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Morristown's Glynallyn Chosen for Mansion in May

Christy Potter Kass

Thursday, November 17, 2011 • 8:02am

MORRISTOWN, NJ – If a house ever had a story worth telling, it’s the stately, sprawling mansion that has been chosen as the next Mansion in May.

Echoes of elegance still ring through the mansion’s interior, which has begun to fade and crumble in spots in a beautiful, Miss Havisham sort of way. Enormous fireplaces now stand cold and empty, old stained glass windows look out onto stone statues in the remainders of a rambling English garden.

The mansion, called Glynallyn, is the latest to catch the collective eye of the Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center, which has a tradition of transforming historic mansions into showhouses that are then sold, with proceeds benefitting Morristown Medical Center.

Mansion in May has renovated mansions throughout the area every few years, starting in 1974 with Upton Pyne near Bernardsville through Fawn Hill Farm in Harding Township last year.

The Women’s Association starts by opening the home for two days to decorators, who tour the mansion, study the rooms and take measurements. They then submit their ideas – color, fabrics, lighting - for three different spaces. The design team makes their choices, and then the fun really begins. Glynallyn has 41 spaces for renovation, and Beth Wipperman of the Women’s Association said they hope to have 30-35 of them renovated by the decorators. The chosen designers will be notified by mid-December, and the work will begin Jan. 1. The mansion will be finished by mid-April, and the last Saturday in April, the project will be celebrated with a gala at the Madison Hotel.

The Women’s Association has a landscape architect as well as house electricians, plumbs and a floor guy to ensure everything is done to code.

Wipperman said for each project, the group chooses a beneficiary. Proceeds from this year’s event will go to the new hospice and palliative care unit. Last year’s even raised more than $800,000 in profit, and the three previous years brought in around $600,000 each.

When the mansion is completed, the Women’s Association will sell tickets to see the home, or for an additional cost, will give private tours with more additional information about what the designers’ thought processes were in each of the areas, Wipperman said.

She added that the reason Mansion in May is always such a success is the supports it gets from the public.

“This is truly a community event,” Wipperman said. “It’s a great local cause, and everyone really gets behind it.”

Glynallyn is a three-story, 32,000 square-foot mansion that was built from 1913-1917 by George Marshall Allen and is rich in history.

In the late 19th century in the New Jersey countryside, Morristown became a desirable summer retreat for wealthy New York industrialists and business leaders who built grand mansions along what was nobly hailed as Millionaire’s Row on Madison Avenue. Among these entrepreneurs was George Marshall Allen, a publisher, amateur photographer, pioneer of color printing and yachtsman who, in the fall of 1912, purchased nearly 10 acres of land (adding more acreage later) in Convent Station to build a country estate for his family: wife, Grace Fanshawe Allen and daughter, Loraine Allen.

In his global travels, Allen developed an interest in the Tudor architecture of England and was intrigued by a sixteenth century Warwickshire castle, Compton Wynyates. Compton Wynyates was completed in the early 1500s after several decades of labor, and served as the ancestral residence for Sir William Compton. Visitors to the castle included Sir William’s lifelong friend, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I. The castle has served as the seat of the Marquis of Northampton and remains in the Compton family today.

To realize his vision of a regal Tudor manor, Allen commissioned renowned New York architect Charles I. Berg to visit and study Compton Wynyates, and to adapt an architectural design plan for a country estate on his newly acquired Morris County property. Allen chose the wooded land in Convent Station, as it is reminiscent of the rolling English countryside where Compton Wynyates stands. As the property sits on the edge of a deep glen, he bestowed the name Glynallyn upon the homestead.

In 1913, construction of a lodge and garage on the property began, and when it was finished in 1914, it served as temporary housing for the Allen family while the mansion was being built. By the end of 1914, the foundation of the house was done, however, with the onset of World War I, construction was halted until 1916 when it resumed again. Glynallyn was largely completed in 1917, and the Allens hosted the wedding of their daughter in their new summer retreat on Aug. 21 of that same year. It is estimated that at the time of its construction, the house cost $500,000 to build including $15,000 for the stained glass windows in the Great Hall.

The profound architectural details and accomplishments of the home and were highlighted in an article that appeared in the December 1918 issue of The Architectural Forum. In the article, according to Berg, the principal portions of the home that were copied from Compton Wynyates are the main entrance, the group of five grand stained glass windows on the façade of the house, and the large second-story bay window. The distinctive chimneystacks were also replicated from the ancient castle.

Allen’s goal was to have the new home resemble that of a weathered 400-year old castle. This was achieved by the careful, deliberate selection of desired materials. Hand-made bricks with rough edges, uneven and varying color laid in irregular lines were used on the exterior of the home along with pitted, stained, unevenly textured limestone. Rough timber from old ships and skids were used for the traditional Tudor-style trim work and the slate chosen for the roof was of an irregular shape and thickness with uneven color. There are many unique, elaborate carvings on the exterior of the home including the Allen family crest at the main entrance, flourishes and badges of English royalty, gargoyles and caricatures. Intrinsic features of Tudor castles such as turrets, battlements, crenellated parapet walls and gables are not spared in the ornate details of the sprawling edifice.

The interior of the home has countless intricate features at every turn. Upon entering the home through the medieval doors, visitors arrive in the Little Hall, a quaint room featuring centuries-old oak paneling that Allen acquired from Compton Wynyates during renovation work being done there. There is also a rustic fireplace that is a replica of one in a cottage built for William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, in Stratford-on-Avon, England.

Immediately off of the Little Hall is the piéce de resistance of the dwelling, the Great Hall, with its soaring, vaulted ceiling of nearly three stories with timber beams and rafters. Amid the brick wall of the 1,300 square-foot room are the regal hand-painted stained glass windows, and tucked in the corner in an oriel bay is a petite stairway leading up to an enchanting organ loft. This stairway is exceptionally unique in that in order to ascend it, one must begin with the right foot as each tread is cut diagonally across so that two risers occupy the space of one tread in order to save space. Hidden behind one of the walls in the Great Hall is a secret circular, intentionally worn stone stairway that leads down to a medieval dungeon with vaulted ceilings and gothic arches. If you look closely around, you’ll see curiously carved faces peering at you from the stone walls. An enormous fireplace, antique lanterns and Shakespearean stage add to the gothic ambiance of the room.

Equally remarkable rooms on the first floor include a 1,000 square-foot library with ceiling-high oak paneling, an ornately carved fireplace surround and sculptured plaster ceilings; a covered winter porch with an outdoor fireplace; an intriguing and finely detailed greenery with a mosaic floor; a morning room with an exquisitely arched doorway and a picturesque bay window; and, a spacious dining room with a 17-foot bay window a hidden vaulted safe in the wall. When Glynallyn was built, the kitchen was a small and isolated space for use by the servants to service the family. At this time, the kitchen is currently being expanded and remodeled.

The second floor of the home served as the living quarters for the family and their guests with generously sized bedrooms, all of which have individual bathrooms and fireplaces. The guest room is an especially charming space with many detailed wood carvings and whimsical characters adorning the windows.

The fully finished attic has a six-room apartment and has a space modeled after a room at Compton Wynyates called the Priest’s Room that was used as Allen’s photography studio. This room features a lofty beamed ceiling, an expansive skylight and an exposed brick fireplace.

The servants’ wing of Glynallyn extends over three floors on the east end of the house, as well as into the basement, and in this wing is a 1915 Sedgwick freight elevator that operates from the basement to the third floor.

Stained and leaded glass windows are showered throughout the house, as are fine wood trim carvings. Many of the rooms are embellished with elaborately sculpted plaster and all of the rooms have a fireplace, except those in the servants’ wing. Sparing no detail to safety, many of the walls are two-feet thick and the house has its own system of built-in fire hoses.

Noted landscape architects Brinley & Holbrook designed and developed the home’s lavish grounds. Substantial lawns abutting the tree-lined driveway leading to the portico flank the home. A fieldstone terrace with a brick balustrade runs along the south side of the house and features a slate covered cloister with gothic window arches and an ornate wrought iron door. Beyond the terrace, curious remains of terraced gardens, stairways and gothic gates edge the lush, wooded ravine. At one time, the meticulous landscape of Glynallyn featured a moat and a noted sunken rock garden with a miniature canal and fountain that was featured in American Gardens 1890-1930 (Sam Watters, Acanthus Press, New York, 2006, p.45).

In its heyday, with the Allen family in residence, Glynallyn was the venue for many opulent social events and was a prominent home of distinction. Over the course of the years, two silent movies were filmed there and the ceremonies of four weddings and a funeral took place. Allen died in 1941 and his widow remarried in 1946. Within a year after her death in 1951, the home was sold to General Drafting Company, a successful map-making business. Keeping the historical significance of the dwelling in mind, the company made several modifications to convert the residence into offices where they operated for nearly forty years, closing in 1992. Since then, the home has had only one other family in residence, who purchased the property in 1997.

Today, Glynallyn resides on 7.5 acres and is privately owned and unoccupied. A portion of the property with the associated outlying buildings was sold as a separate lot, and the carriage house now serves as a private residence. Glynallyn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Although many of the turn-of-the-century mansions of the Gilded Age in Morristown are no longer standing, the regal Glynallyn still reigns in historical glory.

For more information on Mansion in May, visit www.mansioninmay.com.

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