Drumthwacket

by Editor | Nov 14, 2005
Drumthwacket Drumthwacket, the official residence of the governor of New Jersey, is a building that is steeped in New Jersey history. The house was built in 1835 by Charles Smith Olden, born in 1799 in the cottage of his grandfather, Thomas Olden. That cottage is located on the front lawn of Drumthwacket. The Olden family, among the earliest settlers in Princeton, dates back to approximately 1699.

Mr. Olden was educated in the Princeton area, worked a few years in Philadelphia, then moved to New Orleans in 1826. He began to make his fortune in the great commercial center, but was persuaded by his new bride, Phoebe Smith of Trenton, to return to Princeton in 1833. They purchased 40 acres of land and began the construction of Drumthwacket. The name of the mansion is derived from two Scottish words: "drum," meaning hill, and "thwacket," meaning woods.

Mr. Olden lived the life of a gentlemen farmer for a while, but soon became active in public affairs. He served as treasurer and trustee of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1844 to 1850, and he was Governor from 1860 to 1864. A strong Union man, he kept New Jersey on the Union side during the Civil War and is credited with having sustained its treasury with his own private funds during the war years.

The house built by the Oldens was of Greek Revival architecture. It was 2 1/2 stories high and consisted of a central block with a center hall and two rooms on each side. The second owner, Moses Taylor Pyne, purchased Drumthwacket from Gov. Olden's widow in 1893 for the sum of $15,024. After inheriting a fortune from his father, Pyne added two wings to the original house, making Drumthwacket even more of a showplace. These remarkable additions, attributed to the architect Raleigh Gildersleeve, successfully enhanced the existing structure without diminishing its inherent grandeur. Begun in 1895, the additions and renovations took twenty years to complete.

Moses Taylor Pyne was a trustee of Princeton University from 1884 until his death in 1921, during which time he dominated the affairs of the University. He organized the National Alumni Association, an organization that has remained the chief alumni support of the university to this day. As a college friend of Woodrow Wilson, he was the leader in the successful effort to have him made President of Princeton University in 1902. He actively supported Wilson's early reforms but eventually turned against him and was the leader in forcing his resignation in 1910. Pyne's endowment includes the Pyne Library, a score of faculty houses, and several dormitories. It was Moses Taylor Pyne who encouraged the use of collegiate Gothic in the architecture of the college builds on Princeton's campus. When Mr. Pyne died, the college classes were suspended for the day and all the bells in the town rung during his funeral.

Mr. Pyne lived at Drumthwacket until his death in 1921. His wife continued to live here until her death, bequeathing the estate to their only grandchild, Agnes. In 1941 Mr. and Mrs. Abram Spanel bought Drumthwacket, the Thomas Olden House, the butler's house, and twelve acres of land. Mr. Spanel was an inventor and is credited with many life-saving inventions that were used by the United States and her allies during WWII. Because of his efforts, the French government decorated Mr. Spanel with one of the highest ranks in the Legion d'Honneur--Grand Officer. During his time Drumthwacket was host to many French guests, including visiting officials and diplomats who were friends of the Spanels.

Drumthwacket is host to over 6000 visitors every year-- sometimes hosting open houses for guests to visit the residence. If you would like information about visiting this historic building, visit www.drumthwacket.org.

For more South Jersey History, visit our History page.

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Author: Editor

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