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A Brief History of The Hermitage

When European settlers began arriving in what is now central Bergen County in the seventeenth century, the Hackensacks, a group within the Lenni Lenape, were living in the area. A considerable number of Native American artifacts have been found along Ho-Ho-Kus Brook, which bordered the Hermitage property. A stone axe, bowl, and arrowheads were found on the Hermitage property itself, indicating that various Native American people hunted and fished—and possibly lived—on the land.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to claim the region as part of the New Netherlands colony. When the English conquered New Netherlands in 1664, New Jersey became the domain of the Duke of York. He, in turn, granted "East Jersey" to Lord Berkeley, and after Lord Berkeley's death, his widow sold the territory to a group of twelve men who called themselves the East Jersey Proprietors. Some of the Proprietors were English, but most were Scots. Their base of operations was Perth Amboy.

Despite the claims of the Proprietors, a group of French Huguenot merchants and land speculators in New York City under the leadership of Peter Fauconnier purchased the Ramapo Tract, a large section of what is now northern Bergen County, from the Hackensacks in 1709. A house stood at the location of the present-day Hermitage as early as 1740. In 1763, a new stone house was built on the property. No drawings or other images of those houses exist; however, part of the 1763 structure is incorporated into the present Hermitage.

In 1767, the house was purchased by Ann Bartow De Visme, who moved with her five children from Manhattan to Ho-Ho-Kus. One of her daughters, Theodosia Bartow, and her husband, James Marcus Prevost, occupied another house on the property called the "Little Hermitage." Mrs. De Visme's home was The Hermitage. During the Revolutionary War, while Bergen County was at the center of the conflict, with troops from both sides in the area, and Major Prevost was fighting for the British in the south, Theodosia, her mother, and their children were left alone in Ho-Ho-Kus.
In July 1778, word reached Theodosia that General George Washington and his troops would be passing through Ho-Ho-Kus. When Washington and his entourage stopped at a local house, Theodosia invited him to stay at The Hermitage. He and his officers were entertained at The Hermitage for four days, from July 10 to 14, 1778. It is not clear whether he stayed in the house itself or bivouacked on the grounds, but several important pieces of correspondence went out from The Hermitage during his visit. Among other notable figures to visit the house during the Revolutionary War were James Monroe, William Paterson, the Marquis de Lafayette, Alexander Hamilton, Lord Sterling (General William Alexander), Peggy Shippen Arnold, and Aaron Burr. Following the war and the death of James Prevost, the friendship between Burr and Theodosia developed into to a courtship that resulted in their marriage at The Hermitage in July 1782.

Following the death of Theodosia's mother, Burr briefly owned the Hermitage property. The house passed through three other owners before it was sold in 1807 to the local physician Elijah Rosegrant (Rosencrantz) and his wife, Cornelia Suffern. To supplement his meager income as a doctor, Elijah built a cotton mill on Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. After his death in 1832, the mill's operations was carried on by his youngest son, Elijah (Elijah II).

In 1847, Elijah II commissioned the well-known architect William Ranlett to construct a romantic Victorian residence that would incorporate the historic colonial house known as The Hermitage. The building that resulted is a significant example of the Gothic Revival style, with tall gable roofs, diamond-paned windows, and pointed Tudor arches. The family also assembled about 200 acres of property that included cotton mills downstream and farmland to the west.

The Hermitage remained in the Rosencrantz family for four generations. Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz—the last resident of The Hermitage—lived in the home from her birth in 1885 until her death in 1970. She bequeathed The Hermitage and five acres of property to the State of New Jersey so it could be enjoyed as a historic site and museum.

Today, The Hermitage contains an extensive collection of period furniture and accessories, including items owned by members of the Rosencrantz family. The Rosencrantz legacy is also well preserved in the museum's archives, which document the family's contributions to local history as mill owners and members of Bergen County's developing upper middle class. The Friends of the Hermitage, Inc., was formed in 1972 to undertake the preservation and interpretation of the house and its illustrious history as an educational resource to engage and encourage people of all ages and backgrounds in the exploration and understanding of their past.

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