The Ladds of Natirar
In almost every tale of gilded decadence, the story starts with the man behind the money. The one who generated the vast wealth to afford the palace. But in the case of Natirar, it was the woman’s rich lineage that placed the bricks on the walls of the early 1900s castle on the hill.
Catherine Everit Macy Ladd was the heiress of her father’s oil, whaling, and shipping fortune. Catherine was born a Quaker and valued her religious beliefs more than the pennies in her piggy bank. Her love of faith led her to open the doors of Natirar in a very special way that would extend from 1908 to 42 years after her death in 1983.
While Mrs. Ladd held the big funds, her husband, Walter Graeme Ladd managed the estate and their massive fortune. Walter was a self-proclaimed “gentlemen.” One of his professions was an insurance broker, but judging by his lavish life fixated on yachting, he was a man of leisure.
Natirar Is Born
Walter Graeme Ladd and Catherine Everit Macy Ladd first ventured out in 1905 to purchase several pieces of land in Somerset County. At first, the smaller pieces were located in several neighboring communities. The future home was built on a massive 1,000-acre estate, which sprawled over Peapack Gladstone, Far Hills, and Bedminster. In 1912, the religious couple opened the doors to their completed, hill top mansion for the first time. Natirar, which is Raritan backwards, was named after the river that ran through the property. Upon completion, the Ladd’s property was the largest in the area. Today, the main house sits on the Peapack Gladstone portion of the property that is now estimated at just over 400 acres of preserved, open space.
The Ladd’s hired Guy Lowell, architect of the New York County Court House, to design and construct the 33,000 square foot Tudor-style main house and many of the estates other buildings. The mansion boasts forty rooms dressed in fine moldings and oak paneling. The Ladd’s were a deeply religious family void of arrogance and chose not to flaunt their fortune. Unlike many of the Gilded Age and roaring twenties, the New Jersey residents chose a quite life. The Brick and limestone mansion never catered to the Gatsby way of life, nor was it the host to any grand parties. Instead, Natirar sat quietly and respectfully among the rolling hills, deep forests, and delicate Raritan River.
In 1908, at the hands of Catherine Ladd, a convalescent facility was created in one of the estates original homes prior to the completion of the mansion. “Maple Cottage,” the original home to the estate, was presented as a place for women to stay, regain their strength after illnesses, or simply rest, free of charge. It was always Mrs. Ladd’s focus to provide for those who could use a helping hand. While most kept their large, iron gates closed to keep the have-nots out, the Ladd’s graciously welcomed women who needed their embrace.
After Catherine’s death, Natirar Mansion was turned over to the Kate Macy Ladd Fund and became the newly renovated home for the women that Mrs. Ladd loved and cared for. When the group transitioned from the smaller guesthouses to the main estate, certain features had to change such as removing the original, grand staircase and replacing it with an elevator. The women remained in the house until 1983 when the King of Morocco, Hassan II, purchased the estate.
Hassan II rarely used the home in the 16 years he owned it. The king acquired the property to use when he was in the United States visiting his sons who were attending Princeton University. It is rumored that Hassan never spent one full night under the slate roof. In 1999, King Hassan II passed away and left the palatial estate to his son Mohammed VI. He later sold the home for a low asking price of $22 million. The price was set lower than expected due to his respect for the initiative of Somerset County, the purchaser, to preserve the estate and the several hundred acres it was built on, as open space.
When Natirar was put up for sale, Sir Richard Branson and Bob Wojtowicz sought to purchase the estate in its entirety. While in negotiations, Somerset County stepped in with their plans for preservation. The county won in the end, but Branson and Wojtowicz were given a 99-year lease on 90 acres of the land behind the mansion. Today, the Branson group runs their Ninety Acres restaurant inside what was once the main Natirar Mansion carriage house and garage. The fully restored structure is beautifully maintained and presents a five star experience. The different dining choices offered are a la Carte or BMF (Bring Me Food).
The rest of the property serves as a large park open to the public. There are trails for hiking, fields for picnicking, and two rivers for fishing. If you want a more private, upscale experience, Natirar features a private club that houses pools, spas, and health facilities. Their goal is to create a more meaningful, spiritually centered lifestyle to benefit one’s overall daily experience.
Natirar will soon be filled with many of the northeast’s wealthy seeking weekend retreats to rejuvenate themselves. Miraval at Natirar will arrive as early as 2015. The resort will feature an 86-room upscale hotel, several villas, and a fully renovated original Natirar Mansion. As well as luxury sleeping accommodations, Miraval will entice its visitors with a 20,000 square foot spa, yoga center, and plenty of outdoor activities to put a pep back in one’s step.
Natirar is a New Jersey mansion with a rich history, and an even richer future.
*Natirar is the neighbor of another famous, Gilded Age mansion built in 1898-1903- The Blairsden Mansion (Featured on TheGildedButler.com).
Written and photographed by: Matthew James Niewenhous
“NATIRAR.” NATIRAR.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014.
“Natirar.” Http://njskylands.com/clnatirar. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014.
“Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone.” Jerseybites.com. N.p., 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 01 June 2014.
It is my understanding that this estate was modeled after Wroxton, an estate in Oxfordshire England, now owned by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Did your findings confirm such?
I have not seen that, but I will look into it 🙂
Matthew, you’ve done a fine description of Natirar. There are a few minor additions I’d like to make: The Ladd’s spent lavishly on creating public rooms on the first floor–linenfold paneling, beautiful plastered ceilings, etc. Upstairs reflected her Quaker background. Simple crown mouldings, staight-forward oak floors, etc. No signs of her wealth were evidenced on the upper floors. Unfortunately, when the mansion was converted to institutional living, the magnificent main staircase was removed and now sits forlornly in a barn in pieces. Lost also in the most recent 90 acres conversion were two staff cottages a sunken garden area and a beautiful little potting shed.
Thanks Bill, always good for bonus facts !