Cadwalader Heights is one of Trenton’s oldest neighborhoods. Built by the capital city’s industrial elite at the turn of the last century, Cadwalader Heights is like an outdoor museum of Tudor, Georgian, Colonial Revival and Craftsman style homes.
Eleven of these houses will open their doors for the Cadwalader Heights Historic House and Garden Tour Saturday, June 15, noon-5 p.m. The theme for this year’s tour is A Great Day in Trenton, for visitors to learn of the many riches of Trenton. Plein air artists will be painting in the gardens, Mercer County Master Gardeners will talk about what grows well locally, a beekeeper will discuss how bees promote health in neighborhoods, and area restaurants and eateries including Cairo Cakes & Pastries, Chez Alice, Chocolate Lovers of Princeton, Palace of Asia and Stoltzfus Family Bakery will be offering dessert tastings.
Cadwalader Heights was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, known for his partnership with Calvert Vaux. Together they designed New York City’s Central Park and Prospect Park, Boston’s Arnold Arboretum, and many of the nation’s greatest parks and parkways. In 1890, Olmsted was brought to Trenton by Edmund C. Hill to create Cadwalader Park. Both the park and the neighborhood are Olmsted’s only designs in New Jersey.
“Olmsted transformed Cadwalader Park… into an oasis of sylvan beauty,” writes Glenn Modica in A History of Cadwalader Heights. “The plan is signature Olmsted. Gracefully sweeping curves of the roads follow the natural topography of the land, revealing an ever-changing landscape intended to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Generously sized half-acre building lots were set amid a canopy of mature red oaks, beeches and sycamores.”
Ellarslie, the Italianate villa at the center of the park, was built in 1848 as the summer residence for Henry McCall of Philadelphia. Designed by architect John Notman, who also designed an addition to the New Jersey State House, it has, over the years, served as everything from a restaurant and ice cream parlor to a monkey house. In 1978, it opened its doors as the Trenton City Museum, which it remains to this day.
Considered the father of American landscape architecture, Olmsted died in 1903, and so his sons, Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects, carried out his plans for Cadwalader Heights. “To maintain property values and architectural character, Hill included restrictive covenants in every deed,” writes Modica. “Homes had to be of a ‘rural or suburban style of architecture’ and cost no less than $4,000. In marketing Cadwalader Heights, Hill proclaimed it to be the city’s ‘most exclusive residential section’ with its ‘giant trees and healthful atmosphere’ and populated by ‘the best people in Trenton.'”
Only well-respected architects were enlisted for the project, such as John Phelps Pette, J. Osborne Hunt and William Klemann. They designed homes in styles ranging from cottages and Colonial Revival to Tudor Revival. The neighborhood attracted magnates of the city’s pottery industry: William Tams from Greenwood Pottery, Matthew Scammell from Scammell China, Mark Solon from Mercer Pottery and Paul Duryea of Cook Pottery.
Another notable resident was Mary Roebling, who married the grandson of Brooklyn Bridge designer John A. Roebling. In 1957, she was described as one of the 10 wealthiest women in the country.
Red oaks, lindens and sycamores lined the streets, as they do today. Garages were designed to be in the backs of the houses, accessed by a rear alley. Hill promoted the neighborhood as a suburb of Trenton, and residents were not permitted to sell alcohol for a profit.
Building picked up after World War I, with the period between 1920 and 1924 seeing the biggest jump in homebuilding. By 1937, the neighborhood was built out. During the Depression, there were house foreclosures, but the neighborhood never experienced a decline, as many areas during the 1960s urban flight.
Today, new people are moving in, refurbishing old houses that sell for $350,000 to $500,000. For that amount, a homeowner gets four to six bedrooms, a fireplace, classic architectural details, and possibly Mercer tile surrounding fireplaces or in bathrooms.
The neighbors include artists, architects, musicians, people working in business and financial industries, “black, white, gay, straight, single, with children, and married with pets,” according to one resident.
What Olmsted built into the neighborhood to attract its original inhabitants still lures residents today.
Cadwalader Heights Historic House and Garden Tour,Saturday, June 15, noon-5 p.m.$25 day-of, $20 advance sales through cadwaladerheights.comRegistration: Cadwalader-Asbury United Methodist Church, 900 Stuyvesant Avenue, TrentonTicket sales benefit Mercer Street Friends. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org; 609-462-2932; www.cadwaladerheights.com