Hudson Farm History

History of Estate House and Property

In 1904 railroad magnate John P. McRoy commissioned the New York architect Clarence Curter to design our twenty-room estate house

The property was an operational dairy farm supporting a herd of 50 Holstein cows

In 1920, the property was donated to The Hudson Guild, a charitable organization who ran the property as a camp.

On July 10th 1921, creation of the Appalachian Trail was conceived in our estate house, at a meeting, which included the visionaries:

Benton MacKaye, the Massachusetts forester and regional planner, who envisioned and campaigned for the Appalachian Trail. “He recognized that, the ability to cope with nature  directly – unshielded by the weakening wall of civilization – is one of the admitted needs of modern times”.

Clarence S. Stein, the visionary behind the planned community in Radburn, New Jersey was heralded as “one of the most progressive and controversial American architects and planners of the twentieth century”. Stein’s admirers placed him in the company of such giants as Lewis Mumford and Benton MacKaye. He championed radical community planning, finding inspiration in his studies in Paris as well as the Garden City movement in Great Britain. His city planning ideas transformed communities in both the United States and Europe.

Charles Whitaker, the editor of the journal of The American Institute of Architects, and founder of The Committee on Community Planning.

Lake Hopatcong’s Celebrated Farm

The settlement house movement began in Britain in 1884 when middle-class London reformers established Toynbee Hall in East London to provide social services and education to the poor workers living in the area. Inspired by the British movement, American social reformers began to establish similar settlement houses in response to growing urban poverty. In 1886, Stanton Coit founded Neighborhood Guild, the first American settlement house, in New York City. In 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr founded Hull-House in Chicago, which would eventually become the most famous settlement house in the United States.

The objective of the movement was the establishment of houses in poor urban areas, in which middle-class volunteers would live, for the purpose of sharing knowledge and culture with, and alleviating the poverty of, their low-income neighbors. These volunteers worked to ease the transition of immigrants into the labor force by teaching them middle-class American values. In Chicago, for instance, Hull-House helped to educate immigrants by providing classes in history, art, and literature. Hull-House also provided social services to reduce the effects of poverty,

 including a daycare center, homeless shelter, public kitchen, and public baths.

One of the revolutionary characteristics of the settlement house movement was that many of the most important leadership roles were filled by women. In an era when women were excluded from leadership in business and government, approximately half of the major American settlement houses were led and staffed predominantly by women.

During the late 1800s the West Side Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea had transformed from a residential area of wealthy and middle-class property owners to a bustling community where tens of thousands of immigrant families lived and worked. These new Chelsea residents were predominantly Irish and Greek, but also included Italians and Germans, as well as African-American migrants from the south. These new arrivals rented apartments in hastily constructed tenement buildings or in former one-family townhouses newly subdivided and turned into rooming houses. They took jobs as freight handlers, longshoremen, and factory workers in the shipping and industrial area that sprang up west of Tenth Avenue and along the waterfront. The new dense population exacerbated a host of problems. Poverty, hunger, disease, crime, sub-standard housing and unsanitary conditions were as pervasive here as elsewhere in New York and other rapidly growing cities across the country. Such conditions dimmed the hopes of many immigrants and alarmed many wealthy and middle-class Americans. In 1895, John Lovejoy Elliott, a young man greatly influenced by the growing settlement house movement, organized the “Hurly Burlies,” a social and recreation club for young men in Chelsea. Elliott, an Illinois native educated at Cornell University and in Germany, had recently moved to New York. During the next few years, he established numerous clubs and programs for other groups, including children, working women, and families. Elliott’s various programs merged in 1897 and became the Hudson Guild. This group’s programs included a kindergarten, vocational training, athletics, and a library. The popularity of the Guild’s programs prompted the settlement to move several times in its first decade. Eventually a permanent Hudson Guild building was erected at 436 West 27th Street. Its five stories housed a library, print shop, club rooms, and baths.

Hudson Guild offered a broad range of direct programming and services to Chelsea residents. It opened the first free kindergarten in New York City in 1897, began the first Summer Play School in the city in 1917, and opened dental, prenatal, and well-baby clinics by 1921. A basketball team formed with teenagers from Chelsea at the Guild in 1914 and known as the Celtics (no relationship to the Boston Celtics) is credited with helping to bring basketball to the attention of the nation for the first time when the team barnstormed America in the 1920’s. Hudson Guild supported campaigns that led to the creation of Chelsea Park in 1907. In 1912 the Guild collaborated with a typographer’s union local and a business association of printers to establish a printer training program, a very successful enterprise that was later incorporated into New York’s public school system. During World War I, food shortages and inflation made it difficult for many families to make ends meet. Hudson Guild sponsored a cooperative store to ease the economic burden on Chelsea residents. Popular activities in the Guild’s early years included summer outings and camping trips to area beaches, parks and campgrounds. In 1917, after deciding that it could best serve its community by purchasing a permanent home outside of the city, the Guild acquired several hundred wooded acres of the McRoy farm in what was then the borough of Byram Township, New Jersey. (The land became part of the borough of Hopatcong in 1922.) The property consisted of almost 500 acres and included a mansion built for John McRoy in 1904, three farmhouses, two ponds, and a brook. McRoy was a Scottish inventor who had amassed a fortune through such inventions as electric conduits and hollow building blocks. He was also a leading socialist of the day as well as a philanthropist. The July 15, 1916 Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported that, “The John C. McRoy farm, a famous piece of land, has been sold to J. H. Guy, of Indiana. Two or three years ago the land was to be used for the site of a sanatorium, but the property owners of the lake objected and the sale fell through.” Whether Mr. Guy ever took control of the land is unclear, but in 1917 the Hudson Guild announced acquisition of the farm.

The aim of the Hudson Guild in buying the farm was to bring city children to the country and teach them the essentials of farming, while also offering traditional camp activities. The New York Times reported in 1920 that there was “a big waiting list of those anxious to become farmers when there is room to accommodate them.” A June 5, 1921 Times article stated that, “Thirty five families, including fathers, will go to the Hudson Guild farm, near Lake Hopatcong, with 100 working boys and girls from the settlement. Everyone gives three hours work a day to the place.” In addition, each man, woman, and child paid a fixed sum for their room and board as set by the Guild.

In an interview with the New York Times in 1927, Hudson Guild’s John Lovejoy Elliott explained, “While Hudson Guild holds no illusions about making farmers out of city folks, it has, during the past ten years, succeeded in interesting hundreds of young people and their parents in a phase of life concerning which tenement house people are woefully ignorant. The Hudson Guild farm is a real farm, with cows, chickens, pigs and everything that properly belongs to a country home and, aside from the fresh air and good food that the summer residents enjoy, they actually learn about how things grow and about other mysterious things that happen in the country, concerning which city people know so little. It is more than a mere fresh air enterprise.” In 1939, Elliott told the Times that the farm would continue to carry on projects “in which people of all nationalities will work together, striving for common understanding and acceptance of all kinds of people to democracy.”

Hudson Guild Farm instituted numerous innovative programs over the years. In 1927, it sponsored a program in which public school teachers accompanied their students to the country for part of the summer. In the heart of the Great Depression, the summer of 1935 saw 135 boys and girls from Chelsea at the farm along with 42 families, including 104 children. During World War II, the farm took pride in cultivating food for America in its “Victory Gardens.” In 1949, the Lake Hopatcong Breeze reported that the farm had opened in July to teenagers who worked on the farm while also enjoying traditional camp activities, and in August would host families and adults from Chelsea. From the 1950’s through the 1990’s, the Hudson Guild farm continued to host children and adults for a wide assortment of programs. For example, a one-week summer writing workshop for inner city kids was a highlight in the summer of 1994. In later years, the Guild also used the farm as a retreat for senior citizens from Chelsea. Throughout the years, the farm often hosted conferences on a wide array of progressive topics to include education, democracy, ethical culture, capitalism, the environment, disarmament, and food costs. It was also a great place to share ideas. Probably no greater idea originated at Hudson Guild Farm than the concept for the Appalachian Trail, which began in June 1921 at an informal gathering. The meeting resulted in an essay by forester and planner Benton MacKaye advocating a linear Appalachian Mountain park as a tool for regional planning. The idea soon took off and the portion of the Appalachian Trail through New York and New Jersey was the first to be completed.

Hudson Guild Farm maintained good relations with the Lake Hopatcong summer community over the years, although its remote location limited contact. In July 1922, Hopatcong Mayor Theodore Gessler recommended that $100 be taken from the borough road fund to improve the road near the farm, after the area voted to become part of Hopatcong Borough. During the 1920’s and 1930’s several sleep-away camps operating on the lake would schedule hikes to Hudson Guild Farm to join with the boys and girls there for an enjoyable day. In November 1923, the first ever fire call for the newly founded Volunteer Fire Department of Hopatcong Borough was for a fire at Hudson Guild Farm. In 1947, a group from Hudson Guild competed at the Northwood Water Carnival and won the overall trophy. And throughout the years visitors from Hudson Guild Farm were known to wander over to such Northwood night spots as Adolph’s to mix with the lake’s summer residents.

As the years passed, the Hudson Guild evolved with all types of new programs for Chelsea residents. However, its management determined there was no longer a need to maintain the farm. In the 1990’s rumors spread around the lake that the Hudson Guild Farm property was for sale and that a massive development would soon be built. In 1997, the property found a savior when businessman and philanthropist Peter Kellogg led a group which purchased the farm property and soon added additional land. The Hudson Farm Club now operates as a private year-round outdoor experience for its members with one of the most attractive shooting layouts in the country. The original McRoy mansion, which served as the main lodge of Hudson Guild Farm, was beautifully renovated and restored to serve as the clubhouse. The property now consists of some 4,000 acres in Hopatcong, Byram, and Andover, and preserves an enormous, beautiful swath of northwestern New Jersey. The Hudson Farm Club hosts fundraising activities on its grounds throughout the year and also operates the Hudson Farm Foundation, a strong supporter of many local charities. From the progressive ideals and charitable work of Hudson Guild to the many charitable activities of today’s Hudson Farm Club, this property has experienced a unique history. It is truly a very special part of the Lake Hopatcong community.