The Closest Thing to Downton Abbey in Middletown
As the new season begins tonight 9 pm on PBS, fans of the World War I era drama might be interested to know about a mansion in town called Hillandale, located in Chapel Hill.
There are so many gorgeous old mansions in Middletown, and with the new season of Downton Abbey starting tonight, we began inquiring if any of them would have been suitable for the Dowager Countess of Grantham, or Mr. Carson, the butler.
We rung up Middletown Realtor Gloria Nilson, who lamented that Middletown's multi-million dollar mansions rarely come with the surrounding carpet of acreage you'd expect in England. (Last season on Downton Abbey, it was revealed that Mary Crawley wasn't even aware their century-long neighbors had "given up" and moved out of their enormous manor.)
But if one house in Middletown could play the part, it would have to be Hillandale, she said. Located atop a wooded hill on the north side of Cooper Road in the Chapel Hill section, "It's absolutely the closest thing to Downton Abbey," she said. "It has the proportion that people would think of, if they thought of Downton Abbey," she said.
Hillandale is a 14,500 square foot Georgian Revival mansion on three floors, with tall ceilings, 14 bedrooms, 9 fireplaces and a wine cellar that can hold 12,000 bottles. The living room is 33 x 25, large enough for a ball. It is surrounded by 11 acres, with sweeping views of the river, the Navesink Country Club and Huber Woods. A three-bedroom carriage house is part of the property.
According to the Monmouth County historian Randall Gabrielan, it was built on the land of Herbert Nathan Straus (1881–1933), one of seven children of the Ida and Isadore Straus of the department store fame, who tragically perished together on the Titanic after offering the seat on the lifeboat to their maid.
The main house was destroyed by fire in 1931, and rebuilt in stone, brick and shingle by J. Wright Brown, the founder of Brown Brothers Harriman, the oldest private bank in America.
"It reminds me of an English country house," said owner Peter Birch, who grew up in England, and now works in the futures and commodities trade.
Birch said Brown's wife lived in the house with servants for many years. She died in the 1960s, and by the end of the decade the farm was split up and sold. Birch acquired the house in 1982 and was recently looking to sell it. He said he originally priced it at $8.5 million, and after slashing the price by half, took it off the market a few weeks ago.
Gabrielan said that the Straus property, in its entirety with horse and dairy on both sides of Cooper Road, is "spectacular architecture."
"The Herbert Nathan Straus estate is the most spectacular surviving country house assemblege in Monmouth County. There are horse and dairy farms on both sides of Cooper Road, both designed by Alfred Hopkins, an architect whose specialties included farm groups," said Gabrielan, who has documented the Straus property in his various books on Middletown Township.
But is it another Downton Abbey? Maybe not so much, said Gabrielan. "The Middletown places -- in the era of country homes -- were summer houses, so there may not be a direct comparison with a major, landed manor," he said.
See a virtual tour of Hillandale on the Asbury Park Press website, from their visit there in 2008.