by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
July 25, 2023
The corner of Madison Avenue and Danforth Road, being the site of a palatial estate that a number of the nation’s wealthiest called home, was once a hotspot of the Gilded Age. First owned by millionaire George H. Danforth, the mansion known as “Cecilhurst,” was constructed on the property in 1876. Through additions, subtractions, and changes in ownership, the estate reflects the rise and fall of the era of opulence to which it belonged.
Listed for rent in 1887, Cecilhurst enticed one Hamilton McKown Twombly to come to the increasingly popular Morris County countryside. Indeed, he purchased the mansion three years later and intended to transform it into the family’s rural retreat before ultimately being persuaded to construct “Florham.” Twombly sold the property to fellow millionaire, Frederic A. Bell, who renamed it “Bellwood.” As the Gilded Age approached its peak, Bell spared no expense when he added onto the home and grounds, constructing a boundary wall, Italian garden, and some of the finest stables in the area.
By 1906, Bellwood was purchased by Adolphe DeBary and returned to the name Cecilhurst. Settling into the extravagant world of the area’s millionaires, DeBary belonged to the most prominent organizations such as the Morris County Golf Club and hosted gatherings where he adorned the rooms of his sprawling home with chrysanthemums and roses. However, signaling the end of these entertainments and perhaps the age that spurred them, a devastating fire destroyed the mansion in January 1912, resulting in a complete loss of the structure. Perhaps like other millionaires deterred from maintaining such estates upon the creation of the federal income tax in 1913, DeBary chose not rebuild.
An enduring location, still another mansion occupied the site when Leland Ross built his home on the foundation of Cecilhurst in 1921, but the lifestyles once exhibited on the property declined with the Gilded Age itself. While the home remained a private residence until 1949, it became the campus of Bayley-Ellard High School and today, Saint Paul Inside the Walls. However, the Madison Avenue property, by any other name, tells the story of a period of Morris County’s history never again to be replicated.