SJ Attractions: Ellarslie Museum

by R. Cohen | Apr 20, 2003
SJ Attractions: Ellarslie Museum Have you ever been to Ellarslie, the Trenton City Museum? Did you know that in the 1800s, Trenton was known for its potteries? This museum is home to a permanent collection of decorative and fine arts, cultural history, and industrial artifacts, the majority produced in Trenton. An extensive collection of ceramic and porcelain from the Trenton area is also on display, as well as a changing exhibit of contemporary art.

Ellarslie, an Italianate villa, was built for Henry McCall Sr. of Philadelphia as a summer residence in 1848. The architect selected to design Ellarslie was John Notman, known for designing the first Italianate building in America (in Burlington) and the first Renaissance Revival building, the Athenaeum in Philadelphia. Notman was locally recognized for having been the architect for the 1845 expansion of the New Jersey State House as well as the design for the State Hospital, which was also begun in 1848.

In February of 1881, Ellarslie was sold to George Farlee for $25,000. The city of Trenton acquired the property and the surrounding 80 acres from Farlee for $50,000 in 1888. The City of Trenton opened the first museum there in 1889, which closed several years later. After that, the Ellarslie estate was a restaurant, an ice cream parlor, and even a monkey house! The building has been home to several noted Trenton families over the years, and in 1971 renovations began to create the Trenton City Museum. Ellarslie Mansion, included in the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1978 with an exhibition from the permanent collection of Trenton cultural history.

Back in 1880, there were hundreds of independent potteries operating within the city of Trenton. The Museum houses an extensive collection of a variety of ceramic and porcelain, featuring table and art porcelain from Trenton's most successful manufacturer, the Ceramic Art Company and its successor, Lenox. Trenton's contemporary art potteries - Boehm and Cybis - are also represented in collections each has donated to the museum.

The first floor of the Museum galleries contains different exhibitions of contemporary art in all media that change throughout the year. The second floor of the Museum contains a permanent collection of fine and decorative arts, cultural history, and industrial artifacts, nearly all of which were manufactured in Trenton.

Ellarslie exhibitions have included internationally recognized artists such as master woodworker George Nakashima, watercolorist Betsy Zill, fine art photographer Geir Jordahl, post impressionist Bob Guccione, and abstract painter Walter Darby Bannard. Celebrity artists such as Norman Mailer, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Ellarslie also hosts the Trenton Artists Workshop Association's (TAWA) summer series of exhibits, which highlights the abundance of local artistic talent. In addition, the Ellarslie Open, an annual juried exhibition provides visitors with an opportunity to view the finest regional work from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In addition to exhibitions, the museum is host to many special events, musical programs, and art classes.

Current and upcoming events include:
April 19 - June 15: Ellarslie Open XXI
April 26, 6-9pm: Opening Reception for Ellarslie Open
April 27, 2pm: Special Event--John Burkhalter and Eugene Roan A Classical Concert with an American Theme
May 4, 1:30pm: Special Event--Potteries of Trenton Society "Show and Tell" on Trenton Ceramic
June 1, 3:00pm: Special Event--Deborah Ford, Opera Soloist, Accompanied by Donival Brown

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11am-3pm; Sunday 1pm-4pm. Closed Mondays and major holidays. Phone (609) 989-3632.

The Ellarslie Mansion, Museum of the City of Trenton is located in Cadwalader Park, Trenton, NJ. For directions or more information, visit their website at

For an extensive list of South Jersey Attractions, with links to websites and other information, check out our Attractions page.

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Author: R. Cohen


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