Main Menu | NJ Bicycle Routes | Great Jersey City Stories | New Jersey History | Hudson County Politics | Hudson County Facts | New Jersey Mafia | Hal Turner, FBI Informant | Email this Page
Removing Viruses and Spyware | Reinstalling Windows XP | Reset Windows XP or Vista Passwords | Windows Blue Screen of Death | Computer Noise | Don't Trust External Hard Drives! | Jersey City Computer Repair
Advertise Online SEO - Search Engine Optimization - Search Engine Marketing - SEM Domains For Sale George Washington Bridge Bike Path and Pedestrian Walkway Corona Extra Beer Subliminal Advertising Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs Pet Care The Tunnel Bar La Cosa Nostra Jersey City Free Books

Historic Houses
Astor Villa
Where John Jacob Astor the first entertained the literati of the Country
Astor Villa, Hoboken, In 1934

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

According to the New York City directories, 1828 was the year that John Jacob Astor, the richest American of his day, became a resident of Hoboken. Previous to that time, during the erection of the Astor Villa, still standing in a rather dilapidated condition at the corner of Washington and Second Streets, he occasionally stopped at the famous boardinghouse of the Misses Van Buskirk, on the water-front, which is said to have obtained a finer patronage than any of the other hostelries of this old-time resort. The “old maids Van Buskirk,” as the irreverent called them, in their black silk gowns and white mull caps, doing the honors of their parlors, were well-remembered figures by many of the last generation of Hoboken frequenters, now passed away. They were ideal boarding-house mistresses of the old school, when boarding-house keeping was the one remunerative recourse for reduced gentlewomen; and the pride they took in the fare they gave their patrons, the trimness of their garden, and the skill they exhibited in preserving fruits and making pastries, gave them high recommendation in the eyes of all lovers of comfort and good living.

The situation of the Astor Villa was very fine. It was partly surrounded by a large garden, filled by the millionaire with curious foliage, shrubs, and flowers, brought to him from abroad as presents by the captains of his fleet of merchantmen. From its front windows an unobstructed view of the “76 House” and “the green” could be obtained, and there the old gentleman would sometimes resort of an afternoon to enjoy the festive scene and the constantly changing parade along the river-walk. He is remembered as mingling freely with the forgotten throng of pleasure-seekers. Often he would pause in his rambles to acknowledge the obsequious greeting of one of his army of humble servitors; sometimes he stopped to converse with one of his friends, and again he would journey the whole length of the river-walk lost in thought and scowling at every passer-by.

One of his favorite resting-spots was a bench by a group of currant bushes at the side of the “76 House.” There, fanned by the sea breezes, he frequently sipped his favorite beverages and shut his eyes to enjoy the pleasant pastime of day-dreaming. The soft shadows would play on his wrinkled face, subduing and tranquillizing the hard features, and the world would pass by and whisper, “There sits the great Astor dozing.

Madame Jumel, a noted figure in early New York, when a very old woman, used to tell with great glee a story of how she refused to return one of Astor’s bows when she met him one summer’s day on the Hoboken green. “You would not imagine, my dear,” she used to say to the one who is responsible for the anecdote, “that I snubbed the great Astor, but I did; and there was many a home in New York in those days to which all his money would not have admitted him.” But most likely Astor cared very little for the snubs of a few aristocratic Gothamites of that day, for his own world of commerce and finance bowed and cringed to him, and the care and multiplication of his fortune was his one grand passion.

Comparatively little is known of Astor’s life in Hoboken, although few private citizens have had more written about them, both true and untrue, than he has had. There is a tradition that his motive in coming there was to obtain a legal residence in New Jersey. This perhaps is true, but he must have found it very agreeable, for he occupied his handsome brick-and-wood villa for the best part of the succeeding three years, until his departure upon a European trip. It must often have occurred to the Croesus of his day, as he sat playing checkers under the shade of the large chestnut-tree in his garden, that he had been wonderfully successful in the checker game of life, from the time he opened a toy-store in a shanty on Pearl Street, throughout his career, until he became the possessor of millions.

Fitz-Greene Halleck, the brilliant poet and wit, of whom Astor was fond enough to leave him a remembrance in his will, spent much of his time at the villa at this period, although he did not enter his employment as a clerk until some years later.

There, for all we know, on the Villa’s porch, with the shore line of New York before him, he may have composed that beautiful description of that city’s harbor in “Fanny,” which begins:

Sparkling in golden light his own romantic bay,
Tall spire and glittering roof and battlement,
And white sails o’ er the calm blue waters bent,
Green isle and circling shore are blended there
In wild beauty. When life is old
And many a scene forgot, the heart will hold
Its memory of this.

One standing by the Hoboken waterfront today and gazing at the great metropolis cannot help feeling something of the charm of this early picture, which is indeed a painting in words!

Washington Irving and Martin Van Buren when in New York City often crossed the Stevens Ferry to visit him. Hoboken was a town which pleased them both, for they were very fond of the old Dutch settlements on the Jersey shore, and it was from the Van Home family, who lived in the “House of the Four Chimneys,” still standing in Communipaw, that Irving obtained much of his matter on early Dutch customs for “A Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” Some writers have even gone so far as to state that the book itself was written in the homestead, but a careful perusal of Irving’s letters shows this to be a fiction.

The millionaire and his author friend, Washington Irving, used to be constantly seen driving or walking together in the vicinity of Hoboken. They were very popular in a score of nearby old Dutch households, and it is a noteworthy fact that they distributed many bright silver dollar pieces to proud mothers displaying infants bearing their appellations.

Hoboken in John Jacob Astor’s time was a great resort for the theatrical world, and to its sylvan solitudes many jaded Thespians came to recuperate before the evening performance. In the shady “Turtle Grove,” made memorable by the feasts of the “Turtle Club,” Lover’s walk, and the wood of fir-trees by Sibyl’s cave, the chance frequenter was always sure to run across some actor deep in his play-book, and speaking unconsciously a telling passage, with only the fleeting birds and whispering leaves to voice approval.

Many a tragedy queen and king (for it was the tragedies which held the boards the longest at the theatres in those days) Astor asked over to his villa, for those whose fathers knew him intimately say he was passionately fond of the society of the inhabitants of the mimic world, and the happiest moments of his life were passed in the pit of the theatre. He and his friend John K. Beekman were the joint proprietors of the old Park Theatre at one time, and were often referred to by the wits as the “Theatre Jacks.”

Few people passing the villa to-day, although unchanged in structure, with the exception of an additional story and modern roof, would ever dream that it was once the home of a man so noted as John Jacob Astor the first, but it is nevertheless true, and perhaps it was his best-loved residence, though he built much grander houses in after years. When he first came to Hoboken he had just retired in a slight measure from the strain of money-getting to enjoy his fortune, and this summer resort was, as a forgotten poet once wrote of it,

A place of rest with swaying trees,
A lovely garden by the sea.

Jersey City History
Your Ancestors' Story
Asbury Park
Bruce Springsteen's Jersey Shore Rock Haven!

The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and The Central Railroad Terminal
Visit Liberty State Park!

Questions? Need more information about this Web Site? Contact us at:
297 Griffith St.
Jersey City, NJ 07307