Monday, August 15, 2011

Elberon Avenue Part 1: A History Lesson

The Elberon section of Long Branch NJ is a community developed by Lewis Blanchard Brown (1813-1900) on the south end of Long Branch in the 1870's.  He was born in Rahway but lived in Elberon from 1870 until he died.  He was a Harvard graduate, as was his son of the same name.  The earliest census info puts him working in the clothing business and living in NYC with  wife Emma, four children, and three servants.  The next census info lists his occupation as merchant. They lived in West Farms, Westchester NY with an additional son and seven servants. By 1870 he had made the jump to real estate, employing his 22 year old son as an agent along with six servants.  This is when he bought land to develop in Long Branch and named the area for himself!  Aged 66 in 1880 finds him living full time in Elberon.  The year of his death he lives with five servants ... two Irish (Laundry and maid) and three Negro (cook, waitress and coachman).  L B Brown pictured below.

It was the golden era. Brown built the Elberon Hotel and the surrounding "cottages" on the ocean front.  This is the hotel in 1876.

Just up the street he built a Casino, or Gentleman's Club, at the corner of Elberon and Lincoln Avenues.
This house was razed in 1959. The grounds were subdivided for ranch houses. The carriage house/garage is still there as a residence.

The next house on Elberon Avenue was ours.  You can see the south side with the two chimneys through the trees. Notice the awning over the second floor porch.

The original owner was Theo. Runyon.  Of Huguenot decent, Runyon was born in Somerville NJ in 1822,  He was a graduate of Yale were he was an early member of Skull and Key.  He practiced law in Newark NJ,  invested in railroads,  was the first president of Manufactures' National Bank, Mayor of Newark, and Chancellor of NJ for 14 years.  Plus being active in his church where he was the board of an orphanage.  Obviously this guy was connected.  He was named ambassador to Germany in 1893 and died on the job  in Berlin in 1896.
He was a Brigadier General in the Civil War, commanding the Fourth Reg. of reserves during the Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas depending on your N/S leanings).  The division consisted of  three month volunteers.  The 1st and 2nd NJ  were stationed in Vienna doing reconnaissance when General McDowell ordered the division to protect  the approaches to the city of Washington on July 21, 1861. The 1st NJ saw brief action while on patrol at Cloudes Mill, (zoom into the left along Holmes Run) which is just down the hill from our Alexandria house.  The brawny NJ laborers built Ft Ward between May and June and  the fort at the foot of Long Bridge (now 14th St bridge) to protect federal buildings.  This fort was named Fort Runyon for him.  I drive by Ft Ward several times a day.
He married in the first double wedding in the Central Methodist Church, Newark on January 20, 1864 to Clementine Bruen of  New York. The Bruen Mansion surrounded by spacious gardens, orchards and fields (not at the prettiest in January) was the site of the double reception for Miss Julia Bruen and Mortimer S. Ward and General Theo Runyon and Miss Clementine Bruen.. 

The  "cottage" at the shore must have been built after this.  Mollie (1865), Fredrick (1867),  Julia (1969), Leonard (1874) and Nellie(1879) surely  loved it as much as I did.  The neighbors and visitors included the wealthy and famous:  Gen. Gran, actress Lily Langtry and Diamond Jim Brady.   The rail tracks taking President James Garfield form the train station to his beach front cottage a block away from Runyon's home passed by the corner of Elberon and Lincoln.

Here are the words of Garfield's chief physician.
Dr. Bliss continues his story:
"Mrs. Garfield sat by the side of her husband during the first part of the trip, cheering and reassuring him as no one else could, and visited him afterward, frequently, from her own car. On arriving at the track recently laid to the Francklyn Cottage, we were surrounded by a large  concourse of people, who braved the heat of the day in the anxiety lest the journey might have resulted disastrously. The engine had not weight and power sufficient to push us up the steep grade. Instantly hundreds of strong arms caught the cars, and silently, but resistlessly,(sic) rolled the three heavy coaches up to the level. Arriving at the cottage, the President was placed upon a stretcher, and borne under the canopy previously arranged, to the room wherein the remainder of a noble life was spent."
"The Death Of President Garfield, 1881" EyeWitness to History, .

Can you imagine the crowds working on that rail spur thru the night? Surely the General had a hand in organizing the effort.  Runyon was an organizer and speaker at the services in Newark marking the passing of Garfield.

Here's a happier picture:  The wedding of Mollie to  Harry C. Haskins, son of a a retired merchant from Milwaukee, Wis., down the street in the chapel (still in use in the summer) built by Mrs Moses Taylor with a reception at home.

As described in the Sept 20, 1889 NY Times:
 A special train brought many friends of the couple from New York....A number of more intimate friends arrived yesterday and were entertained by Gen. and Mrs. Runyon at their cottage on Elberon-avenue (sic)...The bride wore an Empire gown of heavy white satin en train and decollete, trimmed with rare old lace.  The long tulle veil was hastened to her hair by a star shaped diamond pin, the room .f the groom.  Her only other ornament was a diamond necklace, the gift of her parents."

The wedding party consisted of friends, Runyon siblings and Bruen cousins.  Among the guests at the reception given at the  cottage were judges, senators, the military, and members of high society.  Oops...this ended badly.  He travels a lot to Europe, but after 1889 Mollie has no passport.  She shows up as divorced in 1920.  He's in a hotel, with no occupation listed.  She's living with her Mother, sister Julia and brother Fredrick who is farming in Basking Ridge.   Harry died in Palm Beach in 1929 at 69. 

In 1893 Runyon became envoy and then was named ambassador to Berlin.  Fredrick, Julia, Leonard and Helen all got passports in 1897 so I guess they all went to Berlin to see the Emperor.  Mary and Harry had passports in 1893 as well.

This is the Washington Post account of his death.
The Washington Post, Tuesday, January 28, 1896, pg. 3


It Will Be in Private, and a Memorial Service Will Be Held Thursday.

Berlin, Jan. 27.-Mrs. Theodore Runyon is prostrated with grief, and as she would be unable to bear the strain of the elaborate funeral ceremony for which arrangements were being made the programme has been changed and the funeral service over the remains of the late United States Ambassador will take place at the house at 3 oclock on Tuesday. Only the family and the staff of the United States Embassy will be present. On Thursday at noon there will be memorial services in St. Georges Chapel, upon which occasion Emperor William will be present.

Mrs. Runyon has received a dispatch from the Empress of Germany, saying that Her Majesty was deeply moved and shocked at hearing of your sudden loss. The dispatch added: The Emperor unites with me in expressing the warmest sympathy for you and your family and our own sincere regrets.

The newspapers this evening pay tribute to the worth and ability of the late Ambassador, and the whole diplomatic corps, hundreds of public officials, and practically all the members of the American colony called at the Embassy to express their sympathy with Mr. Runyons family in the loss they have sustained.

Mr. Runyon was out walking yesterday, dined with his family, and retired at 10:30 p. m. He awoke about midnight, complained of a pain in the heart, and expired in the arms of his wife before the arrival of the doctor.

His estate was divided between his wife and five children. Quite a guy, I have not found any imformation  about other owners, but the Runyons certainly are interesting. Doncha' love what you can find on the web?  I'll be back with the house as we knew it.


  1. Great article - the town is rich with history! I imagine all that turned out to see the train carrying Pres. Garfield - standing in the heat at the corner of Elberon and Lincoln avenues. Can't wait for part II!

  2. Dear Pat:
    Thank you for your research and sharing your memories.
    While, I only visited the house twice, I shall always remember it. It sickens me to think it was destroyed.
    Best regards

  3. Awesome to read some history of home.

  4. Awesome to read some history of home.


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