Playground of the Millionaires

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
April 2, 2024

In the 1910 Mueller Atlas, the river from which the club took its name can be seen winding just below the property.

On December 10, 1903, twelve millionaires, whose combined wealth surpassed $68,000,000, met on Wall Street and laid the plans for a highly exclusive club in Morris County. The Whippany River Club’s first governing body boasted some of society’s biggest names, such as Benjamin Nicoll, an iron/coal/steel magnate (President); Charles F. Cutler, president of the NY & NJ Telephone Co. (Vice president); and bankers Norman Henderson (secretary) and F.O. Spedden (treasurer). With an emphasis on leisure pursuits, sports, and society, it catered to the county’s elite and reflected the opulence of the Gilded Age.

Soon after the formation of the club, its founders identified fellow millionaire Eugene S. Higgins’s Morristown property as an ideal location. An avid sportsman, Higgins had previously constructed a polo field complete with grandstand as well as a half-mile track, a sports stable, and courts for tennis, racquetball and croquet.  As he spent most of his time abroad, Higgins leased the grounds to the club, and work began to outfit it for well-to-do members. To facilitate transit, it was arranged for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western to stop at the main gate, and by 1905, a road coach known as “the Magnet,” brought wealthy members from Bernardsville to the grounds.

Ad in the Morris County Chronicle, September 13, 1910

With their $50 a year dues, club members were treated to a variety of events and activities:  polo matches, steeplechase, trap shooting, handball, and horseback riding. The grounds were also the site of social gatherings, such as their well-attended dog shows and flower exhibitions. A lavish clubhouse, replete with a veranda, ballroom, and private dressing rooms, also attracted club members. Indeed, this space became the scene of many dances, concerts and wedding receptions.

Despite its wealthy patrons, the Whippany River Club experienced financial troubles nearly from its inception and was sometimes in the red by almost $3,000. Such issues were only exacerbated by a devastating fire that swept the grounds in 1910, destroying the clubhouse, stables and courts. The Club rebuilt on a smaller scale but ultimately shuttered during the Great Depression. A product of the Gilded Age, the Whippany River Club shone as an example of a period of unmatched luxury.

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