White Hill Mansion in Fieldsboro is a diamond in the rough.
Dig into some 250 years of history at the property just off Fourth/Burlington Street in Fieldsboro — a borough on the Delaware River next to Bordentown — and you can imagine the one-time grandeur of the manse, the manner of the intriguing people who lived there, and the changes in our region the house has seen over the years.
The mansion, first built in the Federal style then transformed into more of a Queen Anne style of home, still stands graceful and strong. The brick and fieldstone exterior walls do need work, however, which will be coming later in 2018, thanks in part to a generous grant from the estate of a former resident.
The main sitting room, just off to the right of the entrance, is already starting to resemble an elegant space again.
You sense that the interior of the mansion was once elegant, and it will be again, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers, the Friends of White Hill Mansion, helping to coordinate the restoration of its glory.
“The Friends are raising money with the support of the Borough of Fieldsboro,” says Loretta Kelly, president and historian of the organization. She notes that the Friends are doing some hands-on work themselves, mostly deep cleaning.
On my recent visit I noticed a camera on a tripod was set up in this front room, and about a half-dozen chairs placed in a semi-circle. Apparently, the curious come regularly to White Hill Mansion to take part in paranormal investigations, which include trying to capture evidence of spirits and ghosts via camera and recording equipment.
Kelly and Dawn Reichard, vice president and program director for the Friends, don’t laugh at these endeavors; they welcome them. For one thing, all that supernatural sleuthing helps to bring in funds to support White Hill’s restoration.
“The groups pay to investigate. People are so interested in this, there’s a paranormal investigation almost every weekend. In fact, we were on ‘Paranormal Lockdown’ last February,” Kelly says, referring to the paranormal reality TV series that airs on TLC. (We’ll get back to the ghostly aspects of White Hill later, we promise.)
The Friends have been reaching out to the community in a variety of other ways, too, to raise awareness of White Hill Mansion and promote its restoration efforts.
Coming up next at White Hill is the first ever Midsummer Faire on Saturday, July 14, featuring vendors and crafts, haunted mansion tours, psychics, demonstrations, and even a battle between Viking and Saxon reenactors. Visitors are invited to wear magical/mystical garb and costumes.
Then, on Friday, July 27, White Hill Mansion will host Outdoor Movie Night Double Feature, screening two spooky flicks: “The Haunting” from 1963, and the 1962 cult film “Carnival of Souls.”
In addition, on the last Sunday of each month, White Hill opens its doors to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. for tours of the mansion and its grounds. Future open houses will be Sundays, July 29; August 26; October 28; and November 25.
On Saturday, September 29, there will be a free history and paranormal expo including tours, lectures, blacksmith and wood carving demonstrations, crafts, a “psychic alley,” and ghost hunts.
Another way the Friends generate income for the mansion’s restoration is through professional photographers who like to use the place for eerie, artsy shoots.
“We charge them to shoot here, and they love it,” Kelly says. “In fact, they love the peeling paint, etc., and they’ve said ‘please don’t restore everything!’”
Whether the visitors are history buffs, art photographers, or ghost hunters, Kelly likes to remind everyone that White Hill Mansion was right in the middle of the American Revolution and in fact played an interesting role.
“We start by telling the story of the Field family, who bought the property in 1722, and it stayed in the family for three generations, until 1804,” Kelly says. “The original house was built in 1722 and ’23, then made larger in 1750. It was that second generation of Fields who saw all the action during the Revolutionary War and even before, living under King George III.”
Robert Field, a Quaker and successful merchant, inherited the property from his father in 1757. He married Mary Peel in 1765, completing the building of a comfortable mansion on the property. Only 10 years later, Field drowned under mysterious circumstances.
Kelly explains that Field was staunchly against the regime of King George III, particularly the taxes. He headed an anti-taxation group called the Committee of Correspondence that “complained” directly to the King. Field himself was the author of those writings.
There is evidence that White Hill Mansion once possessed one or more tunnels, leading from the back of the house to the Delaware River. Field the merchant likely used them for business purposes, but the tunnels were probably also useful to conduct his radical affairs.
One winter day in 1775 Field was in his boat on the Delaware, being rowed by either a spy for the King or a Loyalist. The boatsman hit Field over the head with an oar and threw him in the river.
Field’s widow, Mary, was left living at White Hill throughout the Revolutionary War, and certain neighbors let it be known that she was a Colonial sympathizer.
She saw not only Colonial soldiers pass through, but British soldiers and Hessians, too — especially Hessians.
In 1776 Captain Carl August von Wreden of the Hessian Army made White Hill his temporary quarters. During Wreden’s stay, Colonel Carl von Donop, the senior Hessian officer present in southern New Jersey, visited the home.
British military leaders also interrogated Field numerous times, questioning whether she was hiding Colonial revolutionaries somewhere in her home. Kelly believes she was, probably in the home’s then-windowless attic.
Thanks to Mary Field’s cool head, the property survived intact, and in 1797 she signed it over to her son, Robert Field III and his wife, Abigail Stockton. Abigail was the daughter of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton and his wife, the poetess Annis Boudinot Stockton, of Princeton. On a visit to White Hill in 1801, Annis became ill and died there.
Field III saw the potential in the property, which was two homes at the time, and joined them together. Look closely at the interior walls and you can see how masons and craftsmen were able to make it happen.
But due to overspending, Field III lost the entire property in 1804. To save his sister’s good name, Richard Stockton (son of the signer) purchased White Hill and allowed Robert and Abigail Field to remain in the mansion.
In addition to some of early America’s elite, White Hill was occupied by inventors, including David Bruce, who tinkered in the attic of the mansion, inventing a new typesetting machine he called the “Pivotal Typecaster,” patented in 1845.
Later in the century (circa 1885) innovative potter and ceramicist Joseph Mayer, known for his association with Arsenal Pottery of Trenton, bought the property.
Kelly took me into the basement to see the foundation of the main fireplace, and looking closely in a corner of that room I could see the outline of Mayer’s kiln, which he used for his craft even after he was no longer living there. A fireplace on the first floor still holds some of Mayer’s hand-crafted tiles.
In 1896 the Mansion was traded to Joseph Crossley, and that same year Archibald Crossley would be the last baby born at White Hill. There is a plaque near the front door in remembrance of “Archie.”
Crossley would become a pioneer in public opinion research, instrumental in making polling what is today, along with associates Elmo Roper and George Gallup.
Among Crossley’s children who once lived in White Hill Mansion was the late Helen Martha Crossley, who died in Princeton in 2016 at the age of 95. She was a founding member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and “a force to be reckoned with,” Kelly says.
Apparently Helen inhabited one of the more cheerful rooms on the second floor at the front of the house, and on an early summer afternoon the space was flooded with sunlight. You could almost feel her vibrant spirit.
While she lived, Crossley was always concerned for her former home in Fieldsboro, and when she died became a major benefactor in the restoration of White Hill Mansion.
“Helen contributed in the past while she was still with us, then left $25,000 in her will to the Friends,” Kelly says. “It will be used partially for the exterior restoration, then the remaining funds will be placed in CDs as an investment.”
One of the most mysterious periods in the mansion’s history came after the Crossleys moved out and the property was abandoned.
“Archie’s father Joe sold the house to someone named Susannah Graham for $1, but nobody knows who she was, then nobody was living there until 1922,” Kelly says. “Squatters took over, and all kinds of nefarious activities went on. It was even a bordello at one time.”
Traces of the bordello remain, and one clue might be an unexplained set of stairs hidden behind a sliding door in a second floor bathroom.
The dark period didn’t last too long, and in 1923 Heinrich and Katrina Glenk opened an upscale German restaurant there, named the White Hill Mansion Bar and Grill. The restaurant greeted patrons from politicians to gangsters.
In 1972 the Glenks sold the restaurant to a group of entrepreneurs, who kept the restaurant going, renaming it “The Mansion.”
“They ran it for about five years, but not very well,” Kelly says. “They did a lot of things that messed with (the house’s) historical integrity, like bringing in very heavy kitchen equipment. The place just wasn’t built for that kind of weight.”
A restaurant of some form existed at White Hill under several different owners until 1992, when the mansion was sold again to the Stepan Chemical Company.
In 1999 when the Borough of Fieldsboro learned that Stepan planned to demolish the house, the borough bought White Hill and now maintains the property.
A restoration project began in 2004, and two archaeological digs were conducted by Richard Veit and students from Monmouth University. More than 30,000 artifacts were uncovered, as well as several building foundations and evidence of Native American occupation.
In 2009 the Historic Trust of New Jersey awarded a grant to Fieldsboro, and in 2011, after the first archaeological dig, the site’s Preservation Plan was completed.
In 2012 the N.J. State Review Board for Historic Sites approved the nomination to submit White Hill Mansion to the State Register, and in 2013 the mansion became a state registered historic place.
Kelly has been involved with the property for almost 15 years, when she chose to delve into White Hill’s long history as part of her certification in historic preservation at Burlington County College, now Rowan College at Burlington.
“We had to choose a place that had substantial history but was also in danger (of being taken down),” says Kelly, a Mount Laurel resident. “Fortunately, the mayor and the borough were behind me. They wanted White Hill restored, and were very helpful.”
“I did the research to get it registered, and we went forward from there,” she adds. “Now we’re working on having the mansion placed on the National Register.”
Kelly says she is really enjoying her work at White Hill. “I love the history, I love telling stories. A lot of people really care about this place.”
Now, about those supernatural aspects of White Hill Mansion: The main attraction for the metaphysically inclined is “The Bloody Bathtub,” a splendid, vintage bathtub in one of the second floor bathrooms.
“There’s no documentation, just folklore, but it’s said that someone might have committed suicide in that bathtub or was murdered, and their throat was cut,” Kelly says. “People who are really sensitive and/or psychic have come in this room and said ‘that bathtub is full of blood.’ Or they can’t even come into the room.”
“Sometimes men will get into the bathtub and they can’t get out. They say it’s like there’s a weight on them or someone is holding them down,” she adds. “It’s happened so often we can’t discount what they’re saying.”
There are also antics in the basement and especially behind the bar, which was installed by Heinrich Glenk for the restaurant.
“Dawn (Reichard) likes to conclude her tours behind the bar, and things just seem to happen to her,” Kelly says. “Once, a shot glass suddenly slid across the bar. Then there was the time Dawn was looking for a screwdriver behind the bar and a plastic bud vase flew by her head and hit the wall behind her.”
“Another time, her necklace broke unexpectedly, beads scattering all over the bar and the floor,” she adds. “One of the people on the tour said, ‘that wasn’t snagged on anything, it just happened — I saw it myself.’ Someone or something really doesn’t want Dawn to be there behind that bar.”
White Hill Mansion, 217 Fourth Street, Fieldsboro. Next Open House: Sunday, July 29, 1 to 3 p.m.; then August 26; October 28; and November 25. December, by appointment. $10 suggested donation. Midsummer Faire, Saturday, July 14, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. $10, under 12 free. Friday, July 27, Outdoor Movie Night Double Feature. 8 p.m. Free. Bring blankets or lawn chairs. Saturday, September 29, History and Paranormal Expo. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free. www.whitehillmansion.com