Blairsden Mansion

History

Old mountain top mansions with forbidding looking gates, reclusive religious sects, and a surrounding forest said to be haunted by malevolent spirits--this is the kind of stuff from which local legends are born. Places such as these tend to fuel the human imagination, and inspire the kind of tall tales that modern folklore thrives on. Blairsden is just one such place.

New Jersey’s Somerset Hills have long been the home of some of the wealthiest citizens in the country, and the world. As far back as 1870, the gently rolling hills and verdant green valleys of the area have attracted New York City’s well-to-do industrialists and financiers. They built opulent country estates in the rural towns of Bernardsville, Far Hills, Basking Ridge, and Peapack-Gladstone. One of the grandest of all of these estates was known as Blairsden, which was the home of wealthy investment banker Clinton Ledyard Blair and his family. Blair began construction of the convert|423|acre|km2|sing=on estate in 1898. He leveled the top of a mountain on which to build his magnificent Italian-style mansion. Terraces were carved into the hillside leading down to the North Branch of the Raritan River below. Blair constructed a massive stone dam across the river, thus creating what is now known as Ravine Lake. A private bridge was built below the dam to provide access the rear gate of Blairsden. The property was adorned with Grecian urns and busts of Roman emperors, and the house itself, which was designed by the same architects who built the New York Public Library, boasted twenty-six fireplaces, a full-sized indoor swimming pool and a squash court in the basement. In its heyday, between the years of 1903 and 1919, Blairsden played host to numerous visitations from dignitaries, senators, and other such people of renown. As the years passed however, C. Ledyard Blair’s personal fortune dwindled. When he died in February 1949, his heirs decided to sell off Blairsden and all of its contents. The mansion and fifty acres of land were purchased at auction in 1950 by the Sisters of St. John the Baptist for $60,000. Here the sisters would remain cloistered away for the next half-century, allowing themselves very little contact with the outside world. Perhaps it was the nuns’ reclusive lifestyle that gave rise to the rumors of evil doings at Blairsden. The ominous appearance of the estate itself was probably more than enough to inspire the tales of ghosts wandering the grounds that would become so prevalent in the local mythology. Today the ornate, yet crumbling, front gate of Blairsden is all that most people see of this once magnificent private residence. The imposing statuary fountainheads seem to scowl in disdain at passers by, trying to discourage curious visitors. The once grand back entrance to the grounds is now hopelessly overgrown with a tangle of wild vines that look as though they have torn the heavy iron gates from their stone fixtures. It is here, just above the long-dry ram's head fountain, that the name Blairsden is emblazoned on the cold grey stone wall.

Recent History

Many people have wondered what has been happening regarding one of the most prestigious estates of its time. The local historical society, the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills, has begun [http://www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org/forum/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=7&sid=b533e8be4e3a84fe3e7453c568580191 an online forum] where people can go discuss what they know about Blairsden and its current state. As recently as 2002, the Blairsden Mansion was listed for sale from Turpin Realtors for $6,000,000. While the estate used to contain over 500+ acres, the current estate is less than 50 acres. The original Blairsden barn now houses the Matheny Medical Center, a CP care and research facility. While its neighbor estate down the road, Natirar, was recently sold to the Somerset County Parks Commission, and it's northern neighbor Hillandale, was recently sold to the Morris County Parks Commission, the current owner of Blairsden is a group called The Foundation for Classical Architecture, who is working, albeit rather slowly, to restore the estate.

The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills has posted [http://www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org/blairsden.php an article] regarding the history and timelines of Blairsden and the Blair Family.

Legends

"Weird NJ" reader Will Hagerty of Warren recounts stories of his experiences at Blairsden.

:"I first learned about Blairsden, from my friend A.J., while sitting at the Sunset Diner one night in August 1997. He showed me some pictures from outside the house. This was no ordinary house, that much I could see from the pictures, but the stories he told me were what drew me to the house that very night. :"He told me that Blair had sold the mansion to a group of nuns, who wished to turn the house into a convent. The head nun, a practitioner of Paganism, wished to convert her fellow sisters to the Pagan ways. When they refused, they were tortured and slain by the head nun, as well as many guests who were staying at the nunnery. In a final act of sacrifice, the head nun took her own life, thus beginning the present-day, phantasmic soap opera.

:"Supposedly, on the path that ranges from the closed bridge, up to the back steps of Blairsden, there are two ghosts. The first specter is a mentally unstable man who was tortured and killed in the house. He appears at the halfway point, near two trees on either side of the path which connect about 10 feet off the ground, giving it the appearance of a gate or doorway of some sort. He serves as a devilish deterrent, trying to prevent you from reaching the second ghost. The second apparition is that of the head nun herself. If you get past the “warning” ghost, you will probably find her near the bottom of the series of terraces that led up to the mansion. As rumor has it, she tries to lead you into the house only to torture and kill you.

:"A.J. told me about a guy whom he knows who encountered the first ghost. The guy, one of those tough, ‘I ain’t scared of anything,’ bodybuilder types, ran from the halfway point as fast as he could, screaming all the way. He still bears the telltale scars of his encounter to this day; five two-inch wide claw marks stretching from his shoulder to his lower back.

:"I’ve also heard stories of a screaming nun running down the hill, over the bridge, and through a car; a disappearing man in a boat on the lake; and a spirit who made twin brothers get into a fist fight for no known reason. When I asked my friend’s father, a chief of police in the area, about the house, he simply told me to ‘stay away from the house because there was weird shit going on up there.’" The apparition of the screaming nun may have its origins in an actual person, as Bill Lawton of the Blairsden Association (a non-profit group that once sought to raise funds to purchase Blairsden) told us. “There used to be this one nun up there years ago named Sister Adolphus, I think,” Mr. Lawton said. “She was a huge burly woman, with a thick German accent. She had a loudspeaker mounted on the outside of the house, and she would sit inside and look out over the grounds through the window. If she ever saw a hiker, or someone biking up the hill, she would get on the loudspeaker and bellow out commands for the trespasser to leave the property. If she happened to be outside at the time of the intrusion, she would chase you back down the hill, barking at you all the way with that German accent of hers! Most of the nuns at Blairsden though were small, pious-looking women.”

Today Blairsden is considered one of the finest examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in the country. Although non-profit preservation groups tried in vain to purchase the estate in the late 1990s, the [http://baptistines.home.att.net/ Sisters of St. John the Baptist] sold the property to a group of private investors, who call themselves the Foundation for Classical Architecture, in November 2002 for $5 million. At the time of this writing the groups intentions for the grand old manse have not been made clear, or whether the property (which is presently off limits to trespassers and regularly patrolled) will be made accessible to the public. It is not known whether the new owners were informed about the ghosts who are said to inhabit their dark mansion on the hill.

Sources

* "Weird NJ" magazine, Issues #5, #12, #13.
* [http://www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org/historians_peapackgladstone.php Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.]
* [http://www.state.nj.us/dep/hpo/hpb_spring2001.pdf Historic Preservation Bulletin] .
* In the Somerset Hills, part of the Images of America series published by Arcadia.
* [http://www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org/blairsden.php The Real History of Blairsden - Facts/Trivia - C. Ledyard Blair]

External links

* [http://www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org/forum/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=7&sid=b533e8be4e3a84fe3e7453c568580191= Blairsden Estate Discussion Forum]
* [http://www.t3consortium.com/drafts/documents/Turpin_PG_Blairsden_forsale_2002.pdf= Blairsden Estate Turpin - For Sale Listing - 2002]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_idqQvojboE News Report of Trespassers Fined for Violating Blairsden Property]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DROxZtiMLEs&mode=related&search= Trailer for Film in Production Based on Blairsden Story]


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