The 1847–48 Gothic Revival Remodeling
By the mid-1840s, the house built for the Lane family was more than 80 years old, and the Rosencrantz family had owned The Hermitage for almost 40 years. It was clearly old-fashioned and lacking in the modern technology that was bringing convenience to domestic living. Elijah Rosencrantz, the youngest son of Dr. Elijah Rosegrant who purchased The Hermitage, remodeled the family home. For the project, he chose an up-and-coming architect named William H. Ranlett and the Gothic Revival architectural style. [Tell me more about why Elijah decided to remodel The Hermitage.]
How and why Elijah chose Ranlett is not known, though it is quite possible that the two men were previously acquainted. In 1833, Ranlett had married Adelaide Sexton, whose family lived in Ho-Ho-Kus near the Rosencrantzes. He lived in a Gothic Revival home of his own design on Staten Island and was increasingly prominent as the publisher of The Architect, which promoted his skill in designing country homes. [Tell me more about William Ranlett.]
After choosing the Gothic Revival style, Elijah gave Ranlett great freedom in carrying out the remodeling and enlargement of The Hermitage. The design as developed by Ranlett was printed in The Architect in 1847 and included in the second volume of the book version published in 1851. Although Ranlett referred to the house “Waldwic Cottage” (and Waldwick continues as the name of the municipality that borders the Hermitage property), the Rosencrantzes continued to call their home The Hermitage.
Within the rebuilt shell of the old house Ranlett created an entrance hall, dining room, library, closet, and pantry on the first floor and a stairwell, cross hall, several bedrooms, dressing room, and closets on the second floor. The new staircase was embellished with Gothic panels, and the woodwork in the first-floor rooms had full-bodied mid-19th-century moldings around the doors and windows, with a chair rail in the dining room. The windows were diamond-paned with interior shutters. A Tudor-arched marble mantel was placed over the fireplace in the dining room. The second-floor rooms had simpler finishes, and some of the panel doors from the original house were reused.
To the core of the original house Ranlett added several wings that not only increased the home’s size but gave it an irregularly shaped, picturesque form. The wings also added a variety of interior rooms with specific functions, including a single-story framed entrance porch with diamond-pane glazing that provided separate entrance to the library. A two-story stone wing was added to the south with a roof ridge perpendicular to and projecting beyond the original block. A rectangular attic window, a pair of second-story windows under label molding, and a projecting bay window with diamond-paned windows were also added. Two large wall dormers projecting from the south slope of the roof and a three-bay-wide veranda supported columns provided added visual variety. The Hermitage’s picturesque composition was enhanced by substantial overhangs, carved bargeboards and finials, and grouped chimneys. The interior of the new south wing contained front and rear parlors, each of which had access to the porch through diamond-paned French doors. A chimney served a fireplace in each room with Tudor-arched marble mantels. On the second floor were two ample bedrooms, each with a fireplace and with closets. Additional bedrooms were in the attic, under the steeply pitched roof.
To replace the old kitchen, Ranlett built a one-and-a-half-story stone wing with a gable roof at the western end of the house. This service wing, intended as the workplace of servants, had simpler finishes than the spaces used by the family. On the first floor was an entry with back stairs and a new kitchen. Above the kitchen was a bathroom with a bathtub and water closets, a very modern feature in 1848. North of the kitchen, at a level three steps lower, is a one-story stone dairy or cold-cellar wing that also dates to 1847-48. [Tell me more about technology incorporated into the renovation.]
A passageway, an open shed over river-water cisterns, and a frame wing with vertical board-and-batten siding that contained a laundry, a bake house, and two water closets with outdoor access stood to the west of the kitchen. These wings had steeply gabled roofs pierced by Gothic-paneled brick chimneys. The passage and west wing no longer exist.
The surviving financial records from this period do not provide a full accounting of the cost of the enlargement and remodeling. However, they suggest that the design work was completed by the spring of 1847 and that the house was completed by the early summer of 1848. Ranlett received four payments totaling $306 between July 30, 1847, and April 7, 1848. Abraham Post, a carpenter, was paid $241.56 for just shot of 215 days of work on the “new house.” William Osborne received $37.50 for “30 days work painting at New House.”
The relationship of a country house to its natural setting was an important part of picturesque mid-19th-century domestic architecture. Ranlett published a landscape plan for The Hermitage grounds in The Architect in 1848 and in the second volume of the book version. A map of the property drawn in 1859 and later archaeological investigations indicate that the plan was never fully implemented. It is likely that the cost of the remodeling so strained Elijah’s finances that he did not enough money to build the many new accessory buildings and ornamental gardens shown in the plan. The curving paths and roads so typical of country villas were constructed, however. Together with the many handsome trees and sturdy stone walls along Franklin Turnpike, these paths and roads provided an appropriately picturesque setting for the Gothic Revival home.
Changes to The Hermitage after 1848
Comparatively few changes were made to The Hermitage after 1848. Around 1866, a brand-new furnace—an Excelsior model manufactured by Richardson & Boynton of New York—was installed. This imposing remnant of 19th century technology is still in place in the basement, along with the modern furnaces installed after 1970 that now heat the house.
In 1887, Elijah’s son Will had the wooden connector and small wooden laundry west of the kitchen replaced with a two-story masonry structure. The first floor was used as a summer kitchen; the second story contained a game room with a billiard table. The building is an interesting example of poured-in-place concrete construction. The stones used with the concrete are so large that the walls appear to be of rubble stone construction with very wide joints. Because of the walls’ rough texture, many visitors initially believe that the Summer Kitchen wing is the oldest section of the house. It is actually the newest. Instructions for building such concrete structures were published in 1883 in the book How to Build, Furnish, and Decorate.
A number of interior changes were probably made to The Hermitage around the time the summer kitchen was built, including the installation of new roofing and of new wallpaper and narrow-board flooring or carpeting in the principal rooms. The bathroom was also modernized.
Between 1902 and 1904, repairs were made to the plumbing, and the house received a new hot water heating plan, roof repairs, and carpentry work. Some of some outbuildings were moved. An insurance appraisal in 1906 listed a frame barn with additions, a chicken house, a shed, and a granary. Carriages and farm implements were also stored on the property. In 1908, the front parlor was repapered, and several of the bedrooms and some ceilings were papered for the first time. After this date, however, very little redecorating, and probably very little maintenance, was done. Kerosene lamps provided lighting. In 1922, after a fire in the summer kitchen building, repairs that cost $2,500 were made, including replacement of the roof.
Some additional small roof repairs were made to the house in the mid-1960s. The failed heating system was not fixed, and in 1969, a year before Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz died, electricity was brought into The Hermitage to provide lights in the kitchen and rear parlor and electric heat in the parlor.
Continue to Restoration & Preservation since 1970