Hollybush, the Whitney Mansion at Rowan

by Jessica Westerland, Editor | Aug 31, 2015
Hollybush, the Whitney Mansion at Rowan Hollybush is an impressive Italianate-style mansion, set on the grounds of Rowan University’s campus. This red stone structure is set back from the road amongst green lawns and tall trees, and its fourth story tower points towards the skies.

It has played many different roles throughout history: from being the Whitney mansion, the home of a well known South Jersey glass-making family, to functioning as dorms for the earliest students of Glassboro Normal School, which is now Rowan U. It was the host of the Cold War Summit in 1967 between Lyndon B. Johnson and Alexei Kosygin.

Hollybush was built in 1847 by Thomas Whitney of the Whitney Brothers Glassworks. Whitney Brothers Glassworks was the largest and the most successful of the South Jersey glass houses, owned by the brothers Thomas and Samuel Whitney. Thomas built Hollybush and inscribed his name and the year 1849 on a stone set on the fourth stage of the mansion’s tower, and then brought Samuel and his mother to live there with him.

In 1853, at the age of 42, Thomas married his cousin Josephine Allen Whitney who was then 17. The couple had seven children, six boys and one girl, who grew up in Hollybush. Samuel remained a bachelor and lived in the house until he died in 1890.

Thomas died in May 1882 at the age of 70, and left the estate worth approximately $125,000 to his wife Josephine. She then passed the estate down through her children until January 1916 when it was passed under power of attorney to Joseph J. Summerill, who sold the mortgaged property later the same year to John A. Ackley of Vineland.

At this point the property and Hollybush left the Whitney family, and began its ascent to what it is now, part of Rowan University.

Glassboro residents raised $ 7,000 to buy the mansion and 25 acres of property, and offered the land free to the state if they choose Glassboro as the home of a normal school that was designated to be built somewhere in South Jersey. Glassboro was “already a favorite because of its excellent rail system, harmonious blend of industry and agriculture, natural beauty and location in the heart of South Jersey.”

So in 1923, Glassboro Normal School was opened, to train teachers for South Jersey classrooms. It started with 236 female students, and passed through many decades, names and missions until it ended up Rowan University.

In 1967 Hollybush became the meeting sight to ease Cold War tension. The United States and the Soviet Union were on opposing sides of opinion about the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. A neutral setting was needed to allow a discussion about the crisis, to prevent a possible confrontation.

Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin was in New York to address the United Nations, so “President Lyndon B. Johnson asked New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Hughes to suggest a site for such a meeting. Hughes offered Glassboro State College, located approximately halfway between New York and Washington.”

The offer was accepted, and with only about 16 hours of notice, “the official residence of Glassboro State President Thomas Robinson and his wife, Margaret, had to be converted from a quiet campus home into a secure and sophisticated diplomatic locale.”

June 23 and 25 went by with Johnson and Kosygin spending more than 7 hours in the library of Hollybush discussing ways to prevent a nuclear war. The talks went well, and Johnson called the easing of conflicts between the two countries and the promise of good future relations “the Spirit of Hollybush.”

Since 2003 Rowan University has been helping restore the 19th century building to all of its original grandeur, including replacing the roof with slate similar to that used originally, stabilizing the foundation, repointing stone, reinforcing the tower, refurbishing stained glass window, and restoring and conserving decorative features.

Rowan wants to refurnish Hollybush in its original Victorian style with Eastlake and Renaissance Revival styles so it remains “one of the most revered buildings on the Rowan University campus and in Glassboro” and so Hollybush’s heritage is preserved for future Rowan University students, Glassboro residents and visitors.

Since 2003, there has been $3 million in foundation, structural, exterior and interior work done on Hollybush. When the work is done, Hollybush will be used as a reception and meeting venue for official Rowan University and community functions and will feature displays of artifacts relating to the 1967 Summit and the history of the region and the University.

Supporting the Hollybush Restoration Project (from their website)
Rowan University welcomes donations (which are tax-deductible) to the restoration effort. You may support the Hollybush project through the Rowan University Foundation, a non-profit organization. If you would like to make a donation, send a check made out to the Rowan University Foundation (with “Hollybush Project” indicated on the memo line) to the Rowan University Foundation, Bole Hall, 2nd Floor, 201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro, N.J. 08028. If you have questions about Hollybush, please call the President's Office at (856) 256-4100.

You can visit Rowan’s Hollybush website at rowan.edu/hollybush.

See it in person at:

Rowan University
501 Whitney Ave.
Glassboro NJ 08028

Information from www.rowan.edu/hollybush/restoration.


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Author: Jessica Westerland, Editor



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