‘New Jersey’s home’

Hundreds turn out for Drumthwacket’s holiday gala.

By: Christian Kirkpatrick
   On Friday night more than 300 people came home to New Jersey’s home, Drumthwacket. "We’re full to overflowing," crowed Beverly Mills, the Drumthwacket Foundation’s executive director, who greeted them all at the door.
   Everyone likes to celebrate the holidays at home, of course. especially when it is as beautifully decorated and full of music and food as this one was for the Drumthwacket Foundation Gala.
   As they do every year, New Jersey garden clubs had bedecked the first floor of the governor’s mansion with floral arrangements based on a theme.
   This year the theme is Christmas literature. The Nutcracker, Clara and the Mouse King have been recreated in dried roses in the entryway. "The Dolls’ Christmas" inspired traditional compositions in burgundy and white set among vintage dolls, doll houses and teddy bears in the parlor. In the sun room, a majestic fir tree, decorated largely in berries, dried roses and other things found in nature, recalled "The Little Fir Tree." Toy soldiers made of boxwood ascend the house’s center staircase, and on the front porch, 4-foot angels in moss sing and play trumpet and harp to celebrate the season.
   On Friday night, the ranks of these musicians were swelled by a brass quartet, (not in moss), who were playing carols. In the parlor, a quartet in Victorian garb sang more holiday tunes, and a pianist played still more in the music room.
   "It all looks very nice … Lucinda gave it her seal of approval," said former Governor James Florio who, with his wife, Lucinda, was the first gubernatorial couple to live in Drumthwacket after the Drumthwacket Foundation began restoring the house in 1982.
   Built on property once owned by William Penn and later the Olden family, Drumthwacket was purchased by the state in 1966 to be a governor’s mansion. The house was no longer the gracious structure that Moses Taylor Pyne had built in 1893, however. In the intervening years it had been modernized, and the music room had been used as a laboratory by the founder of the International Latex Corp.
   Much was needed to return the house to its former glory. In 1981 the New Jersey Historical Society began raising funds for this purpose. In 1982 the Drumthwacket Foundation was created to curate and preserve the house and its grounds.
   "We wanted to establish it as the New Jersey White House," said Mrs. Florio. And so it has become a beautifully restored home filled with period antiques, where the governor can hold meetings, host receptions and meet guests.
   "Its first floor is essentially a museum," said Bill Wash of Sayreville. Much of the house’s furniture was made by New Jersey craftsmen, and all of its paintings, many on loan from the state’s leading museums, are of New Jersey subjects or by New Jersey artists.
   So how does acting Governor Richard Codey like staying in this treasure house? "For a Democrat, it’s very hard. We’re not used to this much room," he said with a smile. "And air-conditioning, for us, that’s turning the pillow over at night."
   Although the acting governor and his wife, Mary Jo Codey, will continue to reside in their home in West Orange, Mr. Codey has expressed his pleasure that New Jersey has such a fine setting for official occasions as Drumthwacket.
   Thanks to the Drumthwacket Foundation, the facilities at the governor’s mansion are just what they should be and, thanks to the gala, the foundation will have the funds it needs to maintain the house for another year. "This is the foundation’s one fund-raiser of the year," explained gala chairperson Jim Robinson of Hamilton Square.
   Sponsors of the Drumthwacket Foundation Gala included BP, New Jersey Resources, PSE&G, Bank of America and Wachovia. PNC and World Class ShopRites of Mercer County were recognized for their donations to the Drumthwacket Foundation’s Field Trip Program for Economically Disadvantaged School Districts.
   Members of the public who would like to visit Drumthwacket during the holidays should sign up online at www.drumthwacket.org or call 683-0591 for a reservation. The house will be open for tours on Dec. 8, 12 and 15 from 11 to 2.