History Winds Through Rumson’s Roads

March 18, 2018
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Scenic Rumson Road is an old road that winds past houses old and new in the borough of Rumson. On the right, A view of Thomas N. McCarter’s fabulous Rumson Hill home with the bridge he built over Ridge Road in the foreground from Dorn’s Classic Images

By Rick Geffken |

From the Rumson County Club to Jumping Point, Rumson Road’s mix of luxurious homes, lush landscapes and river views are unparalleled. This gently curving thoroughfare was central to the development of Rumson right from the beginning. It also played a major role in the growth of Monmouth County.

The millennia-old Lenape Great Trail footpath was renamed the “Burlington Trail” by early white settlers. At its eastern end, leading to the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic Ocean, the Trail traversed the long neck of land called Navarumsunk. The 1665 deed from the Navesink band of Lenapes to English settlers from Gravesend (Brooklyn) called the two rivers defining Navarumsunk the Shushopponoring (Navesink) and the Arummanend (Shrewsbury). Popomora, an Indian sachem (chief) signing the deed with his “X” is memorialized in the eponymous Rumson Drive. John Hance had 500 acres, river to river, but it took two more centuries for Rumson to develop into a real town.

Ore carts from the Lewis Morris Tinton Falls Ironworks travelled along the Rumson Neck road as early as 1680. English and Dutch settlers loaded their wagons with produce and used the same road to Passage Point (Black Point), so called because sailing ships laden with Monmouth County crops “passed” through inlets on their way to New York. Our county’s agricultural success was assured.

In the mid-19th century, Martinus Bergen opened a tomato canning factory close to the Navesink. Steamboats docked at Washington Street, unloading visitors who stayed at Thomas Hunt’s Port Washington Pavilion Hotel. The little village of Port Washington was renamed Oceanic in 1845 and thereafter Hunt subdivided his vast acreage into residential lots. Another spurt of building occurred round the time Michael Rainey Jr. bought a lot in 1884 and put up the 22-room Lafayette Hotel (today’s Russell & Bette’s restaurant).

Gopal Calls for Consolidation

The 1870 Jumping Point drawbridge at the eastern end of Rumson Road connected the verdant peninsula to the oceanfront barrier beach towns. Jumping Point was where patriot Joshua Huddy escaped from the British in 1780, jumping into the Shrewsbury.

As Rumson historian Roberta H. Van Anda notes in “Legendary Locals of Rumson,” “Giants of finance, industry, politics, commerce, science, and the arts arrived in the late 1800s by train or steamboat and summered in fashionable Long Branch and Seabright.” When the inlets finally sanded over, steamboats from Rumson navigated the Shrewsbury River before rounding Sandy Hook on their way to the financial capital of New York City.

Successful businessmen from such diverse industries as textile manufacturing (Matthew Borden), brewing (John Gillig and Christian Feigenspan) and politics (Cornelius Bliss) made Rumson their summer or country homes. Historian Randall Gabrielan notes that, “Thomas N. McCarter was the first major city figure to make Rumson his year-round home.”

In his latest documentary, “Rumson Hill,” Chris Brenner tells the story of “one wealthy attorney and industrialist (who) decided to make Rumson his permanent home, and created one of the most iconic estates in New Jersey history.” The man was Thomas Nesbitt McCarter. His 421-acre estate (including what is still known as McCarter Pond 60 years after his death) spanned the Two River peninsula from Rumson Road to the Navesink River.

McCarter was the attorney general of New Jersey and the first president of the Public Service utility conglomerate. He bought the Kemp estate in Rumson in 1905 for the equivalent of $3.8 million today. Three years later he sold 213 acres of the western portion to the Rumson Country Club.

Fair Haven to Offer More Ways to Enjoy the Riverfront

An award-winning filmmaker, Brenner of Fair Haven grew up in Rumson, playing high school football for the Bulldogs. “Rumson Hill” showcases McCarter’s sprawling grounds with the sumptuous three-story mansion built at the peninsula’s highest elevation. With its copper-clad roof, an elevator and deep-hewed hardwood interior, the McCarter home afforded spectacular views in all directions, with a huge formal garden, horse stables and barns, a swimming pool, as well as staff and maintenance outbuildings.

McCarter built an arched and ivy-covered bridge over Ridge Road to avoid traffic congestion at the intersection with the entry road to his home. McCarter’s overpass outlived its creator who died in 1953. The bridge was seen as the unofficial border between Fair Haven and Rumson. By the 1970s the deteriorating structure was a graffiti-laden traffic hazard and was finally demolished in 1988.

The Borough of Rumson, formally established in 1907, contains 40 miles of roads including 133 streets and five county roads within its five square miles today.

But the Lenape footpath which morphed into a colonial wagon road was the beginning of it all.

Town Hall’s George H. Moss Jr. Room, named for the late Rumson historian and author, contains many remarkable maps, historical photos and documents. Call 732-842-3300 for a viewing appointment.

“Rumson Hill” will be featured at the 2018 Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park, March 22-25. It will also be available for view at Brenner’s website, destinationspast.com, thereafter.

This article was first published in the Around Town: Rumson special section in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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