Peapack, NJ’s iconic Blairsden estate is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in America. Built for financier and railroad magnate C. Ledyard Blair (1867-1949), the Gilded Age mansion was designed by renowned architects Carrère and Hastings, creators of the Metropolitan Opera House and New York Public Library. Blair also enlisted James Leal Greenleaf, landscape architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Duke Estate in Hillsborough, and Bernardsville’s “Upton Pyne” to design its award-winning landscape.
From its high perch in the Somerset Hills, Blairsden’s spectacular views span for miles, beginning at adjacent Ravine Lake, and sweeping south toward Ledyard Blair’s Princeton Alma Mater. Magnificent vistas notwithstanding, the 62,000 square foot French-style chateau represented one of the largest estates ever built in the region, consisting of 31 bedrooms, 19 baths and 20 fireplaces when fully completed in 1903.
Hailed as an engineering marvel in its time, the steel and concrete-reinforced structure was equipped with state-of-the-art technologies. Electricity, modern heating and cooling, food refrigeration, whole-house intercom, elevator, and sophisticated water distribution represented “the ideal modern residence,” according to Bernardsville architect/author Mark A. Hewitt. Additional engineering feats included removing 15 feet of hilltop to allow for the estate’s extraordinary location, in addition to temporarily constructing an inclined railway up the steep slope to transport construction materials to the site.
Traditional horse-drawn wagons hauled fully mature boxwood, cedar, and maple trees uphill in support of Greenleaf’s “instant landscape,” believed by historians to be a first of its kind. Today, surviving maples flank a 330’ rectangular reflecting pool at the center of the formal entrance allée. Gifted to Blair by the French government, twelve 19th Century marble busts of the first Roman Emperors maintain their century-long gaze upon the peaceful scene.
In its prime, the sprawling 600-acre property regularly hosted large-scale Gatsby-like social gatherings, equestrian “Four-in-Hand” coaching runs, coming-out celebrations, and wedding receptions involving Manhattan’s most elite families, including the Gambrills, Talmages, and Vanderbilts. The property even served as backdrop for the 1915 silent film, “Little Peppina, starring screen legend Mary Pickford.
Although clearly built to withstand the test of time, historic mansions such as Blairsden remain highly vulnerable to financial decline, decay, and demolition – as was recently experienced by the nearby “Hillandale” estate. Therefore, Melillo Equities’ mission is threefold: to protect Blairsden’s historic structure from a similar fate; to focus on proper preservation of its remaining 34 acres of land, and to carry on the exemplary restorative work begun by local architect William Welch and former owner T. Eric Galloway – for the benefit of not just a single family, but for the community overall.
Recommended reading, offering a comprehensive history of Blairsden:
- Turpin, John K. and Thompson, W. Barry. “New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills, Vol.1.” Mountain Colony Press, Inc., 2004.
- Hewitt, Mark A. “Carrère & Hastings Architects: Country houses, Vol. 2.” Acanthus Press, 2006.
- Betz, Brooks & W. Barry Thomson. “The Blairsden Estate of Clinton Ledyard Blair.” https://www.mrlocalhistory.org/blairsden-2/