27 September 2019

William Bradley's Ardmaer Farms

In February of 1903, as tobacco tycoon James B. Duke was gearing up for the construction projects that would transform his Hillsborough, NJ estate into the wonderland known as Duke's Park, older brother Benjamin thought he might like to have his own estate on the Raritan River. He purchased two farms on the other side of the river in Bridgewater Township west of the town of Raritan totaling several hundred acres. Over the next few years, he added to his holdings by purchasing an additional eight farms further west.

13 February 1903 Home News

While the Duke brothers were accumulating real estate in New Jersey, fifty-two-year-old contractor William Bradley was digging things up in New York - literally. For years the Bradley Contracting Company held the lucrative city snow removal contract. Favored by Tammany Hall, Bradley employed an army of up to 5,000 men armed with shovels during the winter months. Undoubtedly many of those same men helped Bradley fulfill the tunnel digging contracts he was awarded during the initial construction and expansion of the subway lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

26 February 1903 New York Times

Like many middle-aged millionaires of the early twentieth century (and even today) Bradley spent freely on his hobbies - the biggest being racehorses. In 1907 he also purchased a large tract - 360 acres - west of Raritan and set out to build a world-class breeding operation for trotters and pacers. When Benjamin Duke finally decided not to build on his acreage Bradley was able to acquire that also. By 1910, with the purchase of the large Long and Garretson tracts, Bradley had an estate - Ardmaer Farms - as large as J.B. Duke's Duke Farms! 

Relative Sizes of Duke and Bradley Estates.

He spent considerable sums bringing the finest studs and broodmares to the farm in those early years. Much like his neighbor across the river, Bradley was continually building - enormous barns, stables, roads, and a one-mile track. The mysterious death of two of his best horses early on did not deter Bradley - he just bought more. He even purchased an enormous Tally Ho Coach and Four to drive guests from the Raritan Station out to his farm and had one of the first privately-owned automobile fire engines in the vicinity.

A Tally Ho Coach and Four circa 1908

In 1915 European nations ravaged by war sent to the United States for horses. Hundreds of thousands of horses from America's heartland were shipped across the Atlantic to France and Italy. With its fine and commodious facilities, Ardmaer Farms became a way station for thousands of horses bound for the battlefield. They arrived by train 300, 500, even 800 at a time. Once at the farm horses were inspected for fitness and given the nourishment needed for the arduous ocean crossing.

30 March 1911 Home News

When Bradley died in 1924 it was reported that the self-made millionaire who started with a pair of horses and a wagon as a teenager in the 1870s had - through some bad business dealings and failure to collect the money owed on some large contracts  - allowed his net worth to fall to less than $500.

26 February 1930 Home News

After the sale of Ardmaer farms to settle the estate - an auction that brought in $125,000 - the Bradley property continued to operate as a farm for the rest of the decade. In 1930 new owners sold all of the livestock and equipment and within a year streets were laid out for the residential development known as Bradley Gardens.

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