The Third Rosencrantz Generation at The Hermitage

John, 1853-1914

John who was born in 1853 was 21 when in 1874 he returned from being secretary to Captain John Quincy Adams on an around the world cruise on the USS Iroquois.  While in Philadelphia he met and married  Lavina Miller of that city in 1884.  John and Lavina then moved to Ho-Ho-Kus when he obtained employment with the Metropolitan Line, a steamship company.  Samuel Dennis, a relative of Lillie, Elijah’s second wife, was an officer in this firm.  Like Lillie, Samuel and his family had come from Richmond.  They settled in Ridgewood and by 1878 were listed as members of Christ Church.  John’s income with the Metropolitan Line enabled him to build a house in 1892 on Rosencrantz property just south of The Hermitage homestead  The property was sold to him for $1.00 by his sister, Mary Elizabeth.  John and Lavina did not have children.  He lived until 1914 when he died at age 61, and she died in 1943.

George Suffern, 1865-1934

George Suffern was born in 1865 and was raised by his stepmother, Charlotte.  He attended the Ho-Ho-Kus Valley School since his father Elijah was one of the founders of this local private school.  In 1887 George at age 22 was badly hurt in a bicycle accident at the Bergen County Agricultural Association Fair which was held annually since 1879 at the racetrack in Ho-Ho-Kus.  He recovered, obtained employment as an insurance assessor, and, in this position, traveled extensively.  

George met and courted Katherine Levick who lived at Hollywood and Maple in Ho-Ho-Kus.  She was born in London of a British father and an Australian mother and was brought up in a family with two servants.   During much of the courtship in the early 1890s, George, working for the  Lancashire Insurance Company and the Mutual Fire Insurance Company, was assigned to assess  properties in Knoxville, Memphis, Kansas, Arkansas and throughout Pennsylvania.  He did find time to attend baseball games and the opera – sometimes three times a week – and to write long letters to Katherine.  Katherine, in Bergen County, except for a visit to Montreal, spent her time playing tennis and croquet, fishing and sleighing, going to the theater, and playing cards, particularly cribbage.  She spent much time visiting and being visited by friends.  This included frequent visits to The Hermitage with Bess and Bessie Rosencrantz.  Katherine did some sewing of garments for a “colored orphan asylum”.  She does not seem to have had an interest in organizations or politics, but in 1892 she did express a liking for Grover Cleveland, despite her family’s strong Republican affiliation. 

After their marriage in 1893, George and Katherine  moved to Boston where George successfully engaged in insurance underwriting in his firm of Rosencrantz, Huzard and Co.  He also was a general agent for the National-Ben Franklin Fire Insurance Co. and the Superior Fire Insurance Co.   He prospered and the couple, with no children, moved to Ridgewood in the 1920s.

Henry De Witt, 1872-1890

Henry (Harry) De Witt Rosencrantz, the only child of Elijah and Charlotte, was born in 1872.  Although he was very sick at age one, he recovered and had an active youth involved in schooling and games.  In 1884 he received a certificate of merit from Grammar School #35.  As a teenager he seems to have been very popular within the Rosencrantz family and in the neighborhood.  Newspaper accounts reported that he was a key personage in social evenings at The Hermitage in the second half of the 1880s, and that he attended many social functions in Ho-Ho-Kus and surrounding area.  Still ill health caused his mother Lillie to take residence with him in the more elevated and thought to be more healthy Allendale, several miles north of The Hermitage.  In early January 1890 Harry sent condolences concerning a deceased acquaintance and then ten days later died quite suddenly of rheumatic fever.

Mary Elizabeth (Bess), 1870s and 1880s

Mary Elizabeth, born in 1855, was the only daughter among the four children of Elijah II and Cornelia Rosencrantz.  She would become a major personage at The Hermitage for much of the next 88 years.  After returning to St. Mary’s Hall in 1874 to complete her studies there, she moved to the home of her Uncle John in Philadelphia.  He had just lost his wife Caroline, another member of the family who died of tuberculosis.  Mary Elizabeth helped care for the three children of widower Captain Adams who resided in John’s home.  She stayed in Philadelphia for much of the time until John ‘s death in 1883.  During these years of her early adulthood, Mary Elizabeth socialized extensively, including with the Jewish Grotz sisters and others in Philadelphia.  She kept mementos of her frequent attendance at plays, parties and dances with many different men, including numerous naval persons with connections to her brother and uncle.  From 1876 to 1878 she made a list of expenditures – gloves, velvet, dresses, hats, cuffs, ribbons – averaging $175 per year.  Bess nevertheless kept in touch by visits and letters with her friends and relatives in Bergen County.  She also traveled frequently and spent time in Boston and Washington.

Upon her return to Ho-Ho-Kus in 1883, Bess lived in a house near The Hermitage.  She took painting lessons, played lawn tennis, croquet, billiards and golf, was an avid card player (cribbage was a big favorite), went to cricket matches and the races and other events at the Ho-Ho-Kus race track, boated and fished, gardened, shopped for clothing, did much reading and letter writing, and  became Aunt Bess for her brother Willie’s two children.   She traveled often to Paterson, New York, Coney Island, the Poconos, Cape May, Boston, Richmond, the Catskills, Long Beach Island, Mount Vernon, and for a month in Bermuda.  Bess also visited and received friends with great frequency.  Included was Joseph Jefferson, a nationally-acclaimed actor who resided nearby in the former Ranlett home. 

William (Willie) Dayton Rosencrantz Became Master of The Hermitage in the Last Decades of the 19th Century

After his return from Europe, William Dayton took charge of a short-lived paper mill located in Orange County, New York.  It began to produce paper just as the 1873 depression came upon the country.  When it ceased operation, Willie worked with his father in the Ho-Ho-Kus cotton mill.  In 1873, William’s great grandfather, Samuel Dayton died at age 90.  He left the four children of his granddaughter, Killie, including Willie, $2,500 each.  In 1878 Willie married Carolyn Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut.  They had two children, William Dayton, Jr., born in 1882, and Mary Elizabeth, born in 1885, the fourth generation at The Hermitage.  During the 1880s William succeeded his father as the manager of the cotton mill.  He converted it from water to steam power and in 1885 he enlarged it.  In 1887, after a fire at The Hermitage, William had a new summer kitchen built of poured concrete with a billiard room on the second floor.

There was much social life at The Hermitage in the 1880s with George passing from his teens into his early 20s and Harry moving through his teens.  Often on Friday nights there would be fiddling and dancing and many young people in the Rosencrantz home.  During the days the two young children, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, made for a lively household.  Aunt Bess would take Dayton to New York and to local places, and she sewed for Mary Elizabeth.  Still the late 1880s was a time of loss for the Rosencrantz family.  William Dayton lost his young wife, Caroline, in1886 at age 30.  In the following year Janie Coxe, who had been with the family and given live-in service for 35 years, died.  In 1888 father Elijah passed away at age 78.  Then in 1890 the young very popular Harry died at age 18.  After his death, his widowed mother, Lillie, returned to her former home in Virginia.

The 1890s: Willie Sold the Cotton Mill and Became a Golf Pioneer in Bergen County

When Caroline Warner Rosencrantz was found to be seriously ill after the birth of Mary Elizabeth in September 1885, Elijah’s wife Lillie contacted her family in Richmond and arranged for Bessie Tyler, a 16 year old niece, to come to The Hermitage to help Caroline and the family.  On arrival the young teenager wrote in her diary: “What have I gotten into – two children.”

However, she proved to be a helpful and good spirited young person.  Caroline would die in 1886,  only a short time after Bessie arrived, but the young caretaker still had her hands full with Dayton aged four, and Mary Elizabeth aged one.  Bessie did find a friend in Harry only two years older than herself, and she developed a good relationship with Aunt Bess. 

Father William not only appreciated Bessie’s help with his young children, but he fell in love with her and proposed marriage.  The wedding, held in Richmond, brought together William aged 38 and Bessie aged 20 and ushered in the 1890s at The Hermitage.  Through most of this decade the Rosencrantzes at The Hermitage included William and Bessie, the two children, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, and Aunt Bess.  William’s brother George resided at the house, when he was not on the road as an insurance assessor, in the first couple of years in the decade with frequent visits from his fiancee, Katie Leveck, who lived nearby.  John, William’s other brother, put up a house close to The Hermitage in 1892.  Thus, he and his wife Lavinia, would be close neighbors.

For William the 1890s was a decade of changing focus and a search for some grounding, some personal and economic security.  In his new marital relationship, when either he or Bessie were traveling, his letters expressed uncertainly as he sought assurances of love from his young wife.  She seems to have been away on a number of occasions, usually for visits with her relatives in Virginia and in Washington, D.C.

William’s uncertainties extended also to his working life.  In 1891, one year after his second marriage, he sold the cotton mill that had been in the family for some seventy years to Lyman Goff.  William would, though, run it for the new owners until 1895.  The mill was then sold to the  Brookdale Bleachery which continued operations into the 1960s.  The mill, considerably altered, is still standing in a small industrial complex at the end of Hollywood Avenue close to the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook.

William’s  employment became less certain in the second half of the 1890s.  In 1896 he briefly tried the ice business and spent time trying to improve some textile machinery.  In 1897 Rosencrantz was awarded a patent for the invention of a take-up roller for carding machine condensers.  It is not clear to what extent this invention was utilized in the industry or to what extent it provided income for the family. 

At this time William also became very interested in photography.  A number of William’s friends had been members of a camera club in Ridgewood in the early 1890s.  One of the officers in the club, a Mr. Hales, started the Hales Camera Co., and Elijah became, for a time in the late 1890s, its secretary and treasurer. 

In addition to his photography interests, William achieved some focus for himself and a place in the community as a pioneer golf enthusiast.  He was one of the first to play and interest others in Bergen County in what was to become a status sport.  Around 1890 Rosencrantz laid out two holes on land just east of The Hermitage.  In 1893 he and a number of his friends founded the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club with six holes.  Later, three additional holes and a clubhouse were added.  Then with interest and membership increased, the members shifted locale and in 1901 founded the Ridgewood Golf Club.  In 1910 it became the Ridgewood Country Club.  William was probably able to devote time and outlay to golf through the income received in the sale of the cotton mill.  Additionally, in the 1890s William showed increased interest in tracing his family’s heritage.

Meanwhile, at The Hermitage, much of the life was provided by the two young children, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, growing from 7 to 17 and 5 to 15 through the 1890s under the guidance of stepmother Bessie with whom there seems to have been a warm relationship.   It is not known where they went to school.  The private Valley School had closed in the late 1880s, but there were small public schools in Ho-Ho-Kus and Waldwick, and one near the Paramus Church.  Since farm activity continued at The Hermitage, the children had a variety of animals and pets in their midst.  There were dogs and cats and at times at least 85 chickens.  In an increasingly consumer society, there was a growing variety of toys, games and books that were bought for them.  There remains in The Hermitage collection, dolls, a large doll house, and tea sets that belonged to Mary Elizabeth and cast iron and wooden toys that were the possession of Dayton.  Outdoor activities occupied much of their time.  Dayton engaged in swimming, boating, fishing, skating, bicycling and shooting.  Mary Elizabeth participated in some of these, but would, under the encouragement and tutelage of her father, become an accomplished golfer.  Socializing with neighbors and friends were important in their young lives.

Aunt Bess, aged 35 to 45 in the 1890s, remained at The Hermitage as an unmarried woman, independent in mind and movement, but dependent on the family for her financial needs.  She continued to travel, read extensively, played tennis, billiards and bridge, visited and received friends, walked, took carriage rides, rowed, fished and sailed, and went to plays, the opera, concerts, musicals and comedy shows.  Bess did continue to sew, including dolls outfits and skirts, shirt waists and dresses for Mary Elizabeth.  She also was engaged in church activities.  With the death of Janie Cox in 1888, the long practice at The Hermitage of live-in servants seems to have become more intermittent.  There is a report of servants for some periods of time in the 1890s.  In addition,  the household did receive help by employing persons in the neighborhood to do laundry and other domestic work.  However, Bess and Bessie did engage in some household tasks.

Two newspaper accounts give an insight into the social life of the Rosencrantz family in the early 1890s.  On September 4, 1891 a birthday party was given for a Miss Virgie Carrigan on the grounds of Mr. Rosencrantz.  “The affair was nicely gotten up and a most enjoyable day was spent.  Ice cream was served in dainty little boxes.  Mrs. Joseph F. Carrigan acted as chaperon for the party.”  There then was a list of the 19 females and 11 males who were present.  On February 9, 1894 there was a charity dance “at the residence of Mrs. John Graydon.”  William, Bessie, and Bess Rosencrantz were among 43 plus listed as in attendance.  The rooms were decorated with flowers and trailing vines, “the merry company” danced to “Prof Crook’s delightful music.”  “Coffee, cake and lemonade were served, after which little Miss Jessie Graydon made a collection in the interest of charity, and found her little basket inadequate to the supply.  Over forty dollars was realized on the occasion, and after a spirited Virginia reel, in which the elders distinguished themselves, the company dispersed shortly after midnight.” 

The Early Years of 20th Century, 1900-1915: Willie’s Career Faltered, Bess Traveled, Dayton Became a Textile Technician, and Mary Elizabeth Became Proficient at Golf

The Rosencrantz family in the first two decades of the twentieth century lost much of its cohesiveness.  Aunt Bess and Mary Elizabeth increasingly became the central figures at The Hermitage.

William Rosencrantz wrote in 1904 that the camera business was not very good.  He then tried a different tact.  After a trip to Europe in 1906, probably related to his son Dayton’s studies there, he followed the lead of his brother George, in Boston, and became an agent for an insurance company.  He found a position in Enfield, Rhode Island where he remained for the next six years.  In 1912 Willie returned to New Jersey and for a time worked in a mill in Paterson.

The Parlor of The Hermitage, May 1891

Meanwhile, Bessie continued to care for the children, Dayton who was 17 in 1900 and Mary Elizabeth who was 15.  Bessie did, though, accompany Aunt Bess to local social events and took  trips to Virginia through 1906.  She did not go with her husband William to Europe, but she did  join him in Enfield.  Here she seems to have been in charge of the family finances, and she did give an interview to two young mill workers who were interested in becoming domestics.  Bessie made trips to Virginia from Rhode Island and stayed there for a period of time when Willie was in Paterson.

postcard from W. Dayton Rosencrantz when in England

Dayton, early, was introduced to the textile industry by his father.  In order to enhance his learning in this field, he went to Manchester, England in 1905 and got a position in the Platt Works at Oldham.  While there he complained that he did not have enough money to buy clothes needed to accept invitations to social events, but he does seem relieved to be away from The Hermitage.  However, he did have the funds to attend a textile engineering school in Germany.  There is record of his correspondence with his father and sister while in Europe.  William didn’t like his stay in Germany and was particularly taken back by the militant spirit among the Germans he met, including their outspoken desire to take on and defeat England.

Ship taken by W. Dayton Rosencrantz for trip to Europe

Dayton returned to the United Sates by way of Rotterdam.  He then attended 

Lowell Textile Institute in Massachusetts, followed by some working experiences in that state and in Rhode Island.  He noted that 1912 was a bad year and inquired about job possibilities in Paterson.  However, by 1916 he had found employment at the Riverside Mill in Augusta, Georgia.  He wrote of the opportunities in the growing southern textile industry for northern-trained men.  In Augusta he also played golf and shot quail.  He wrote to his step-mother Bessie, expressing his gratitude for all she had done for him and the family.

Mary Elizabeth playing golf

Mary Elizabeth, in 1902 at age 17, graduated from the Waldwick public school.  She was very involved in golf and spent much time at the Ridgewood Golf Club.  Her father was a constant source of encouragement, and, in his letters, he always asked about her scores. She first competed in a tournament in the Oranges. She went on to win competitions and cups.   Dayton in a letter in 1907 told Mary Elizabeth that she should be the world champion in golf.  She was also took  singing lessons, and she had an active social life.  She attended a masquerade at the local Young Peoples Social Club, went to barn dances at the Ridgewood Golf Club, and attended lawn parties and birthday parties in Ho-Ho-Kus, Ridgewood and Paterson.  Mary Elizabeth went to auto races and dog shows, attended plays, watched tennis matches, played croquet, went fishing, swam, walked, took auto rides, and played cards –  bridge and euchre.  She frequently visited and was visited by friends, neighbors and relatives. 

Golf club in Paterson used by members of Rosencrantz family

Mary Elizabeth belonged to a variety of local groups, the St. Mary’s Guild, an alumnae group; the Mission, the beginnings of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal congregation in Ho-Ho-Kus, a local Social Committee, a Women’s Conference, and a reading club.  Some of the events she went to were fund raisers for these and other causes.   She was a letter writer, a reader and listened to music.  She shopped in Paterson and Montclair, most often for herself – hats, clothing, a putter, and a camera – but did buy Christmas presents for others.  Mary Elizabeth made cakes, pies, puddings, candy fudge and Saratoga chips.  She sewed collars and waists and kept scrap books.  Mary Elizabeth, in a non-reflective reportorial diary kept from 1905 to 1910, wrote about playing golf almost every morning, lunch at the club or with friends, afternoons visiting, evenings playing cards, and frequent colds and headaches.  At 21 she needed glasses.  Mary Elizabeth traveled some, mostly between Boston and Virginia and on short vacations to places like Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire.

On one trip with Aunt Bess to visit her uncle and aunt in Boston, she regretted that there were no young men on the train.  In Boston she went to a dance at the Harvard Union, but did not meet any good-looking fellows.  Mary Elizabeth placed in her diary what she would require of a potential partner.

All the necessary requirements

He must be a man of decent height

he must be a man of weight

he must come home on a Saturday night

In a thoroughly sober state

He must know how to love me

and he must know how to kiss

And if he’s enough to keep us both

I can’t refuse him bliss

Man’s love is a man’s life a thing apart

Tis woman’s whole existence 

Ship taken by Aunt Bess and Mary Elizabeth from New York to Virginia

Mary Elizabeth visited her step-family in Virginia in 1905, and in 1907, with Aunt Bess, took a steamer to Virginia for a 15 day visit with these relatives.  Later in that year, she and Aunt Bess spent several months in Rhode Island visiting with Willie and Bessie and with her aunt and uncle in Boston. When her brother left to study in Europe, Mary Elizabeth wrote: “I feel blue and shall miss him terribly…I wish I was going with him.”  Nevertheless, and despite her brother’s encouragement, she did not travel abroad.   In 1913 Mary Elizabeth stayed for a time with her father when he was working in Paterson and Bessie was in Virginia.

Aunt Bess, age 45 in 1900, spent much time through the next fifteen years corresponding with a wide range of relatives and friends.  From 1899 to 1907 she kept a register of letters sent and received.  With less service at The Hermitage, there was more domestic work to be done by her and Mary Elizabeth, including washing, ironing, cooking , cleaning and tending the lawn.  Still Bess continued to visit and be visited by neighbors, family and friends.  A new trolley that began operating in 1912 from Paterson to Suffern made travel in the local area more convenient.  She also spent much time gardening, painting, sewing, fishing, going to the theater, and playing cards.  Bess belonged to a sewing society and a reading group which met in members’ homes.  She also was active with her church.  In fact, she played a part in the establishment of a new Episcopal church in Ho-Ho-Kus, St. Bartholomew which branched off from the Ridgewood Christ Church in which the Rosencrantz family had been founding members.  Bess participated in the church choir.  By 1915 she was a member of a suffrage organization and attended a suffrage talk in Ridgewood.  At various times she kept a diary, with daily weather and activities, but with no reflections or show of emotions.  However, she also had two commonplace books for poems she liked.  They focused on romantic notions, virtue and respectability.

Much of Bess’s finances seem to have come through inheritance and from her brother Willie.  She apparently, though, was in charge of a sale of a right away to the Erie Railroad which increased its line through Bergen County from 2 to 4 tracks.  Bess somehow had enough money to expand her traveling from the east coast of the United States to Europe.  She visited that continent in 1906 and 1912, and included England, France and Germany.  Then in 1914 Bess was in Rome for a month.  Here she delighted in the antiquities and the afternoon English teas at her hotel.  From the males in her family, from her finishing school and from society in general as well as from herself,  there seems to have been no expectation or desire on the part of Aunt Bess to engage in a career or to work outside of the home in any way.  The same was true for the younger Mary Elizabeth.

Aunt Bess and a friend reading

Bess, Bessie, and Mary Elizabeth spent much time reading.  There are some 1,000 books that have survived from the Rosencrantz family library.  While there are many history and some travel and practical information books, there are a significant number of novels.  They were given and received as gifts as well as purchased.  There is a distribution of high, middle and low-brow fiction.  The authors ranged from Dickens and Scott, to Cooper and Bulwar-Lytton, to Kingsley, Doyle, and Wister.  While these works transmitted a wide variety of values, there seems to be a preponderance of ones that focus on patient women, resolute men, outspoken heroines tamed by marriage, sweet and submissive heroines, class concerns, chastity and standards of beauty.  The books that can be identified with Bessie were more anti-typical and may have reflected a less than satisfactory marriage.  There also were subscriptions to magazines like Harper’s, McCalls, and Scribners.  One student of these books came to the conclusion that, particularly for Mary Elizabeth, reading was “an escape from modern reality into a world she better understood.”

The Last Males Leave The Hermitage, 1915-1917

The Hermitage at the end of 19th century

Another turning point in the history of The Hermitage took place in 1915.  William, the father, after a short stay working in Paterson, returned to The Hermitage, became ill and on December 22, 1915 died.  At his death, it was discovered that William had no resources to leave for his wife, his sister, or his two children.  He did have an investment, but it was found to have no value.  Brother George paid for the cost of the funeral.  Wife Bessie, although she would remain in contact and on good terms with Bess and Mary Elizabeth, decided to live in Virginia.  She would make handkerchiefs in an effort to provide some support beyond what she could expect from her family there.

With the death of William Dayton Rosencrantz, the last male to leave a major imprint on the history of The Hermitage had departed.  He was born into privilege, but as a teenager he had to suffer the loss of his mother and a withdrawal from the United States Naval Academy.  As an adult William was unable to find a satisfactory career.  He made numerous job changes, but failed to find vocational success.  He also suffered from the early death of his first wife and then a less than fully happy second marriage.  He manifested particular interest in status recreation, in billiards, golf, photography, and family genealogy.  William did provide his two children with education and his sister with some financial support.  However, as he entered the 20th century, at age 50, he was unable to stem declining fiscal resources and a lessening  place in the community for the Rosencrantz family.

Two Women, a Tea Room, Downward Mobility and The Hermitage, 1917-1970

Following William’s death in 1915, both George, still in Boston, and Dayton in Georgia, urged Aunt Bess and Mary Elizabeth to sell The Hermitage.  George wrote in January 1917 that continuing to stay and support the costs of the house and property was “the height of folly” on the part of the two women.  He, who had been sending them $50 a month, said that he would discontinue doing so after March.  Aunt Bess and Elizabeth wrote to Dayton for assistance.  He replied, on their refusal to sell The Hermitage which would give them an income and perhaps some inheritance for him, that “you are both the personification of selfishness.  The place ruined Dad.  Come and live with me in Atlanta.” 

George, Aunt Bess and Katherine

Bess and Elizabeth rejected the appeals of George and Dayton.  They decided that they would continue to live in The Hermitage.  This caused strained relations with George and a total cutting off of relations with Dayton.  In 1917, Elizabeth who had met a man from England and thought that she might marry him, learned that he had moved to Australia and married there.

Thus, faced with dire necessity, the two women, aged 62 and 32, turned to work for money for the first time in their lives.  They first tried to make and sell loaves of bread, but this effort provided little income.  Then in May 1917, they decided to offer a tea service for the public at The Hermitage.  The side porch and the drawing room were set with tables and chairs.  The dining room was gated so visitors could peer in and see antiques and Native American items on exhibit there.  The Tea Room was well received.  It obtained favorable articles in the local papers.  Open until October, the two women made $470 in its first season.  The women got another $490 from the rent for the two tenant houses for the year.

In 1917 the United States was drawn into World War I.  Dayton enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and was sent to France.   He suffered from exhaustion and was awarded The Purple Heart.  He met, courted, and married a French woman, but did not bring her to the United States.  After the War, William obtained employment as a textile engineer in the midwest, in Missouri and Ohio.  He married an American woman and in 1933 they had a daughter whom they named Mary Elizabeth.   In the 1950s he had a stroke, was in a Veteran’s Hospital, and died in 1958 at 66 years of age.

Menu, The Hermitage Tea Room

At The Hermitage the Tea Room grew in popularity in the 1920s.  Open from 3 to 6 each day, it had a reputation for being a pleasant way to spend an afternoon for people who increasingly had cars in the growing suburbs of Bergen County.  The grounds and the flowers were noted in articles in the local press.  The menu’s cakes and cinnamon toast were favorites.  Bessie came up from Virginia to help from May to October.  Bess would regal the customers with stories of the Revolution and romance, secret rooms and tunnels, patriot soldiers and hidden Hessians, secret meetings of the Freemasons, and a history of many of the antiques.

In the mid-1920s, over nearly three years, Elizabeth developed a friendship with a Donald MacIntire.  He visited The Hermitage and there was considerable correspondence, but in March 1927 he wrote that he was “coming to say good-bye.”  Elizabeth, age 42, lost her last chance for marriage.  The Hermitage women, though, did keep in touch with female relatives, Katherine now in Montclair and Vinnie in Philadelphia. 

By the end of the 1920s, a decade of prosperity for many, America had to face the onset of the Great Depression.   The economic downturn resulted in a falling off of customers for The Hermitage Tea Room.  Bess and Elizabeth worked to keep it going as long as they could, but were forced to close down in 1931.  Faced with hard times, Bess sold lots on Franklin Turnpike and George and Katherine resumed sending them some money each month.  They tried to sell old books, stamps and antiques, and they kept their vegetable garden going.   The Red Cross also brought them food, and they received coal from railroad workers.  The Hermitage was mentioned in the Historic American Buildings Survey of 1934 and was shown in the New Jersey State exhibit at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York

Bess became ill in 1942 and died at age 88 on January 26, 1943.  She exemplified, in terms of class and gender, the life of a privileged upper middle class single woman in late Victorian and early twentieth century America.  She was well educated for her time, but little was expected of her in the years immediately after she finished her schooling and then throughout life as an unmarried woman.  However, she did live some aspects of the new emerging American woman in her independence of mind, her travels, and her participation in a growing range athletic and cultural activities: tennis, reading, the arts, music and theatre.  Bess also was a representative of growing American consumerism, although not on a grand scale.  However, her education did not prepare her, in terms of  desire or skills, to enter the world of work or public political engagement.  Rather, hers  was a life of active social and recreational activity, financed by the work of others, with little expectation, once marriage and motherhood had not become part of her life, that she needed to contribute much to society.  Bess, though, did help with the children of her uncle in Philadelphia for a time and with her niece at The Hermitage.  She  did sew, and after the decline of services by others, she did engage in an increasing amount of domestic work at The Hermitage.  In an expression of resentment, Mary Elizabeth’s nephew, William Dayton, in 1915, would accuse her of selfishness.  This was on the occasion of his frustration at not gaining any inheritance on the death of his father, which he felt was due, in part, to his father’s support of his sister Bess over many years and of Bess’s unwillingness to sell The Hermitage.    

Mary Elizabeth also faced other losses.  In 1943 her Aunt Vinnie died.  Vinnie’s long-time servant, the Irish-immigrant Kate Zahner, destitute, was welcomed by Elizabeth to The Hermitage.  They would be companions for nearly three decades.  In 1946, Elizabeth’s step-mother, Bessie Tyler died in Virginia at age 76.

Mary Elizabeth

Through the next two and a half decades, Mary Elizabeth and Katie Zahner held on to The Hermitage amidst dwindling resources.  There were a few small inheritances which came their way, and they sold property and the two tenant houses.  Elizabeth and Katie lived very frugally, eventually in just two rooms in the house.  They heated and cooked with a coal stove in the sitting room.  And they had to fight off trespassers and vandals. 

Mary Elizabeth Willed The Hermitage to the State of New Jersey as a Museum in 1961 and Died in 1970

There were numerous offers to buy the house and property, but the women would have none of it.  In 1961 Elizabeth wrote her will which stated:  “ I give & bequeath to the Sate of New Jersey the Historic Hermitage & all its furnishings & land upon which it stands…to be used as a museum & park.” The fact that they had no funds for improvement for more than a half century meant that the original Gothic Revival architecture of the house was not altered.  Letters and other records, clothing, and artifacts from almost two centuries were not thrown out.  But deferred maintenance also meant greatly overgrown grounds, a badly leaking roof, internal water damage, peeling wall paper, crumbling plaster, and destruction by birds and animals in parts of the house.  Only when the women became ill did social service install in one room the home’s first electricity in 1969.  The illness, though, would result in death, for Elizabeth on March 10, 1970 and for Katie five days later, both at age 85. 

The Founding of the Friends of The Hermitage in 1972

On the death of Elizabeth and Katie, Catherine Fetter, a distant Rosencrantz relative living in the area, together with her husband, both of whom had been in touch with the women for a number of years, took the lead in the difficult task of protecting the house and its contents.  They gained the cooperation of the local and county police forces.  Still there were break-ins, the ransacking and stealing of contents, senseless vandalism and even a small fire. 

The Paramus Historical and Preservation Society engaged an expert, Loring McMillan, to appraise the  historic value of The Hermitage.  He declared it as an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture.  The Society succeeded in getting it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  On October 23, 1970, fifteen persons interested in saving The Hermitage met with state officials.  Three days later state workers started clearing brush, installing security lights and patching the worst apertures in the roof.  On November 30 Governor William Cahill approved state acceptance of The Hermitage.  In the following year, for protection, the state boarded up the house and put up a cyclone fence.

The Hermitage, 1972

On December 3, 1971, members of the Paramus Society met with the State Superintendent of Parks.  He suggested that they help form a non-profit organization to raise funds for a new roof, since no state support was possible at that time.  The Society and Congressman William Widnall sent invitations for a meeting to interested organizations.  On January 21, 1972 in the Education Building of the Old Paramus Church some 200 people decided to form the Friends of The Hermitage.  Janet Norwood of Ridgewood was elected president and Claire Tholl of Upper Saddle River vice president.  The other members of the first Board of Trustees were: John Hill, June Bove and Mildred Murray of Ridgewood; Catherine and Gardiner Fetter and Phyllis Williams of Ho-Ho-Kus; Rosa Livingston of Midland Park; Fritz Krieger of Wyckoff; and Billie Wassmann of Emerson.

During its first year The Friends gained members, obtained donations from individuals and local  organizations, gained newspaper and television publicity, and ran fund raising events.  These various efforts netted $30,000 by the end of 1972.  Janet Norwood and others continued to put pressure on the state government for financial assistance.  The state did spend $9,000 and put $20,000 for capital improvements in the upcoming budget.  With these funds a temporary roof was installed.  Interior cleaning began.  Clothes were sorted and restoration was begun.  Every scrap of paper was collected.  All moveable furnishings were sent to Ringwood for safe storage and needed repairs.  A caretaker was employed.  He lived in a mobile home on the property.  A state-run archeological dig was initiated.  In late September and in October costumed guides led the first of several house tours for more than a thousand visitors.  

This, however, was only a beginning.  Through the 1970s the Friends increased their membership so that it stood at 800 by 1980, and they continued successful fund raising.  They reached $52,000 by August 1974 much of which was used for restoration work.  Then, in the latter part of that year, they raised an additional $25,000 to move the 1892 John Rosencrantz house, saved from demolition, several hundred yards to The Hermitage property.  These endeavors were supplemented by the vigorous efforts of Ms. Norwood and others of the Friends to move the state government forward and gain grants from the federal government.  By 1977 the state had expended more than $100,000 on The Hermitage, which was enhanced in 1978 by a HUD grant of $65,000 and nearly $100,000 from the National Park Service.  The Friends were thus able to obtain a total of some $250,000 for restoration by the end of the decade.

These funds resulted in a rehabilitation of the house’s foundation and a cleaning and pointing of the exterior by the end of 1974; the replacement of the roof, repair of the porch trim and windows and a rebuilding of the chimneys by 1977; and much interior work through 1980, including work on floors, ceilings and woodwork, replastering of walls, reproduction wallpaper, and repainting, plus the installation of wiring, lighting, heating and climate control.

The archeological digs continued.  June Bove and Norma Hensler worked on restoring clothing.  They got training and help from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they helped direct a sewing group that met weekly to effect repairs.  Alec Hurst, a Tenafly High School teacher, began research in 1973, and, together with others, contributed significantly to knowledge about the history of The Hermitage.  Leadership of the Friends passed to Kay Fetter in 1975, to Vincent Minetti in 1979, and to  Nancy Gay in 1980.  June Bove was curator and site director in the late 1970s, and Florence Leon was named executive director in 1981.


Books and articles

Bartow, Evelyn. “The Prevost Family in America,” NYG&BR, January 1882.

____________. “The Bartow Family,” E. P. B., 1886.

Becica, John. The Revolutionary War in Ho-Ho-Kus: Military Encounters at Hopperstown/Paramus, 1776-1781, Ho-Ho-Kus:Ho-Ho-Kus 300th Anniversary Committee, 1998.

Book of Black Birth for Bergen County, 1804-1844

Bradhurst, A. Maunsell, My Forefathers: The History from Records and Tradition, London: De La More Press, 1910.

Cumyn, Anna Bartow. The Bartow Family: A Genealogy, Montreal: 1984.

Davis, Mathew.  Memoirs of Aaron Burr, Vol. I, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1836.

Geissler, Suzanne, “The Burr Family, 1716-1836,” Dissertation, Syracuse University, 1976.

The History Committee, The History of a Village: Ridgewood, New Jersey, Ridgewood: Ridgewood Tercentenary Committee.

Ho-Ho-Kus, 1908/1983, Ho-Ho-Kus: 75th Anniversary Committee, 1983.

Hudson, Sue. Background of Ho-Ho-Kus History, Ho-Ho-Kus: Women’s Club of Ho-Ho-Kus, 1953.

Keesey, Ruth, “Loyalty and Reprisal: The Loyalists of Bergen County, New Jersey and Their Estates,” Dissertation, Columbia University, 1957.

Leiby, Adrian, The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1962.

Livingston, Rosa. The Hermitage, House of Mystery and Intrigue, Ramapo Valley Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution, 1776

Lomask, Milton.  Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President, 1756-1805, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1979.

Miller, George, ed. The Minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey, vols. II and III, Perth Amboy: 1960.

O’Connor, John, Willliam Paterson: Lawyer and Statesman, 1745-1806, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1979.

Ridgewood, Bergen County, New Jersey: Past and Present, Ridgewood: Citizens Semi-Centennial Association, 1916.

Rosenkrans, Allen. The Rosenkrans Family in Europe and America, Newton, NJ: New Jersey Herald Press, 1900.

Scranton, Philip.  Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Smith, Dorothy, “Mrs Prevost Requests the Honor of His Company,” Manuscripts, Vol. XI, No. 3, Fall 1959. 

Steiner, Bernard. Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, Cleveland: The Burrow Bros. Co., 1907

Stillwell, John. Stillwell Geneology, Vols. I & II, New York: 1929-30.

Whiteley, Emily. Washington and His Aides-de-Camp, New York: Macmillan, 1936.

Williams, Edward, “The Prevosts of the Royal Americans,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 56, No. 1, January 1973.

Papers by research assistants at The Hermitage – in The Hermitage History Collection

Barsa, Diane.  “The Chronological History of the Two Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz Women,” 2002.

Brown, Marion. “Slaves, Immigrants and Workers at The Hermitage and in the Rosencrantz Cotton Mill,” 2002.

Cosgrove, Sean.  “The Civil War, Bergen County, and The Hermitage.”

Gearaghty, Phyllis.  “Bessie Grove Tyler: Family History.”

“The Hermitage: Chain-of-Title.”

“The Hermitage: Historical Analysis.”

Hurst, Alec, “Re, Augustus James Frederick Prevost.”

Le May, Moira.  “William H. Ranlett.”

Nevins, Dr. Michael. “Dr. Elijah and Dr. John Rosencrantz: Medical Practice and Medical Education in Early 19th Century Bergen County,” 2001.

Norris, Peggy.  “Early Development of Ridgewood and Its Relation to The Hermitage, 1850-1876,” 2002.

Rice, Stephen. “The Rosencrantz Cotton Mill.”

Earlier Research

Cannon, Beatrice. Three binders of newspaper clippings, The Hermitage History Collection.

Strom, Neva. Several binders of research and transcribed letters, The Hermitage History Collection.

Most of the Fall 2000 issue of Ourstory, Journal of the New Jersey Council for History Education, Vol. 6, No. 1, was devoted to articles on The Hermitage.

Bischoff, Henry. “The Hermitage: An Historical Overview,” 10-13.

____________. “Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr at The Hermitage,” 14-17.

Cosgrove, Sean, “The Civil War, Bergen County and The Hermitage,” 21-23.

Dodyk, Delight. “The First Mistress of the Gothic Revival Hermitage,” 24-25.

Hurst, Alec J. “George Washington Stepped Here: July 10-14,” 18-19.

The Hermitage News

Becica, John. “George Washington, Elizabeth Watkins, and the ‘Curious Laurel Wreath’,” Winter            2001.

Bischoff, Henry. “Early Years of The Hermitage Property, 1743-1762,” July 1999.

_____________. “The Prevost Family and The Hermitage,” Winter 1999.

_____________. “Theodosia Stillwell Bartow Prevost Burr,” Winter 2000.

_____________. “Theodosia Prevost, The Hermitage and the American Revolution,” Spring 2000.

_____________.  “The Friendship of Theodosia Prevost and Asaron Burr, 1777-1781,” Winter                         2001.

_____________. “The Friendship of Theodosia Prevost and Aaron Burr After 1781,” second                             Winter 2001

_____________. “The Early History of the Friends of The Hermitage,” Spring 2002.

_____________. “The Hermitage Becomes the Rosencrantz Family Home,” Summer 2002.

Hurst, Alec. “George Washington Stepped Here, July 10-July 14, 1778,” Fall 2000.

Research papers by college and university student interns at The Hermitage – in The Hermitage

        History Collection

Alderink, Susan. “The Land of Slavery:’ A History of Slavery in New Jersey,” 1998 (Ramapo          College).

Demeter, Joanne. “Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz II and The Hermitage,” 2001 (Ramapo College).

Geraghty, Christy  “The Real Bessie Rosencrantz,” (Rutgers University).

Kern, Matthew. “The Life of Elijah Rosencrantz: The Hermitage, Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey,” 2000,            (Ramapo College).

Martin, Gerrie. “Aunt Bess’ Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz: Protector of The Hermitage,” 1998 (Ramapo College).

Orosz, Robyn. “The Rosencrantz Family Mills,” 1998, (Ramapo College).

Powers,Sean. “Children’s Education in the Nineteenth Century: A Study Using Materials from Bergen County’s The Hermitage,” (Ramapo College).

Rego,Rebecca. “The Rosencrantz Family Library: A Case Study of Fiction Reading in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” 2000, (Drew University).

Whitaker, Kelly. “The Hermitage: A Historical Insight,” 2001 (Ramapo College).


Text: Henry Bischoff 

Research Associates: Diane Barsa, John Becica, Marion Brown, Delight Dodyk, Sean Cosgrove, Phyllis Geraghty, Alec Hurst, Dr. Michael Nevins, Peggy Norris, and Stephen Rice

Visuals: Pamela Smith and Kimberly Ludwig

House built for John Rosencrantz near The Hermitage, 1892

Program, Bergen County Agricultural Association Fair, Hohokus, 1881

Report card, Bessie Rosencrantz, St. Mary’s Hall, 1874

Cover of catalog for St. Mary’s Hall, 1873-74

Dance card, family social, Ridgewood, 1873

Horse racing, Hohokus track, 1910

Bessie Tyler, the second wife of William Rosencrantz


William Rosencrantz and pet dog with golf club


The Hermitage, 1972