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.
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.
The Ride Witching Waves - Blackpool, England
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.