The History of Drumthwacket
on land that witnessed the 1777 Princeton battle for American
independence, Drumthwacket is the stately home that is today
the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey. Drumthwacket
is one of the most fabled and elegant of America’s
executive residences, and in its history lie the stories
of three unique families that made immense contributions
to New Jersey’s, and America’s, history.
The property upon which Drumthwacket stands was once owned
by William Penn, the Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania.
In 1696 William Olden acquired the property; in 1799 Charles
Smith Olden was born in the little white homestead by Stockton
Street, called Olden House, that
had been built forty years earlier.
Smith Olden, who gained his wealth in business ventures in
New Orleans, began the construction of Drumthwacket in 1835,
possibly using a design by architect Charles Steadman. For
its name he borrowed two Scottish Gaelic words that mean “wooded
hill”. Including only the generous two-and-a-half story
center section as we know it today, it originally consisted
of a center hall with two rooms on each side. Typical of
the Greek Revival style, the house has a large portico with
six detailed Ionic columns.
As a gentleman farmer
and businessman, Olden was active in community and political
affairs. He was treasurer and Trustee of the College of New
Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1844 to 1850. He served
as a state senator, and was elected governor in 1860, becoming
the first governor to live at Drumthwacket. He was an ardent
of secession and supported throughout the Civil War the leadership
provided by President Abraham Lincoln.
Industrialist and banker Moses Taylor Pyne purchased Drumthwacket
from Olden’s widow in 1893 for the sum of $15,000,
beginning its enlargement and transformation into an estate
that surpassed anything previously built in Princeton. His
immense wealth enabled him to add both wings to the house,
in 1893 and 1900, which were designed by Raleigh C. Gildersleeve,
including the magnificent paneled library. He added hundreds
of acres to include park-like landscaping, greenhouses, bridle
paths, a dairy farm, and formal Italian gardens. Click here to read the complete history of Drumthwacket's gardens.
Princeton University graduate, Pyne was a Trustee from 1884
until his death in 1921. An extremely generous benefactor,
he influenced the affairs of the University and was intimately
involved in the effort to have Woodrow Wilson made President
of Princeton University in 1902.
In 1941 Abram Nathaniel Spanel purchased the house and twelve
surrounding acres from Pyne’s only grandchild, Agnes.
A Russian immigrant, Spanel was an ingenious scientist who
had founded the International Latex Corporation. His rubber
products were critical to the success of the war effort;
his engineering staff lived at Drumthwacket and many of his
patented inventions were conceived in what
is today the Music Room. The Spanels lived in a modern and
less elaborate style; nonetheless, the house continued to
be the cultural and intellectual center it had been when
the Oldens and Pynes were in residence.
In 1966 the Spanels sold the Drumthwacket estate to the
State of New Jersey with the intent that it be used as the
official residence of the Governor; however, it was not until
1981 that funds were raised by the New Jersey Historical
Society to begin to accomplish the task. In 1982 the Drumthwacket
Foundation was formed, accepting the responsibility of
restoring, curating and preserving the magnificent house
and grounds, which are listed on the National Register of