Field Trip: Two Jerseylicious Historic Houses

New Jersey isn’t all gaudy housewives and over-gelled guidos – there are also some downright lovely and understated historic homes. This past weekend I visited two from central Jersey’s colonial period.

In downtown New Brunswick, not far from the Rutgers campus, you can find the 1739 Bucceleh Mansion. The house wasn’t open for tours on Sunday, but the garden was blooming.

Buccleuch Mansion back garden

Anthony White built this white house for his bride, Elizabeth Morris, the daughter of colonial governor Lewis Morris. During the Revolution English and Irish troops occupied the house, leaving sword marks on some of the woodwork.

Across the Raritan River, in Piscataway, sits another Georgian-style home, the Cornelius Low House. A successful Dutch merchant, Low (rhymes with “wow”) built his “new house on the mountain” in 1741. He was moving to higher ground to avoid the Raritan’s flooding.

Sandstone facade of the Cornelius Low House, facing River Road

Slanted window

Low’s house was unusually extravagant in its use of 300 lbs. of sandstone for the walls and foundation. The exterior is still sturdy, although you can see from this window that some settling has occurred.

Low House backyardThe stone on the back of the house is less polished, although the Georgian symmetry continues. A family of deer were lurking beyond the back yard’s broad, shady trees. We approached the house from the rear, following a “Interpretive Path” from the parking lot.

Interpretive path and cell phone tourSince the house was closed, my boyfriend and I listened to the cell phone tour, which was nicely informative. This was my first time actually trying the cell phone narration trend – “To hear about the architectural history of the house, press 2. To hear about the history of Raritan Landing, press 5.”

Low House porch

In Low’s day, Raritan Landing was a bustling port town. Today River Road is a generic suburban parkway that runs past the Rutgers football stadium, but in the 1740s shipping warehouses lined the street. Although the road’s use has changed, Low’s skillful use of the landscape is still apparent. His sandstone house sits high above the intersection of River Road and Landing Lane, avoiding floodwater from heavy rains like Hurricane Irene. I could imagine Cornelius standing high and dry on his front steps, surveying his warehouses and feeling quite pleased with himself.

Of course, his wealth and fame were only fleeting episodes in New Jersey history. Adjacent Johnson Park points to New Brunswick’s late nineteenth century chapters, in which Robert Wood Johnson helped make it “the healthcare city.”

Intersection of River Road and Landing Lane
Looking down Landing Lane toward the Raritan.

If You Want To Go

Buccleuch Mansion Museum
Buccleuch Park
321 Easton Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 745-5094

Cornelius Low House
1225 River Road
Piscataway, NJ
(732) 745-4177
Tours: Free admission, tours Tuesday – Friday from 1-4 p.m. and Sundays 1-4 p.m. Closed Mondays, Saturdays, and state holidays. School and group visits by appointment. Interactive path and cell phone tour available all hours.

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