Corrections or additions?

Author: Nicole Plett. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January

19, 2000. All rights reserved.

Decorating: Huge Houses, Expensive Things: Morven

Furnishing the New Jersey home is something that

every contemporary householder faces, but perhaps none so awesomely

as Emily Croll, director of Historic Morven, the former Richard


home that is in the process of being transformed into a historic


Historic Morven hosts a talk on "Furnishing the New Jersey


by Newark Museum curator Ulysses Grant Dietz at the Suzanne Patterson

Center, Princeton Borough Hall, next door to Morven, on Sunday,


23, at 4 p.m. This is the second in Morven’s three-part lecture series

on "The New Jersey House."

Morven has been closed since July, 1999, for the first phase of a

three-phase restoration project. It will re-open to the public this

summer with restoration work completed on the exterior of the house,

the historic gardens, walkways, and paths, and the servants’ quarters,

which will constitute a new visitors’ center.

"We were particularly concerned about providing programming while

we were closed for restoration," says Croll. "Since we’re

in the process of restoring a New Jersey house — and one that

has had a lot written and said about it — it seemed a good idea

to look at a whole history of the New Jersey house from a variety

of perspectives.

Architect Mark Alan Hewitt launched the series last November with

a talk on New Jersey domestic architecture over four centuries;


architect Constance Webster gives the final talk in the series,


of the Garden State," on March 19.

Often described as the most historic house in New Jersey, Morven was

built in 1758 by Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of

Independence, and his wife Annis Boudinot Stockton, one of America’s

first published women poets. Beginning in the 18th century, the


Georgian mansion and five-acre formal gardens became a center for

social and political activity.

In 1945 Governor and Mrs. Walter Edge purchased Morven from Stockton

heirs, and in 1954 they deeded the property to the State of New Jersey

on condition that it be used as governor’s mansion or museum. From

1956 to 1981, it served as the residence of New Jersey governors and

their families. In 1986 it was turned over to the State Museum to

be developed as a historic destination.

Lecturer Ulysses Dietz has served as curator at the Newark Museum

since 1980 with a speciality in material culture and decorative arts.

Among the 73 exhibitions he has curated have been shows on colonial

furniture to contemporary crafts. In the early 1990s he directed the

restoration and reinterpretation of the 1885 Ballantine house in


and the accompanying interpretive exhibition, "House and


He says although New Jersey has always been short on respect from

its prestige neighbors, its residents have long had access to the

best of the best.

"Benjamin Franklin described New Jersey as `a barrel tapped at

both ends,’" says Dietz, speaking from his Newark Museum office.

"Since colonial times, the New Jersey householder has been faced

with the presence of New York and Philadelphia, major manufacturing

centers at either end of the state. While this has created tough


for local producers of household goods, it has also given even rural

New Jerseyans ready access to the most fashionable goods available

in America." His lecture will explore the options and choices

presented to New Jersey householders furnishing their houses over

the course of the 18th and 19th centuries.

"The basic premise is quite simple. I’m going to try to track

objects that were made in New Jersey, used in New Jersey, or that

could have been used in New Jersey, over time, beginning in the 17th

century and continuing even into the 20th century," he says.


still this dogged notion, even in the 18th century, that nothing that

is used in New Jersey is actually produced here. It’s a very powerful


"It means different things at different moments. In the 19th


it was difficult for New Jersey manufacturers to compete with New

York City. For example, there were no New Jersey silversmiths of any

prominence in the 18th century because of New York and Philadelphia.

But that began to the change in the 19th century when Newark became

a major silver production center. Even Tiffany moved its silver


to Newark, although its products were still sold as New York


Dietz says the household furnishings that have survived

in museums and private collections belonged to New Jersey’s very


families. "From the 17th century on, the things that ordinary

people own, generally speaking, don’t survive," he explains.


things that were considered precious in the 18th century — like

the high boy cabinets that ended up in people’s chicken coops —

were thrown out in the 19th century. Families in the mid-Atlantic

colonies that grew richer almost always threw everything out and got

new stuff."

Speaking of the collections of the Newark Museum, Dietz says the


of its New Jersey furnishings were used in the state but made in New

York and Philadelphia. Not only were these manufacturing centers


accessible to New Jersey householders, but families in South Jersey

often had ties in Philadelphia, and similarly, households in North

Jersey had family ties — and often homes — in New York City.

Until the 19th century, beginning roughly in the 1830s, the whole

concept of an elegantly decorated house or a house decorated with

any style at all was purely an upper-class notion. Outside the British

aristocracy, the idea of a decorated dining and drawing room hardly

existed, Dietz explains. And until then, there was no middle class.

"There was no set social structure in American society. George

Washington had a great house full of nice stuff — he modeled


on the British aristocrat. But there were other people of means who

had no pretensions. They only bought what they needed to use."

Gradually, the current notion that your home reflects both your taste

and your social standing began to take root in America.

"By the 1830s it was routine for middle class to have both dining

and drawing room. And by mid-century there were fashion and etiquette

magazines to cater to people adopting the genteel notion of how to

live. For the first time you could buy furniture ready-made,"

says Dietz.

Dietz is responsible for restoring Newark’s Ballantine mansion, built

in 1885 and furnished in high Victorian style. From Oriental rugs

and upholstery to ornate carved wood paneling, and chandeliers, the

Ballantine rooms are characteristic of a "nature abhors a


style of decoration.

Morven, however, will be restored to the colonial revival style


by the mansion’s owners at the turn of the 20th century. Contrasted

with the Victorian love of bric-a-brac, the slightly earlier Colonial

Revival style demonstrated nostalgia for simpler times and honest

hand craftsmanship. It was introduced to Morven by Helen Hamilton

Shields Stockton, the second wife of Bayard Stockton, who lived at

Morven from 1891 to 1928, and was arguably the most stylistically

influential of Morven’s owners. Partly a product of the brutal


of the Civil War and the problems of industrialization, the Colonial

Revival looked back with a romantic eye to the time of the American

Revolution and to the nobility of the intentions of the nation’s


when men and women were fighting for the same cause.

With only a few pieces of period furniture in its possession, Croll

says the organization is in the process of developing the plans for

using the interior spaces before formulating a plan for acquisitions.

Because Morven is administered by the State Museum, which has an


decorative arts collection, there is the possibility of loans from

that collection. "We also hope to have changing interpretive


at Morven that might also borrow from other collections," says

Croll. The restoration of Morven’s interiors will capitalize on a

small but significant portrait collection that takes in almost all

of Morven’s principal residents, beginning with Richard and Annis

Boudinot Stockton.

While Morven raises funds and trades on the goodwill of the State

Museum for its furnishings, other New Jerseyans consume apace. Dietz,

a specialist in Victorian conspicuous consumption, says the 1990s

bear an unexpected resemblance to his period of specialization. "I

find it eerie that we’re in a similar position as 100 years ago, a

sort of neo-Victorian era," he notes. "Vast amounts of money

are being made, and people are appearing out of nowhere building huge

houses filled with expensive things."

— Nicole Plett

Ulysses Grant Dietz, Historic Morven, Suzanne


Center, Princeton Borough Hall, Bayard Lane and Stockton Street,


The Newark Museum curator of decorative arts talks on "Furnishing

The New Jersey Home." $10.


January 23, 4 p.m.

Previous Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments