYBEOgBMAk
Stafford, H. (1920). Keystone state notables: the Philadelphia and his city. Philadelphia, PA: Stafford's National News Service. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/whoswhoinphilade00phil
Tix hotel cat dies. (1909, March 2). Philadelphia Inquirer , p. 9.
Warwick, C. F. (1913). Warwick's keystone commonwealth: Review of the history of the great state of Pennsylvania, and a brief record of the growth of its chief city, Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: City of Philadelphia. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=-UcVAAAAYAAJ&vq=woodbury&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Winslow, H. M. (1900). Concerning cats: My own and some others. (p. 182). Boston, MA: Lothrop Publishing Company. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=2lI8AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA182&lpg=PA182&dq="ben austrian" ti&xsource=bl&ots=TbSazyfdbY&sig=BMowPo_x8QTuaiVLYoKEpI7u69Q&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FTfwUITvDaq60QHGg4DACA&ved=0CFgQ6AEwBQ


Woodbury Multiple Resource Area: Partial Inventory of Historical and Architectural Resources, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society

I've gotten more than a few questions over the past year as to why I call my blog dedicated to Woodbury history the "Village Green Preservation Society" and quite frankly I'm a bit surprised more haven't picked up on the joke. Being raised as the Anglophile I am (no, that's not a dirty word), the choice was obvious. It is a reference to English group the Kinks and their amazing 6th LP released in 1968, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society. With Woodbury's historic start firmly rooted in England and the nice Green family name tie-in, I thought it was perfect. (Not to mention we even have lakefront condos here in town called Village Green.)

Don't take it too seriously though, like the song, it has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Blasius & Sons Piano Works

Hope manufacturing co: Hexamer general surveys, volume 24, plate 2331. Retrieved from http://libwww.freelibrary.org/diglib/ecw.cfm?ItemID=MHGSAY00064
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As president of the Board of Trade in 1888, G.G. Green successfully convinced city council to waive local taxes for five years for new industries in attempts to bring more businesses to Woodbury. I'm uncertain of the level of success for this move but it at least spurred the building of the massive Hope Manufacturing factory in 1889 located near the train tracks on Green Avenue and Hopkins; which back then continued across the train tracks. They are listed to have manufactured, "Glass, Iron and Paper Show Cards, and Frames," and employed "250 to 300 hands." The factory itself was built by prominent contractor, Allen Bearley Rorke (shown above). He constructed many fine offices, warehouses, churches and other large structures throughout Philadelphia including the former Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park. (Encyclopaedia of contemporary, 1890)


Hope Manufacturing had a short existence owing to financial troubles and closed in January 1892. At the time of closing Hope employed 200 hands some of who were owed up to 5 weeks' wages. G.G. Green and other wealthy citizens aided the distressed workmen, but some refused to accept charity (Distress at Woodbury, 1892). G.G. Green purchased the building at Sheriff's sale and in June of 1892 and then sold it to A. Seigel of Philadelphia who announced a paper manufactory. Instead, Seigal sold the building to Blasius later in July of the same year. "Blasius & Sons of Philadelphia was established in about 1855, and they built exceptionally well made, expensive pianos until the Great Depression era. In 1887, Blasius took control of the Charles Albrecht Piano Company, one of the oldest piano manufacturers in America. Along with the Albrecht name, Blasius & Sons also built pianos under the "Regent" brand name as an affordable alternative to the costlier Blasius brand... Because of their high cost when new, Blasius pianos were never built on a huge scale like many other American piano manufacturers. Sadly, they are not very common today." ("Blasius & sons") According to a vintage Blasius trade card "the World's Greatest Acoustician, THOS. A. EDISON says: "My experiments prefer the 'BLASIUS' in Tone, Finish, Workmanship and Construction" The BLASIUS PIANO surpasses all others."


*** These guys...

... in here...
... made this!
"Unable to fill their orders with their present accommodations [in Philadelphia], the firm of Blasius & Sons will remove their extensive piano manufacturing plant to Woodbury, N. J. The excellent pianos manufactured by this enterprising firm have been ordered so heavily from all over the United States and Mexico, that with their present facilities they are unable to fill their orders. The firm consequently had to seek enlarged quarters. The delay in building would cripple the firm seriously in filling their orders, and a large manufactory suitable for the purpose was sought. It was found at Woodbury, N. J., in the old plant of the Hope Manufacturing Company, which was bought at Sheriff's sale for $180,000. All the employees of the firm of Blasius & Sons met at the Chestnut street store at 1 o'clock to-day and were taken to Woodbury, where they were received by a committee of citizens and royally welcomed. The employees then selected temporary homes, which will be occupied until the new homes for them, which Blasius & Sons will build, are ready. On Tuesday next ground will be broken for 300 houses on the outskirts of Woodbury, where a new city is to be built. The place will be lighted by electricity from the plant at the main factory, and an opera house, gymnasium and reading-room will be erected for the workmen. The removal of the plant will also commence on Tuesday, and the work of Blasius & Sons will in a short time all be done at the Woodbury factory. This will at the start take over four hundred people to Woodbury, which will be a big addition to the population of that beautiful New Jersey town.—Philadelphia Call." ("Will move their," 1891)

Blasius building in back w/ steam train.

1897 Blasius printed envelope


Charles Blasius died in his Philadelphia home March 16th, 1894. Eventually, on September 20th, 1919, Blasius filed a certificate of dissolution in the state of New Jersey. I believe they may have continued operations in Philadelphia until around 1925 when they completely folded. Around 1916 Philip Wuest, organist for the Kemble Church and friend Preston F. Rice, former Blasius superintendent, began leasing space in the building and continued the manufacture of Pianos and also sold various phonographs (see ad) under the name of Rice-Wuest Piano Company. Philip Wuest was also previously involved with Blasius in some capacity as he was named assignor to a musical instrument patent for Blasius in 1909. In 1917 it was announced that the Philadelphia Wood Art Company would be renting the first floor of the Blasius building in the manufacture of gun stock for the war effort and employed about 50 men. ("To manufacture gun," 1917) Later in 1918 the third and fourth floor were rented and used by the U.S. Ordnance Department where "several thousand empty shells are stored, under a guard of Uncle Sam's soldier boys." ("Blasius building sold," 1919) ("Blasius building for," 1918) It was reported in early 1918 that the U.S. Government was interested in leasing the entire building and most likely would have taken steps in this direction had the Great War not ended later that year. Eventually, Rice-Wuest moved to the Old Castor Work building near the Woodbury Creek and the Wood Art Company was evicted for non-payment of their rent. Early in 1919, Philadelphia firm, Belber Trunk Company purchased the building to operate their manufacturing of quality travel bags and wardrobe steamer trunks. Belber employed around 200 hands. In 1949, following a union dispute, Belber removed to Altoona, PA.


The threat of fire to this extraordinarily large building was always a concern. As early as 1899 Blasius upgraded their fire extinguisher system to address this concern. The new system included automatic alarms and an overhead sprinkler supplied from three 30,000 gallon tanks from the City water service, several hundred feet of hose, and a force pump; a fire prevention system that was surely revolutionary at the time. By 1970, Maurlee Co. Inc., manufacturer of heating and air conditioning ducts, occupied the building and on a Monday night in March a fire alarm was pulled outside the building. The Woodbury Fire Department responded quickly, however the building's fire extinguishing system had been shut off by the arsonist involved, a disgruntled Maurlee employee (Shryock, 2010)The Friendship Fire Company website describes the scene: "The fire burned going from window to window, floor to floor like someone was turning on light switches in each room. Fire companies from Gloucester and Camden Counties contained the blaze. The Woodbury water reservoir was dropped 13-ft. (about 7.8 million gallons) and the Woodbury lake system was lowered 4-ft (estimated at about 2.5 million gallons). The next day, the only thing left was the stair towers which were knocked down for safety. The basement although filled with water still contained the contents of a four story building and the pile that was left of the building smoldered until Saturday" (Garter, 2011). It is still to this day referred to the worst fire in Gloucester County. For more details on the blaze please visit Friendship Fire Company's history page HERE.

Image: Friendship Fire Co. #1
West side of Blasius building March 9-10, 1970
Another beautiful Woodbury Victorian structure lost to fire.
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*** Grand action finishing dep't, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
For more amazing images, like this one and the ones below of the fine workers at Blasius taken circa 1895, please visit the online collection at Hagley Museum and Library: http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/libimages/Blasius.html

Side glueing department, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
Office and cashier, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
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(1890). Encyclopaedia of contemporary biography, of Pennsylvania . (Vol. II, p. 213). New York: Atlantic publishing & engraving company. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=h68bAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA4-PA213&lpg=RA4-PA213&dq="hope manufacturing company" woodbury&source=bl&ots=FrOZuROeKa&sig=KGiauuO7Ruh8CJykJccOxer5nDQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=d0nKUKjkB5Tk8gS25oDwAw&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAw

(1891). Will move their plant. Music trade review, 555. Retrieved from http://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1891-A/MTR-1891-A-521.pdf

Blasius & sons. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/blasius-sons/

Blasius building for U.S. warehouse. (1918, Mar 23). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Blasius building sold. (1919, Jan 28). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Dillon, J. L. (Photographer). (1895). Charles Blasius & sons piano factory . [Print Photos]. Retrieved from http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/libimages/Blasius.html

Distress at Woodbury. (1892, Jan. 22). Philadelphia Inquirer

Gartner, D. (2011, Jul 3). Belber trunk fire. Retrieved from http://home.comcast.net/~dwaynegartner/FireStuff.html

Hexamer, E. (1890, Feb 3). Hope manufacturing co: Hexamer general surveys, volume 24, plate 2331. Retrieved from http://libwww.freelibrary.org/diglib/ecw.cfm?ItemID=MHGSAY00064

Shryock, B. (2010, March 21). Back in 1970, a blaze ignited that was so immense it changed the face of Woodbury. Gloucester County Times.

Struck plant starts up in new location. (1949, Oct 17). Altoona mirror.

To manufacture gun stocks in Blasius building. (1917, Apr 23). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Will Go to Woodbury. (1892, Jul 8). Philadelphia Inquirer.