The New Jersey landscape and Delaware River overlooking the once palatial home and gardens of Joseph Bonaparte is being permanently preserved in the City of Bordentown.
The acquisition of the property on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Crosswicks Creek with the Delaware River was accomplished through a partnership agreement between the City of Bordentown and D&R Greenway Land Trust with the State of New Jersey, all of whom are providing funding.
The action secures the permanent preservation of the City of Bordentown’s last unprotected large open landscape and an important place of history.
In the 1800s Joseph Bonaparte — Napoleon’s older brother and the former King of Spain and of Naples — lived on a palatial estate on the property, known as Point Breeze, for 17 years.
The former king owned the largest library in the United States, as well as an unparalleled collection of European art, and created one of the finest picturesque gardens in America.
According Patricia Tyson Stroud, an historian and author of the Joseph Bonaparte biography “The Man Who Once Was King,” the Bordentown years “were the happiest of Bonaparte’s long life and where he hosted politicians, diplomats, artists, famous authors, and naturalists.”
Those visitors included former President John Quincy Adams, Marquis de Lafayette, and members of the New Jersey State Legislature.
The property, 60 acres on Park Street, is at Bordentown City’s gateway and has been under the ownership of Divine Word Missionaries since 1941. The property is currently being transferred to the preservation partners.
The $4.6 million acquisition was approved at the October 12 City of Bordentown commissioners meeting and was followed by D&R Greenway Executive Director Linda Mead and City of Bordentown Mayor James Lynch signing purchase agreement documents.
According to the arrangement, the property’s 60 acres will remain as open space, with walking trails and outdoor and indoor recreation opportunities. Existing buildings will be repurposed for Bordentown City municipal use.
The Gardener’s House, the only remaining structure that exists on the site from the time of Bonaparte, will be owned and managed by D&R Greenway, with support for docent-led tours from the Bordentown Historical Society.
Other plans include opening Gardener’s House, restoring gardens, and providing educational programs to inform the public about the history of the property from the time of Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte through Divine Word’s stewardship of the land.
Partners believe that the property’s connection to the Delaware River and its location as a gateway to the community of Bordentown will be a key component in connecting people to this site “of great national, even international, significance.”
The State of New Jersey owns the land on the bluffs that surround this soon to be preserved site. During the pandemic, NJ Green Acres staff worked closely with the city and the nonprofit D&R Greenway staff to ensure that this site would be permanently preserved.
Across Park Street from the Point Breeze land is the site of the former Ocean Spray plant, which will be converted into 296 loft-style apartments and mixed-use commercial space called Cranberry Park, with bicycle and walking access to the downtown.
According to Mead, the D&R Greenway Land Trust will work with the Bordentown Historical Society to develop an informative gateway visitor experience, highlighting the Bonaparte era, as well as recognizing the Lenape occupation of this setting more than 10,000 years ago.
Peter Tucci, a member of the board of trustees of both the Bordentown Historical Society and the D&R Greenway Land Trust, will exhibit his premier collection of Joseph Bonaparte artifacts to educate visitors and students of history.
Tucci said in a statement, “I can’t think of a better place to exhibit these treasures than at the preserved Point Breeze, where all who are interested can learn what life was like in a small town for an exiled king.”
Monmouth University archaeologist Richard Veit, who has conducted significant archeological excavations on the site, says in a statement, “Joseph Bonaparte’s Point Breeze estate was one of the finest country houses in the Delaware Valley. Although only traces of the original Point Breeze mansions in Bordentown remain, extensive archaeological deposits survive to reveal their grandeur during Bonaparte’s American sojourn (1815-1839). Legendary for its picturesque landscape, wonderful gardens, extensive art collection, and large library, Point Breeze was a center of American social life.”
Divine Word Missionaries purchased the property in 1941, acting as its steward for almost 80 years. The property was used for education and mission activities and as a priests’ retirement home. As resident numbers declined, it became apparent that the land would have to be sold, and the Mission moved off the site.
The Mission’s director and manager Father Jefferson Pool entered into exploratory discussions with D&R Greenway (with whom they had cooperated over the years to present historical and ecological events) and partners, the State of New Jersey and the City of Bordentown, all of whom wanted to see this property preserved.
According to a D&R Greenway statement, “The site’s permanent preservation is a testament to the resident priests’ interactions with the community for many years and their care and love for this land, along with the commitment of the preservation partners to ensure this national treasure remain for the benefit of future generations.”
Bordentown City mayor James Lynch said he and the town’s governing body are grateful to all the involved partners in preserving the property and that the town $1,655,000 investment is a “great benefit to the city and its residents” and protects the city’s rich history.