Not every gilded-age millionaire had a house and farm on River Road in Hillsborough in the first decade of the 20th century - just those named James Buchanan. We all know about James Buchanan Duke, whose Duke's Farm lives on today as Duke Farms, but much less has been written about the far more flamboyant J.B., James Buchanan Brady, better known then and today as Diamond Jim.
|Ellesdale Manor, in its later incarnation as the South Branch Hotel|
Diamond Jim is said to have made his fortune in business by being the best salesman of his era. Unable to take "no" for an answer, he was known to sit in a buyer's ante-room for days waiting to be seen. When it came to selling steel railroad cars or a stable of thoroughbred racehorses, he was always able to close the deal.
|Larger-than-life millionaire businessman, gambler, |
and gourmand, Diamond Jim Brady.
In matters of the heart, it was a different matter altogether. His marriage proposals were repeatedly rebuffed by the two women in his life - New York stage actress Lillian Russell, and live-in companion Edna McCauley. After summering with McCauley at popular turn-of-the-century vacation spots such as Atlantic City, Belmar, and Long Branch, he decided he needed a New Jersey country retreat of his own. Since eating was one of his favorite and legendary hobbies, why not purchase a farm where he could grow crops and raise cows, pigs, and chickens?
|Edna McCauley, Diamond Jim's sometimes niece, |
sometimes daughter, constant companion.
Brady found the perfect location just north of the village of South Branch - a farm on the Raritan River called Ellesdale Manor, previously owned by New Jersey State Senator William Keys. The design firm of Collins Marsh was called in to decorate and furnish the home with the trendiest of rustic decor. After many months of consultation with Diamond Jim and Edna, designs were approved and remodeling began on the three-story second empire house. Walls were torn down to provide space for a ballroom, wine cellar, and most importantly a gaming room.
Attention was next paid to the farm. Brady purchased twenty-seven Guernsey cows - just enough to give the place the all-important pastoral look - as well as pigs, horses, chickens, dogs, and ten thousand squab pigeons.
|Actress Lillian Russell|
Money was no object when it came to outfitting the farm. Expensive fertilizers, the very best farm machinery, and enameled milking pails delighted Brady's farm manager. According to biographer Parker Morell, "every vegetable and every animal grown or raised on the place cost at least five times as much as its duplicate could have been obtained for in the open market." But that wasn't the point. Brady thought that the food he grew tasted better, and that's all that mattered.
|Financier Jesse Lewisohn|
In short order, friends from the New York business and theater worlds began to descend on the farm each weekend. Frequent visitors to Jim and Edna's were impresario Florence Ziegfeld, singer Anna Held, and of course Brady's good friend and second love interest Lillian Russell. Also from New York came merchant banker Jesse Lewisohn, a consort of Miss Russell's, and a close friend of Brady's.
Yes, things sometimes got complicated "down on the farm". Guests shared rooms, and people looked the other way. But there was no looking the other way when Diamond Jim returned from a business trip a few years later and was met by Edna and Lewisohn, who told him that in his absence they had fallen in love and were to be married! His common-law wife and his best friend! And for Lewisohn to betray Lillian Russell this way!
Perhaps the pain of how it all went downplayed a part in Diamond Jim's decision to sell the farm and return to New York - leaving Hillsborough with only one millionaire J.B., but with a lasting impression of the flashy man with the flashy farm.