In 1890, Hamilton McKeon Twombly and his wife, the former Florence Vanderbilt, purchased the George H. Danforth estate on Madison Avenue and 900 acres of adjoining land to the east. Twombly hired McKim, Mead and White, famous architects, and Olmstead and Company, the renowned landscape architects, to design their multi-million dollar estate, to be named Florham (after Florence and Hamilton Twombly.) The borough of Florham Park would later take their name as well.
Hundreds of Italian workers were imported to clear trees and drain swamps on the virgin land. Those drainage channels are still evident on maps and recent aerial photos of the Exxon property. Brick barns, a stable, blacksmith shop, wagon shop and two houses were built in a square surrounding a clock tower. A separate stud farm complex was built with training stables, as were greenhouses, water towers, and a windmill.
When the big stock barn was completed in the fall of 1893, the Twomblys invited friends from New York City to a huge barn dance. Electricity was not generally available in the area until almost 1910, but Twombly built a generating plant to light the barn for this occasion.
The Twombly’s oldest daughter Alice died suddenly on New Year’s Day, 1897, of typhoid fever and pneumonia, before the 100-room mansion (now the Administration Building for Fairleigh Dickinson University) was completed later that year. Tragedy struck again in 1906 when their only son, Hamilton Jr., drowned. Hamilton Twombly, Sr. died four years later of cancer and a broken heart. On August 26, 1915, the sky lit up, alerting the Florham Park and Madison Fire Departments and hundreds of onlookers to a major fire that destroyed a large barn and 14 horses on the Twombly estate.
Florence Twombly and her daughter Ruth continued to use “Florham” for major social events through the 1940’s. Florence Twombly finally left “Florham” to live out her life in Paris, where she died in 1952 at the age of 99. Ruth inherited the estate, but never married. She died in Paris in 1954, leaving the estate to her sister Florence Burden’s two sons.
In 1957, Florham Park rezoned much of the land for industrial use. The estate gave Madison forty-two acres on Ridgedale Avenue for a high school. The 187 acres still zoned residential, including the Twombly mansion and other buildings, were sold to Fairleigh Dickinson University. We are currently offering the following pieces featuring Hamilton McKeon Twombly’s signature: