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

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



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.