NE New Jersey Somerset Co. Somerset Hills Landed Gentry
A district of country estates transplanted from England, the Somerset Hills in northern New Jersey have long been a home of America's landed gentry. Even today, foxhunters ride several times a week, polo matches are still played on private grounds and the Far Hills Race Meeting draws record crowds every year. While wealthy and prominent families have lived in the area since the late 19th century, the area recently came back into vogue with the rise of a new class of superrich entrepreneurs and investors.

Architect George Post, who designed the New York Stock Exchange, also drew the plans for many of the area's rambling Tudor, Georgian and Colonial mansions. (For himself, Post built a Classical Revival home called Woodedge.) The roster of the other original estate owners reads like a Who's Who of the day: John Jacob Astor, American Tobacco Company founder James Buchanan Duke, John Dryden, founder of the Prudential Insurance Company (Stronghold), investment banking mogul C. Ledyard Blair, Walter G. Ladd (Natiar), Charles Pfizer of the pharmaceuticals fortune (Yademos) and Wall Street financier James Brady (Hamilton Farms, now home of the U.S. Equestrian Team) all built monuments to their vast fortunes in the hunt country.

With the seclusion afforded by estates sequestered among rolling hills, horse farms and nature preserves like the 7,000-acre Great Swamp of Basking Ridge, the countryside has an immense appeal as a private retreat. Jackie Kennedy maintained a summer home in the Somerset Hills for many years.
And in 1983, King Hassan II of Morocco bought Natirar (Raritan backwards), the enormous House (33,000 sf.) built in 1912 by Kate Macy and Walter Ladd House with 456 acres . It had been used as a convalescent facility following Macy's death in 1945.
In 2003, the Somerset County Inprovement Authority purchased the property from the Hassan estate for $22 Million. They leased 80 acres, inclluding the mansion to the Virgin conglomerate owned by Sir Richard Branson.

More recently, large country estates have been purchased by country club and golf course developers rather than by famous individuals. In Bedminster alone, a 36-hole golf course opened on Hamilton Farms, the former estate of Wall Street financier James Brady, and two more are in the works: one on the former 434-acre estate of John DeLorean and the other on the 495-acre former Lana Lobell horse farm.

When DeLorean bought the estate in 1981, he paid a record $3.5 million; when it was sold to National Fairways in 2000, it brought a total of $15.25 million. High prices are the norm here: In 1995 the median home price in Far Hills was $336,525, which shot up to $635,000 in 1999.

Equestrians in the area have opposed the proliferation of golf courses. Aside from inevitable changes to the landscape of fields, woods and hedgerows, they fear that fairways are the precursor to subdivisions and large-scale residential development.

But golf and horses both have long-standing claims to the hunt-club corridor. The United States Golf Association has its national headquarters in Far Hills and the U.S. Equestrian Team, which trains equestrians for the Olympics, is based in Bedminster.

Horse racing and foxhunts remain the area's premier social events. There may be more entrepreneurial types attending these days, but the hunt country is still a bastion of old money. Members of The Forbes Four Hundred Richest in America in and around Far Hills include heiress Jacqueline Badger Mars, money manager Michael F. Price and media executive Donald Edward Newhouse.

Source: Far Hills at
See: Map and estate descriptions at the Somerset Hills Page.

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last updated 16 Apr 2003