In 1890, Florence Vanderbilt, granddaughter of Business legend and philanthropist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and husband Hamilton Mckown Twombly obtained a large piece of land in Morris County, New Jersey. Twombly was a financial advisor for William Henry Vanderbilt. The 1,200 acre plot sprawled from Madison Avenue, known as “millionaires row,” to Park Avenue. Morris County was of particular interest to the wealthy couple due to the incredible privacy and exclusivity the New Jersey countryside had to offer. Many massive estates in the northern New Jersey hills were set up to a mile back from main roads in town. In 1887, the Twombly’s chose the land that would become home to one of the largest estates in America.
In 1894, Mckim, Mead & White began construction on the English-style mansion. A majority of the crew involved in the completion of Florham were of Italian descent. By 1897, most of the work was completed on the 100-room home. Famed Central Park designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, focussed great detail in plotting out the design of the Twombly’s estate. he created a 150 acre park within the walls of Florham.
The main residence was not the only structure on the property. Florence and Hamilton had an orangery, a gate lodge, carriage house, and 10 incredible greenhouses. Florham’s carriage house sheltered an impressive 40 horses, but that wasn’t the only striking means of transportation owned by the famous duo. The Twombly’s owned six Rolls Royces and 9 additional cars.
Florham wasn’t the only grand estate owned by the couple. During the spring and fall months, the Twombly’s lived in the New Jersey estate, but in the winter and summer, they ventured off to two of their other nearby retreats. In the winter, they dwelled in their New York City mansion on Fifth Avenue. Like many of the New York Elite, Newport, Rhode Island was their summer residence.
The total staff employed by the Florham estate was an astounding 125 service men and women. Dressed in the traditional maroon livery, the footmen, coachmen, and chauffeurs wore the House of Vanderbilt colors proudly.
Though one would expect life to be glamorous with such assets, Florence and Hamilton suffered great emotional distress. In 1896, just a year before the completion of the New Jersey estate, their eldest daughter Alice, 16, tragically died of pneumonia. Ten years later, Hamilton Jr., 18, passed after and accidental drowning. He was their only son. On January 11, 1910, just 13 years after the home’s completion, Hamilton Twombly Sr. perished in Madison, New Jersey. J.P. Morgan assisted in carrying his casket in the funeral.
In 1952, long after the Gilded Age died, Florence too bid farewell at the late age of 99 years old. One year later, Ruth Twombly, Florence’s daughter, passed away. This left Florence Twombly Burden as the only surviving heir to the latter couple’s estate. In 1955, Burden sold the mansion and its contents at public auction. She also donated Vinland, her family’s Newport home, to Salve Regina the same year. In 1958, Fairleigh Dickinson University became the latest owners of Florham after belonging to the Vanderbilt-Twombly family for almost half a century.
-Florham is a combination of Florence and Hamilton-
For color photos of Florham, Click Here.
Written and Photographed by Matthew J. Niewenhous
“Florham Campus.” : A History of the Estate. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.
“Ficus Lacor Buch.-Ham.” SpringerReference (n.d.): n. pag. Web.