Historic Structures

Alnwick Hall Morris New Jersey

Date added: May 10, 2017 Categories: New Jersey House Mansion

Alnwick Hall, built in 1904, is a rare and virtually unaltered survivor of "Millionaires' Row," that stretch of Madison Avenue where the fabulously wealthy (as well as mere millionaires) resided in turn of the century Morristown and Morris Township. Inspired by Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, Alnwick is a representative example of the taste of its era, when the new American plutocracy emulated European models socially and architecturally. Its owners were Edward P. Meany, a prominent attorney and pioneer in the telecommunications industry, and his wife Rosaline, who made Alnwick famous for glittering musical entertainments.

The fortune that built Alnwick was amassed by Edward P. Meany (1854-1938) from a career as one of America's most distinguished lawyers. Admitted to the bar in 1878, "He was for many years counsel for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and had several positions of importance and confidence in that company and in many of its associated companies. General Meany has also acted on many occasions as an officer and director of important railway, financial, and other corporations. He was appointed Judge Advocate General of New Jersey in 1893. . . he has appeared in a number of celebrated litigations. As Vice President of the New Mexico Central and Southern Railway, he directed extensive negotiations between the company and the Government of Mexico, and with influential financial interests in Europe.

Like several millionaires of the Morristown area, Meany's fortunes were connected intimately with telecommunications. In addition to the AT&T positions mentioned already, he was, in 1890, one of the five incorporators of the New Jersey Telephone Company and was an organizer of American Bell Telephone. His local positions included a directorship of the National Iron Bank of Morristown.

Meany put his desire for a residence recalling the traditions of fortified English strongholds in the hands of NYC architect Percy Griffin. For his inspiration, Griffin chose Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, the ancestral seat of the Percy family. Begun as a Norman keep about 1310, Alnwick was first walled c. 1450. According to a description of 1569, "Alnwick Castle is a very goodly house—very ancient, large, beautiful and portly, situated pn the south side of the river Aln upon a little mote. It is well built of stone. Alnwick Castle was renovated in the Gothic mode ca. 1760, and interior decoration was added by Robert Adam. The last major changes were carried out between 1850 and 1854 in an attempt to restore its Medieval character and insert modern conveniences.

Whether Griffin was sent by Meany to England is unknown. In view of the thoroughness with which the original Alnwick is documented, such a trip was probably unnecessary. An examination of drawings and descriptions reveals that Griffin's adaptation was loosely conceived. This is not surprising considering both the eclectic attitude of the period and the effort necessary to transmogrify a sprawling castle into a self-contained American country house. The most obvious points of tangency between the two Alnwicks are castellated parapets, semi-octagonal towers and bays, paired and tripled windows, and certain Tudor motifs. Inside, the modern Alnwick, like its model, displays ornament of several periods. Griffin's use of Gothic and Adamesque motifs is meant to suggest a house that evolved over centuries. His use of exterior materials, however, is thoroughly up-to-date. He replaced the stone of Alnwick Castle with pressed brick of the sort popularized by McKim, Mead and White. Ornamental details are executed in another popular material of the day, terra cotta, matched, in this instance, to the orange of the brick.

Once Alnwick was completed, it was Rosaline Meany who gave the estate its distinctive identity. Unlike some of her neighbors who spent their days managing herds of prize-winning dairy cattle or supervising the construction of formal gardens, Mrs. Meany's passion was music. "Musicales at Alnwick became a high point of the Morristown social season. One New York Herald clipping from the Meany scrapbook announces: "General and Mrs. E. P. Meany Give Musicale. Mme. Gluck, Mr. Amato and Mr. Zimbalist are soloists at Brilliant Entertainment." Mrs. Meany stinted neither quality nor scale at her musical evenings.

These were not merely living room recitals with piano accompaniments, but two-hour concerts with an orchestra of thirty pieces. In addition to Alma Gluck and Efram Zimbalist, soloists included. Lucrezia Bori, Pasquale Amato, Giovanni Martinelli, and flutist George Barrere.

With a guest list that customarily numbered 200, the 24' X 60' Great Hall was put to good use. After being entertained by eminent artists, Mrs. Meany's eminent friends - Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Otto Kahn, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Armour among them - were fed a buffet supper at 11 o'clock, catered by Delmonico's. Printed programs and menus survive to document the musical and gastronomic tastes of the era. To honor her musical patronage, Mrs. Meany's favorite conductor, Adolph L. Rothmeyer, composed the "Alnwick Hall March Dedicated to Mrs. Edward P. Meany." Published by Carl Fischer, the cover of the sheet music bears a color lithograph of Alnwick.