The Blair Estate at 199 Hardwick Street, Belvidere, NJ
Belvidere, New Jersey
Kleinhans Returns from the Gold Fields
The builder of the Blair Estate, Daniel Kleinhans, was born on Market Street in Belvidere on December 13, 1823. He was the son of Jacob and Eva (Butz) Kleinhans and was one of seven children. At the age of 23, he set out to see the world, and by 1849 was bitten by the gold-fever bug. So he and 39 others set sail around Cape Horn to the gold fields in California. After several years working in the mines, he went into the grocery business in Sacramento, but in 1857, feeling that his life was too stressful, he returned home to Belvidere. On February 16, 1858, he married Susan Depue, the daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Ayers) Depue, also of Belvidere. After a five-month trip to California by way of Panama, they returned to reside in Belvidere.
It was in 1865 that Kleinhans built the D. C. Blair House. It acquired that name because Kleinhans sold it to the prominent DeWitt Clinton Blair in 1867. Blair was the son of John Insley Blair, a railroad builder, financier, philanthropist, and the man for whom Blairstown, New Jersey was named. DeWitt Clinton was a noted lawyer, the president of the Belvidere Bank, and the president of the Belvidere Water Company. In 1870 Kleinhans erected his own home on the park in Belvidere and resided there with his wife, Susan. On March 16, 1905, Kleinhans died at the age of 81 after a year-long decline in his health.
Architecture of the Blair Estate
The Blair Estate, currently the home of the Warren County Library, the Welfare Department, and the Warren County Educational Media Commission, was built in 1865. It is a stuccoed stone 2½ story low hip roofed structure built in the Victorian Italianate style. It has altered overhanging eves with cornice brackets, 2/2 sash, molded window hoods, and an elaborate porch (originally L-shaped) with square posts and brackets. A two-story addition was added to the original structure on the north and east sides. An 1883 print of the building shows a two-story tower rising from the porch roof above the front entrance, but this has subsequently been removed.
Presbyterian Synod Buys Blair Estate
In 1923, the Presbyterian Synod of New Jersey purchased the Blair Estate, almost completely furnished, for the sum of $17,000. Its purpose was to create a home in which to care for aged men, women, and couples of the Presbyterian churches in New Jersey who had no relatives or friends to care for them. It was the first Presbyterian home of its kind in this state to be established under the Synod.
When first purchased, the home had three large porches and three floors of rooms. On the first floor there was a front hall, a living room, a library, a butler's pantry, a kitchen, and a laundry. The second floor contained 9 bedrooms and 3 baths, but the bedrooms were large enough to be converted into 16 rooms. The third floor had 8 bedrooms and a large attic. The Synod planned to renovate the third floor by raising the roof and making alterations that would provide from 20 to 24 bedrooms and additional baths.
The Presbyterian Home for the Aged, as it was called, opened for business in February 1927. At that time it had 50 rooms and 23 guests. Eventually the Synod added two wings to the home and created, among other things, a solarium (which is now the Reference Department of the Warren County Library), a game room, and a beauty parlor which was referred to as the "Pink Room." The Synod continued to care for the elderly here until they sold the building to Warren County in 1970.
Warren County Buys Presbyterian Home
In 1969, the Presbyterian Synod decided to sell the Home for the Aged because, by that time, it was too small for their needs. It was in October of that year that Warren County expressed its desire to buy the building so it could be used for the Welfare Department, the Tax Board, the Probation Department, and maybe a juvenile detention center. In November, the Presbyterian Synod agreed to sell the home for the price of $375,000 and said they would need until June of 1970 to move their clients out. It was agreed that the county would take over the building on July 31, 1970. The county assured Belvidere officials that it planned no appreciable alterations to the outside of the building and promised that no trees would be removed unnecessarily.
The question of which county departments would occupy the building once it was renovated was a constant topic of discussion among the Freeholders. Eventually, the newly formed Office on Aging moved in along with the Welfare Department, some Probation Department staff, and the Warren County Library.
County Library Moves into Court House Annex
In 1970, the Warren County Library Commission received a study from consultant Kenneth McPherson recommending that the county build a 15,000 - 21,000 square foot library near the county garage on Route 519, a structure that would thereby give the library at least 12 times the space it currently had in the court house. At first it seemed that the Freeholders would consider this plan, but by April of 1971, they decided to move the library into the Presbyterian Home (thereafter referred to as the Court House Annex). The Library Commission and some members of the public objected to this move because the space allotted to the library was insufficient and the building itself, while fine for a nursing home, was not suitable for a public library.
The county persisted and the library moved into the building in 1973. The Freeholders assured the Library Commission that this building would be a temporary home for the library. However, it took until 2013 for the library to move. The new building in White Township opened on April 20, 2013.