Claremont Road, Bernardsville, Somerset County, New Jersey

Built in 1886, for J. Coleman Drayton (1852-1934) and his wife Charlotte Augusta Astor (1858-1920). In 1871, the New York architect George B. Post, a future President of the American Association of Architects, purchased the 104-acre Ballentine farm at Bernardsville in the hope that the climate would help relieve his wife's rheumatism. Later, Post sold off various parcels of his land to wealthy New Yorkers and then conveniently offered his services. Post's design for the Drayton's country home was an Italianate stone villa with a four-story tower which they named "Crow's Foot"....

This house is best associated with...

James Coleman Drayton

J. Coleman Drayton of New York City, Philadelphia & Newport, Rhode Island


Charlotte (Astor) Haig

Mrs Charlotte Augusta (Astor) Drayton, Haig


Thatcher Magoun Adams

Thatcher M. Adams, Attorney, of New York City & Lenox, Massachusetts


John Fairfield Dryden

Senator John F. Dryden, (1839-1911), Founder of Prudential Life Insurance


Cynthia Jennings Fairchild

Mrs Cynthia Jennings (Fairchild) Dryden


Just four years later (1890), the Drayton's marriage fell apart in what was called the, "most conspicuous society scandal of the generation". In Paris, Drayton challenged the rival to his wife's affections to a duel and Charlotte's father - hardly a paragon of virtue himself - was so outraged by events that he disinherited his daughter. In 1892, their marriage was unequivocally over and their mansion plus all its furnishings were sold to Thatcher M. Adams (1837-1919) who summered here for 7-years before shifting scenery to Lenox in Massachusetts. In 1899, it became the country home of John Fairfield Dryden (1839-1911), the founder and first President of the Prudential Life Insurance Company.

It was Dryden who renamed the estate "Stronghold" and he employed George Post to add the Corinthian-columned portico (on the opposite end of the house from the tower) that leads onto the steps that drop down to the lawn, flanked by a pair of rhino statues. It remained in the Dryden family until 1940 when it became the Gill St. Bernard's School, a private all-girls school. It continued as a school until 1995. The new owners then started a huge renovation project that included fitting a new zinc roof imported from France, but while they finished the exterior, they ran out of funds leaving the interior unfinished.  

The mansion sat empty until 2005 when it was purchased for $7.5 million by the fashion designer Marc Ecko. He completed the renovations and in 2015 placed the 7-bedroom, 30,000 square-foot mansion on the market. It remains a private family home.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 01/02/2020 and last updated on 19/07/2021.


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