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2nd annual Groveville & Yardville Reunion Saturday, September 10 at 1:00pm at Alstarz Sports Pub (alstarzsportspub.com), Bordentown, NJ 08505

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Estate on Church Street

At one time there was a man that lived on Church Street named Theophilus van Kannel, of Dutch – American descent. He was born in Philadelphia in 1841. He built an estate on Church Street on a piece of land between the Crosswicks & Doctors Creek and bordered on one side by Church Street and the Bordentown-South Amboy Turnpike on the other. This piece of land was as high as the top of the hill on Church Street, but the creeks had carved it into a single high piece of land over looking the Mill pond, Saw Mill, and Grist mill.

This is the only remaining remnant of the Van Kannel, estate. If you notice the three recesses on this pillar, this pillar is at the end of the fence run, in fact this is opening in the fence to the well house. These three recesses are only on one side. These three recesses held three shaped concrete pieces, the bottom pieces were concrete pieces approximately twenty four inches long, arranged in a checkered pattern and the top piece was a continuous concrete rail between two pillars. Pillars in the middle of a fence run had recesses on two opposing sides to create a fence. These pillars are approximately six feet high and eighteen inches square, with steel reinforcement rod sticking out of the top to support a pyramid shaped concrete cap.

There were two entrances from Church Street; the main entrance was across from the now Eagle Rock Apartments. This was a very steep upward drive, that curved to the right for about fifty feet, then curved upward to the left and straight to the estate, The entrance was marked with two concrete pillars as the one above with a light at the top of the pillar. The entire drive was lined with a concrete curb with a concrete pillar every twenty feet or so, with a short rail support pillar between the tall ones, on both sides of the drive.

The drive, at one time was paved with concrete and concrete rain gutters. As you neared the main house there was a small barn like building and a vegetable garden and small orchard. As you past the main house, which faced south, there was a large curved drive with a large flower garden and the remains of a fountain or large concrete area in the center.

As you stand facing the house (North) to your left is the carriage house. The carriage house is almost as large as the main house. The carriage was like two separate buildings attached with a common second floor structure, which formed open archways. One side of the first floor was a barn for stable horses and the other side was a large open barn for the storage of the carriages or cars. The archway was a covered outdoor area to prepare the carriages and hitch the horses. On both sides were the living quarters for the chauffeur and stable keeper and their families.

The most memorable was the clock tower above the Carriage house. The clock tower was the third story of the Carriage House on the top of a very high hill. This tower had a clock face on four sides and was visible from the Bordentown – South Amboy Turnpike and later Route 130.

The second entrance from Church Street is still visible and marked by the last remaining of the concrete pillars. This was about sixty feet long and ended at a small wooden building. This building housed a hand dug brick lined well and a pump. This well supplied all of the water to the main house and the carriage house. There was a tank in the clock tower below the clock mechanism and there was a large tank in the top floor or attic of the main house. The water was pumped to these tanks and gravity fed to the houses as needed.

Claire reminded me that there was a set of concrete steps that went from just beyond the well house, up to the drive, it was a very steep climb.

If you stood by the well house and walked down the path toward Doctors Creek you would see a pipe four inches in diameter and about a foot long, extending from the hill side, it was rusted and moss covered and there was a constant flow of pure, clear, and cold spring water.
As I look back this pipe was over the side of the hill and directly in line with the well house and ran about thirty feet from the well, this pipe could have been an overflow for the well to keep the well at a constant level, as it was fed by many very active springs.
When I was young I remember people coming constantly, with jugs, to fill them with water from this pipe, as kids we never missed a chance to drink from the spring. The spring is now dry and the pipe is gone

``````This is the Path to the Spring ``````

The owner, Theophilus van Kannel, was an inventor. While working for the Automatic Hook and Eye Co. of Hoboken, New Jersey in 1888, he invented and patented the revolving door. In high-rise buildings, regular doors are hard to open because there is a slight vacuum caused by air flowing upwards through stairwells, elevator shafts, and chimneys. Van Kannel's new type of door was easy to open in tall building (and also saved heat in the winter). Van Kannel patented the revolving door on August 7, 1888. It would have saved Air Conditioning too, but that was not invented until 1902.

I am sure he had no idea how much kids would love spinning in a revolving door, I did.

Even though the revolving door was his most memorable invention, he also invented one of the most popular rides at Coney Island’s Luna Park. It was the Witching Waves built in 1907.

The ride was destroyed in 1919, by the Rockaway Beach Hook & Ladder Co. in an attempt to save the life of 16 year old Tony Embricati who had crawled under the ride and was caught in the mechanism. The ride was not rebuilt.
Here are the Witching Waves ride in 1919, the cars of which were propelled by an undulating floor of hinged plates.

The Ride Witching Waves - Coney Island, NY

The Ride Witching Waves - Blackpool, England

Van Kannel’s other inventions were the Hydrant Valve-1869, Improved Hydrant valve-1873 (used in the Fire Hydrant), the spring loaded door closer we use today-1867, the Cider Mill-1867, the Commercial Cherry Stoner (for remove cherry pits)-1885. All were patented and in use today.

Mr. van Kannel passed away, December 24, 1919, at the age of 78 at the apartment of his nephew, Benjamin S. van Kannel, at the Roger Morris Apartments, in New York, of a heart condition. Mr van Kannel was buried in Cleveland, Ohio, Friday, December 26, 1919.

The estate changed hands several times, falling into disrepair and at some time the main house was damaged by a fire and never repaired. The last owner I knew was Chester King of Main Street in Groveville. The main house was torn down in the early 1960’s and the carriage house was intact until the late 1960’s, when it too was torn down. The high hill it sat on was leveled and sold for its soil and sand value.

For a short period, when my father was young he and
his family lived in the carriage house and related some of what the estate looked like, to me. I was informed today in church that it was during this time that the mansion house was damaged by fire. Some of what the estate looked like was learned by me sneaking up to the “Haunted Mansion” with Charlie Donnell.

Local stories tell that during Prohibition, around 1930, the estate was owned by a family named Falcy, and was a large producer of illegal alcohol in central New Jersey.

A story told to me by the late Jim Stackhouse of Groveville; he remembered a late night raid of the estate and the next day he and others stood on the hillside, opposite the driveway on Church Street, watching government agents hauling out the illegal equipment in trucks.

I remember a small log cabin like building about fifteen feet square, on the hillside, in the woods, just above Doctors Creek and near where Route 130 is now. Storyies have it, there was a tunnel that connected this cabin to the cellar of the main house. It was speculated that this was an escape route should the house be raided. Thinking back and having seen this cabin, I could not see it serving any other purpose. It was not any where near the main house or easily accessible to any buildings, to be used as a tool shed or storage. It was not close enough to the creek for a pump house and it had no utilities. This speculation only adds to the mystery of the estate.

I spoke to several people familiar with the estate before writing this and everyone agrees it must have been a beautiful estate when Mr. van Kannel lived there.

Today the only remnant of this estate is the lone concrete pillar with steel conduit sticking out of the top on Church Street and the street in Yardville named for him.


J.Van Kannel said...

Hi Gary,
Thank you for this wonderful reminiscience of T. Van Kannel's "Vanhurst" estate. I very much enjoyed reading about personal memories of people who had actually been there.
I have several pictures of the estate, including the front entrance pillars, the carriage house and the little log pumphouse. I will be happy to send them along if can give me an e-mail address.

Gary Lippincott said...

I have tried to get an Email address for J. VanKannel, I woild love to see those photos, my email is Gary401@aol.com

Joyce said...

Thank you for this wonderful account of what the estate looked like. I was born in 1956 and whenever we would drive by the estate (as it could be seen up on the hill from Rt. 130), I used to marvel at what an impressive place it was, and though even as a child I could tell it was abandoned, I always wished someone would fix it up and restore it to the glory I knew it must have seen in better days. I was heartbroken when they tore it down. I live in NYC now, but yesterday old family business brought me to the area. I still look with sadness every time I drive by, at that now ruined and flattened hill that had once been the grand site of the Estate. Though I had never looked closer than from driving by on Rt. 130 before, yesterday was such a pretty day I decided to explore further and found the pillar that I correctly guessed must've once been the entrance. I just found your writing about the estate which confirmed this, and all the additional details you provided that I had always wondered about since I was very young. I would love to see those photos, too! Could you please email them to me at joycemay2@aol.com ? Thank you so much!

PS. My mom used to live nearby when she was growing up (driving to my grandparents who were still living there when I was a child was the reason I would see the estate so often). When I mentioned how I went looking for remnants of the estate yesterday to her, she told me that she and her friends also used to go to look at the "Haunted Mansion" when they were kids in the 1930's.

Maxx Dufficy said...

Yeah my father, grant dufficy, has talked about this house and how beautiful it was. After looking on this blog of the pictures this house was beautiful. My dad said how debbie king was such a nice girl and she always wore dresses and stuff. He wonders what had ever happened to her and only remembers her up to 4th grade in groveville elementary school and not moving on to yardville school. My dad said that her father owned a trucking business. Then also they sold the house and someone knocked the house down and excavated out all the good soil. Gary do you know what ever happened to this girl debbie king and why she moved?

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to thank you so much for posting this, I actually have a research project over Van Kannel and even though I wasn't searching your lovely town this article was a huge help for me. Even after all the books and websites i've searched through your post has the most background on Van Kannel. I had no idea that he even built a house!! Thank you so much for saving me!!