Water Witch Park & Club
The following history of the Water Witch Park and Club was made possible by countless years of research and historical records compilation by Mary Joe, Kenny, Monmouth Hills Historian.
Water Witch Park was conceived in 1895. As envisioned, it was to include all the land presently known as Monmouth Hills and the property to the northeast located between Navesink Avenue (present-day NJ Route 36) and Sandy Hook Bay. The Monmouth Hills portion of the Park was ultimately established by the Water Witch Club, a private summer club organized by a group of New York businessmen and architects led by New York real estate entrepreneur, Ferdinand Fish. Prior to this venture Fish had been instrumental in establishing the communities of Highland Beach and Navesink Beach located at the north end of what is today Sea Bright. The Park was named after a novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper, who is known to have visited the Highlands area in the 1830s. The romantic novelist Cooper described the areas as “the most beautiful combination of land and water in America.”
Read the Water Witch Club Historic District Survey Report. (PDF)
Initially, all of the land today containing Monmouth Hills was owned by the Highlands of Navesink Improvement Company (HNIC) established by Fish in the spring of 1895. Later, in that same year, Fish established the Water Witch Club, an entity that would ultimately be the driving force behind the development of the park. Immediately after its formation, the club purchased the southeastern half of the Monmouth Hills portion of the Park property from the HNIC. Architecture played an important role in this portion of the Park, which was patterned after New York's Tuxedo Park, established in 1886. Originally, there were 50 charter members of the Club many of which were architects or engineers. The Club's 1st Board of Governors had 4 architects and 2 civil engineers on it. Some of the original architects involved during the planning stages of the Club were Ehrick Rossiter, Frank A. Wright, Hugh Lamb, Charles A. Rich, Frank E. Wallis, F. L. Ellingwood, John H. Duncan, Charles H. Humphreys, Charles Eaton and the Constable Brothers. Others, such as Austin W. Lord, Lyman A. Ford, Ernest M. A. Machado and Frederick P. Hill joined the club shortly after its creation. Many of these men had already been actively working at the Jersey Shore as well as throughout the metropolitan area in the rapidly developing New York suburbs. All of the original 40 summer cottages at the Water Witch Club were built between 1896 and 1909 and designed by architects. These architects involved themselves in many aspects of the Club's business from the time they joined.
The various architects affected the stylistic development of the Park. The constitution of the Club made provisions fro the construction of many community buildings. Designs for these buildings were published in a promotional booklet in 1895. They included a gatehouse, a boathouse and water station, stables and a bowling/billiard house, and a clubhouse by Lamb & Rich. However, only the Colonial Revival clubhouse made it off the paper.
The majority of the summer cottages of the Club were revival styles, predominately combinations of the Shingle Style and Colonial Revival Style. A few were constructed in the Tudor, Swiss Chalet, Italian Renaissance and Spanish Eclectic Styles. The Club's Shingle Style summer cottages with colonial Revival elements also incorporated newer styles such as Craftsman. Most were very eclectic and of more simple design than was commonly associated with the Victorian period. A total of 40 cottages were built within the Water Witch Park, in the area that is today known as Monmouth Hills. All were constructed within the 1st 15 years following the Park's creation in 1895. The 1st house was built in 1896 and the last was built in 1909.
By 1895, Ferdinand Fish had launched a sophisticated campaign for the development of Water Witch Park. He created and published the Oracle, a monthly paper to help promote the Park and his other real estate ventures (Highlands and Navesink Beach). The paper was printed on high quality paper and included colored illustrations and photographs. Charles Humphreys, architect and son-in-law of Fish, was its illustrator and R. R. Warley, a New York business manager, assisted with its content. Both Humphreys and Warley were members of the Water Witch Club.
The purpose of the club was outlined in the constitution, a portion of which reads: “To buy, improve, and apportion land among its members; to provide suitable club buildings, water, lighting, and sewerage systems, to promote social intercourse among its members, and to encourage aquatic and athletic sports.”
Civil Engineer, F. Adelbert Dunham of Plainfield, New Jersey was brought on board and by November 1895 he had made surveys of both the lands of the Club and of those of the HNIC. He divided the property into several lots all fronting on curvilinear roads. The 1st map filed with the County Clerk's Office of Water Witch Park showing the proposed roads and lots was drafted in December of that year. Much of the present-day road network of Monmouth Hills was laid out by Dunham. Only minor changes to the entrances have taken place due to widening of Navesink Avenue over the years. The 1st 2 lots of the Water Witch Club's property (southeast portion of Monmouth Hills) were officially sold to Ferdinand Fish on April 22, 1896. The 1st 3 houses erected within the Water Witch Club portion of the Park are believed to be the Frank A. Wright House, the Livingston Middleditch House and the William B. Taber House. All 3 were completed and occupied by June 1896. Development within the HNIC portion of Monmouth Hills was not planned until around 1898.
Construction of the 1st clubhouse of the Water Witch Club was started in the summer of 1896 and finished on June 15, 1897. It was designed by Richard Lamb and Charles A. Rich of Lamb and Rich. The opening day register from the clubhouse, dating from July 1897, indicates that the clubhouse functioned as a community center for the Club. In addition to maintaining any guests of the Club, many of the residents themselves signed in for meals and social events.
In 1898, Ferdinand Fish and others of the HNIC began promoting the development of the remaining portion of present-day Monmouth Hills. It appears as though they wanted to develop this portion of the Park as a separate entity to be known as the Navesink Country Club. The organization plan was very similar to that of the Water Witch Club. In fact, several of the architects connected with the Water Witch Club planned to be part of this new venture. Plans for the Navesink County Club included a Club-hotel, tennis courts, croquet grounds, a beach clubhouse and a boathouse. The 1st sale of the lots took place in May of that year.
However, there appears to have been rifts among the majority stock holders (Ferdinand Fish being one of those) of the HNIC and by the close of 1899, Fish had given up his interests in the development of the Navesink Country Club. In 1900, the Navesink Country Club merged with the Water Witch Club, a situation that became official on May 1, 1901.
In 1800, the year before the Navesink Country Club and the Water Witch Club merged, the Water Witch Club had 70 members, most being New York businessmen. By this time, 14 cottages had been constructed and 5 more were being built.
In 1901, a committee was appointed to investigate the feasibility of building a new clubhouse. Although a competition was held and 6 sets of plans were submitted, nothing further was done for the next 2 years. In June 1904, another committee was appointed to look into raising funds to build “a casino and a small lodge.” The Board's recommendations, similar to those in 1902, were to move the present clubhouse to the north side of West Twin Road and make it an annex to the new Casino. On September 16, 1904, it was resolved to move the clubhouse across the road and build a casino. It was designed by Frederick P. Hill and constructed in the following year. The Casino and the original clubhouse (now relocated) are show on a Sanborn Map of Water Witch Park in 1907. At this time, the Club community contained 39 cottages. In 1911, the original clubhouse was destroyed by fire. In that same year, Lyman A. Ford designed and built a large addition to the Casino that would serve as the new clubhouse containing a dining room, sitting room and 5 bedrooms.
Prior to the 1920s, only a few members used their cottages year-round. During the winter, the Club's main water supply was turned off and those residents who did say had cisterns built to collect water from their roofs. By the mid-1900s, however, a few homes began to be supplied with metered water service from the Borough of Highlands. By 1940, all of the cottages were equipped with metered water supplied by the Monmouth Consolidated Company, who re-installed the water mains below the frost line.
The Great Depression
As was the case with many Americans, the Great Depression of the 1930s changed the social life of the Club members and the composition of the community forever. Unable to maintain 2 residences, some members sold their townhouses and winterized their summer homes, while others are likely to have sold their cottages all together. By the late 1940s, the Water Witch Club became a year-round community, but with less of a recreational emphasis. It did, however, continue to function as a club and the spirit of club life continues in the community to this day with the Club Casino as its foci.
By 1950, out of the 40 cottages originally built within the Water Witch Club, 26 remained extant. In 1957, Monmouth Hills, Inc. purchased all of the remaining property of the HNIC situated within present-day Monmouth Hills. It was around this time that the 1st new house was built within Monmouth Hills. Since that time, approximately 18 additional new houses have been constructed and 4 more of the original cottages have been razed (3 destroyed by fire and 1 demolished). Today, the Water Witch Club entity has been replaced by the Monmouth Hills, Inc. The Water Witch Club Casino, now owned and managed by the Monmouth Hills, Inc., is still used for recreational purposes. Presently, a total of 22 of the original cottages still exit. Many have been altered to facilitate year-round living, but the area still retains it essential historic and natural character.