By Patti Martin
For Greg Strand, growing up on the grounds of the historic Hartshorne Mansion was a young boy’s dream come true.
Perched on the banks of the Shrewsbury River in Little Silver, the then 28-acre property had it all: a pond, riverfront access, and acres and acres of lush grounds. “It was like a great big park,” Strand recalled. “It was the most beautiful place … you couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up.”
Strand’s parents, John and Theodora, worked for Harold Hartshorne from the time his mansion was built in 1929 until he sold the property in 1957. For a number of years, the Strand family lived in the carriage house of the property, and it was there that Strand spent the carefree days of his youth, running and playing, skating and sailing. What Strand didn’t realize at the time was that he had access to a piece of history, a place that few people ever had the chance to see.
But that’s all about to change.
Built in 1929 by world champion figure skater Harold Hartshorne, the 11,000-square-foot Tudor was designed by noted architect Roger Harrington Bullard. Now as the setting for the fourth edition of Stately Homes by-the-Sea Designer Show House, the mansion’s doors will open to the public for the first time.
Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the home’s magnificent historical elements enhanced by many of the area’s leading designers while supporting the vital mission of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group during the event, which runs April 30 through June 9.
Born in 1891, Harold Hartshorne was a graduate of Princeton University and a veteran of World War I, serving as a second lieutenant in the Department of Criminal Investigation. Like his father and grandfather, Hartshorne was a stockbroker and a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
Hartshorne, though, is probably best known as a pioneer in the history of U.S. ice dancing. The primary force in instituting a national dance title in 1936, Hartshorne went on to become – along with different partners – the five-time U.S. dance champion. Competing well into his 50s in the veterans dance section that he helped to institute as well as in other various exhibitions, Hartshorne also became a revered national and international judge and mentor to numerous U.S. skaters.
While traveling to serve as a judge in the 1961 World Championships in Prague, Hartshorne and his wife Louisa died in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team. He was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1981.
Hartshorne’s ties to the area can be traced to the 1920s, when he acquired the land by an inlet in Little Silver, once known as Halcyon Bight. A Victorian home, which had belonged to a sea captain, existed on the site. Hartshorne had the home moved to another area of the property (where it still stands today) to make room for the mansion he planned to build.
Renowned architect Roger Harrington Bullard was hired to design the new home. It wasn’t surprising that Hartshorne enlisted the services of Bullard, who had designed estates for a number of prominent families of the time, including J.P. Morgan. Although impressive in scale, the homes retained an air
of rural domesticity. Among Bullard’s designs still standing are Rynwood in Old Brookville, N.Y., now the home of Banfi Vintners, and the Maidstone Country Club in East Hampton, N.Y.
In 1933, Bullard won a Gold Medal in the Better Homes in America competition for his design “America’s Little House.” The modest-size colonial, built at 39th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, reflected the changing needs in housing and became something of a phenomenon. Then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia broke the ground, and Eleanor Roosevelt laid the hearthstone. CBS Radio broadcast live from there several times a week and over 150,000 people toured the home until its eventual demolition about two years later.
Many elements of Bullard’s signature style have been preserved in the Hartshorne Mansion. Bullard imported bricks from England for the Tudor-style façade accented by a pitched slate roof and tall chimneys – design elements that became his trademark. The mansion features 217 leaded-glass windows, also imported from Britain, many inset with stained-glass images depicting Swiss Canton coats of arms and historical or literary images. Sweeping views of the river can be seen from nearly every window.
The formal living room boasts a cathedral ceiling with wood beams from Germany’s Black Forest and oversize fireplace, one of 10 fireplaces throughout the house. A sculpted plaster ceiling is found in the banquet-style dining room. Knobs that once controlled a hot and cold water system that would cool the slate roof in the summer and melt the ice in the winter can still be seen throughout the house.
Not surprisingly, Hartshorne added his own unique features to the mansion, echoing his world travels and stylish entertaining during the Prohibition Era. European hand-carved panels acquired during his voyages abroad decorate the vintage phone booth off of the baronial entry hall. Across from the phone booth, a concealed panel releases the entry to a hidden wine cellar. “Secret” passages that run underneath the length of the house can be entered from doorways incorporated into the living room’s paneling. Music could be heard throughout the home from the organ room whose ornate grill still graces a living room wall. A small window in the master bedroom looks out over the living room and mischievous younger guests were known to use that vantage point to fly paper airplanes down on the adults’ parties. The initials HH can still be seen on the drainpipes and the original bell used to call family members in for meals still hangs in the cupola on the roof.
Although Hartshorne could occasionally be seen skating on the river, he added a pond to the property to supply smooth ice for his practice and that of his guests, including figure skater and film star Sonja Henie, as well as the many young skaters he took under his wing over the years. Winters also would find members of the family ice boating on the Shrewsbury River. During the warmer months, the Little Silver fire department would make sure the pond was sufficiently filled to allow for rowing in a molded mahogany boat.
“I really have Mr. Hartshorne to thank for my love of boating,” said Strand, a lifelong resident of Little Silver who went on to become borough police chief, retiring in 1997. “If it wasn’t for his pond, access to the Shrewsbury River and his boats, I would not have gone on to racing power boats or ice boats. There’s a direct correlation between growing up at the Hartshorne Mansion property and my love of boating.”
While Hartshorne spent most of his time in New York, Strand recalled Hartshorne spending many weekends at his Little Silver home – especially in the winter months. “There was no question that the pond was the center attraction (outside),” Strand recalled. “The Shrewsbury didn’t always freeze, so Mr. Hartshorne needed a place to skate – the pond was the perfect choice.”
While Strand ice-skated, it was boating that drew more of the young boy’s attention. “He had boats on the property, and he was very generous in allowing our family to use them.”
Hartshorne’s generosity also extended to the community, especially the borough fire department. “The fire department would come and fill the pond when the water dried up,” Strand said. “And Mr. Hartshorne always made a donation to show his appreciation.”
For a young boy, the property with its woods, rolling lawns, horses, goats and rabbits was a dream come true. “You were never bored, and there was always something to do,” Strand said. When he was a preteen, Strand’s father allowed his son to accompany him to work on occasion. “It was so pretty, so different … it was a little bit of heaven.”
While Strand doesn’t really remember the guests dressed in white that would enjoy a leisurely summer afternoon in the shade of the gingko trees, he does remember the Hartshorne mansion. “When I put an addition on my own home, I used long wood beams on the ceiling and put in a fireplace – just like Mr. Hartshorne,” Strand said. “My house is nowhere the size of Mr. Hartshorne’s, but when I walk in the room, I always think of him fondly.”
Over the years the surroundings have changed, and new families have come to live within the walls of the Hartshorne Mansion. For Strand, though, the memories live on. “And it’s really nice that the Hartshorne Mansion will be open for the show house,” he said. “It’s really a one-of-a-kind place that I was lucky to call home for a little while.”
IF YOU GO: The Fourth Edition of Stately Homes-By-The-Sea Designer Show House
April 30-June 9
10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
The Hartshorne Mansion, 80 Oakes Road, Little Silver
Tickets: $30 before April 30, $35 after April 30, $25 for seniors or groups of 15 or more
Offsite parking with free shuttle
Additional information: StatelyHomesByTheSea.com
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