The Horton Mansion
Former Don Bosco Campus, now Sussex County Community College

The Horton Estate (also known as the Don Bosco Campus) has great historical significance as the dwelling site of Newton’s first known settler. The frame tavern house of Henry Harelocker stood on that portion of the Pettit farm purchased by John A. Horton in 1855. Major John R. Pettit resided in this dwelling prior to construction of his Italianate brick residence (127 Mill Street) on the opposite side of the Halsey road in 1854-55. The old Harelocker- Pettit dwelling house was razed in January 1944. It occupied a site on the north side of Mill street (Halsey road) near to where the present tenant house on the Don Bosco Campus now stands. According to tradition, Henry Harelocker was buried near the gate house of the Horton Mansion when he died in 1779.

A native of Vernon township, John Horton was born in 1807. He came to Newton as an apprentice to Samuel Rorbach in the saddle and harness trade when he was only thirteen years old. In May 1832, he became owner of his mentor’s shop. On May 12, 1833, Reverend Clarkson Dunn of Newton married John A. Horton to Sarah Pemberton Brittin, a daughter of Pemberton Brittin by his second wife, Elizabeth Rorbach. At least one son, Pemberton Brittin Horton, resulted from this union. John Horton died at the residence of his father-in-law, William Johnson, at Newark in 1858, thus proving a second marriage at some unknown date.

John Horton settled his business accounts on April 1, 1835, and departed Newton. He worked for a time in the saddlery trade at Newark in the company of Smith & Wright, then entered the firm of Dodd, Bassett & Company. On April 4, 1835, Samuel Rorbach and Horatio N. Peters formed a partnership in the harness and saddlery at the Newton shop vacated by John Horton.

In 1834, Thomas Gordon described Newark as “perhaps, the most flourishing town of the state.” He considered the town “remarkable for its manufactures, with which it supplies the market throughout the United States. The principal of these are saddlery and harness, carriages, shoes and hats. Sixteen extensive manufactories of saddlery and harness employ 272 hands, and a capital of $217,300, yielding an annual product of $346,280, and paying wages $70,000 annually. These are independent of the coach makers who make their own saddlery and harness.” Thirteen tanneries in the city employed 103 hands. By 1840, Newark manufactures of leather had capital of $285,951. The population of Newark rose from 10,950 in 1830 to 17,290 in 1840.

John Horton later made his way to New Orleans where he conducted business under his own name for several years. Returning to Newark, he formed a partnership with Horatio N. Peters and afterwards, with Stephen H. Condict. The firm of Condict & Horton continued until 1857 when John Horton formed an association with his brother-in-law in California under the style of J. C. Johnson & Company. At the time of his death in 1858, John A. Horton was described as “one of the leading manufacturers” of Newark, a city then renowned for its extensive leather-working industries.

After twenty years absence from his native county, John Horton paid $15,758 (about $100 per acre) for part of John R. Pettit’s farm on the outskirts of Newton, on November 21, 1855. He also bought two contiguous tracts of land from Nathaniel Pettit on March 25, 1858, and began to expend his wealth on a beautiful retreat on an eminence north of the village, overlooking the Halsey road. His country seat was described as one of the “chief ornaments of the neighborhood.” The newspapers reported that burglars entered John A. Horton’s residence in Newark on August 30, 1856, while he and his family were absent in Newton. Henry Adams, who slept there, narrowly escaped being killed but seriously wounded one of the thieves.

John Horton’s country estate in Newton was not merely an ornamental retreat, but a productive farm. On May 27, 1857, John Horton held a sale of Devon livestock at Newton. A Devon cow, though fed only on sweet hay and clover, reportedly produced as much as 685 pounds of milk in two weeks, with sufficient cream to churn about 30 pounds of butter. On August 28, 1857, John Horton advertised five varieties of strawberry plants for sale (only one of these varieties, Hovey’s Seedling, was still being used by gardeners in 1897). John Horton advertised on December 10, 1857, for 1,500 cedar posts, seven feet in length and 4-inches square at the small end. He also offered to sell turnips, carrots and celery. On March 5, 1858, Horton offered to sell potato oats at $1 per bushel and all varieties of plants from his hothouse.

Horton employed a Newark contractor named Mills to move a new two-story frame house on his farm from its original location. On March 29, 1858, the house still had 500 yards to go before reaching its destination. Traveling downhill, however, it acquired undue momentum and in spite of every effort to arrest its sudden progress, the building was wrecked when it slid off its ways. The loss was estimated at $3,000.

The date of the Horton Mansion’s construction can be accurately stated as a consequence of a fatal injury to an Irish laborer employed in the work. Dominick Tiflin, a native of Ireland, aged about 50 years, was “instantly killed while at work on the large stone mansion house now in process of erection upon the farm of J. A. Horton, Esq., in Newton” on September 4, 1858. According to published report, he was engaged with a fellow laborer “in conveying upon a handbarrow a heavy section of dressed stone from the ground to the scaffolding, a height of some ten feet. Dominick was in front of the barrow, and had ascended the plank, until he was about 6 or 7 feet from the ground, when the handle of the barrow broke, and he lost his balance and fell heavily upon the ground. The stone, which was about five feet in length, slid off the barrow at the same time, striking the ground endwise, and surging over, the edge of it struck the prostrated man on the lateral part of his head, causing so violent a concussion on the brain, that the blood gushed from both ears, and after a few gasps, he expired.” The newspaper reported that: “He was a native of Ireland, of industrious habits, and had accumulated enough money to preserve his widow and children from a condition of dependence.”

The Horton Mansion exemplifies the development of the Picturesque movement in American suburban architecture before the Civil War. While its architect remains anonymous, the ornamentation, setting and interior arrangements of this stone mansion conform with Alexander Jackson Downing’s recommendations for a suburban cottage in the Pointed Style, with the first floor devoted to social apartments, the kitchen being below stairs and the bedrooms located in the upper stories. Stone construction was considered the only appropriate medium for Gothic architecture.

Downing considered windows and chimney tops to be “the two most essential and characteristic features of dwelling houses, as contrasted with buildings for any other purposes; and to which, as such, decoration should always be first applied rather than to any less essential or superadded features...” On the Horton Mansion, the Pointed Arch is used in all principal openings, except the central bay of the facade. Other characteristic features of Rural Gothic architecture include: ornamental, clustered chimney pots; a tracery window centered in the facade; decorative window heads; mullions; and label hood molds or dripstones of cut freestone. The Horton Mansion’s absence of exterior shutters is also notable, since these were considered inappropriate to Gothic style. Its situation and surroundings conform in all aspects to the principles of the Picturesque movement; it was sited beside Horton Lake on a bluff overlooking the Kittatinny Valley for scenic vantage, set amidst “naturalized” landscaping on a model working farm.

The George M. Hopkins’ Map of Sussex County, published in 1860, shows four houses on the estate of John Horton. One is clearly the gatehouse at the entrance road to Horton Lake and another, the stone mansion. A third farmhouse stood on the north side of Mill Street, southwest of the Pettit mansion (127 Mill Street). A fourth dwelling stood at the intersection of the Halsey road (Mill Street) and Plotts road.

First Mortgage Bondholders of the Sussex Railroad met at the Cochran House in Newton on December 17, 1857, and proposed a change in the management and ownership of the railroad, whereby it would come under local control and be operated and improved as a valuable adjunct to the town and county. Peter Cooper and Abram Hewitt, owners of the Andover Iron Mine and controlling stockholders of the Sussex Railroad, sold their interest to Thomas N. McCarter, John McCarter, John Townsend, Edward C. Moore, Dr. John R. Stuart and other local persons of prominence for $82,000, of which $32,000 was raised in new stock to pay arrears of interest on the first mortgage bonds and part of a floating debt of $50,000. On January 12, 1858, stockholders of the Sussex Railroad met at the Newton Depot to elect nine directors in place of the incumbent Board of Directors whose resignations became effective on that date. David Ryerson, John Rutherfurd, John A. Horton, Martin Ryerson, Edward C. Moore, Thomas Hewitt, Aaron Peck, Thomas N. McCarter and John Linn were chosen directors. The new board met at the Cochran House on January 16, 1858. New stock was exchanged and bonds transferred. Advertisements list David Thompson as treasurer and George H. Nelden as secretary. One of first actions of the re-organized company was to announce that two daily milk trains would run on the Sussex Railroad, beginning about April 1, 1858, in connection with the schedule of the Morris & Essex Railroad. At the annual election for directors, held at Newton on May 5, 1858, John A. Horton, Aaron Peck, John Rutherfurd, John Linn, Thomas N. McCarter, Edward C. Moore, Thomas Hewitt, Samuel T. Smith and David Ryerson were chosen. The Board of Directors then elected John A. Horton, President, and George H. Nelden, Secretary.

After complaining of ill health during the winter of 1857-58, John Horton and family spent the following summer at his country retreat in Newton. In the first week of November, his physicians decided that the weather there was too cold for him and he was removed to Newark. His health failed rapidly. He died

November 15, 1858, from consumption of the bowels, aged 51 years, at the residence of his father- in-law, William Johnson, on the corner of South Essex and Warren streets.

Plans called for attractive grounds and shrubbery to surround the stone mansion of John Horton, but these intentions remained unfulfilled at the time of his death. It was said that: “The wealth he had acquired, he was liberally disbursing to improve and beautify the retreat at Newton, wherein he proposed to end

his days, when the heavy hand of disease was laid upon him, and he sank, after a few months of suffering, to his last repose, trusting hopefully in the mercy

of that God to whose will he reverently bowed.”

In the 1890s, Franklin Losee leased Horton Lake as an ice pond and it became a popular winter spot for ice skating. In summer months, Losee permitted Newton children to swim and fish in the lake.

On April 1, 1921, Edward H. Horton and his wife Jessie sold the Horton Farm to James P. Donnelly. On the same date, April 1, 1921, James P. Donnelly and his wife Margaret sold the Horton Farm to Otto Galante, John Galante, Thomas Galante and Gerard Cauco. John Galante conveyed his quarter interest on March 31, 1923, to Otto Galante and Gerard Cauco. On September 12, 1928, Otto Galante and his wife Elda, Thomas Galante, Gerard Cauco and his wife Maria, of the Town of Newton, sold three tracts comprising the Horton Farm, reputed to contain 179 acres, to the Missionary Society of the Salesian Congregation.

The Horton Estate encompassed about 180 acres, running from Mill Street and lying northeast of Mazuy Mills.
When the Salesian Fathers and Brothers came there, the Horton Mansion was renamed St. Joseph’s House of Studies. Its sixteen large rooms where altered to meet the requirements of class rooms, dormitories, recreation rooms, and study hall to accommodate about fifty novices. Partitions were torn down, new ones put up, plumbing installed, and a host of other improvements made. About 25 Salesians, including novices and aspirants, arrived on the grounds to open their House of Studies on November 14, 1928. The property was described in December 1928 as an “extensive tract of ground, with its wooded section, its well cultivated farm and gardens and open spaces adapted to recreational purposes for young men, skirted by a beautiful lake. It contains three buildings, one a commodious stone structure, known as the Horton Mansion.”

The Salesians built a new and more commodious House of Studies beside the Horton Mansion in 1930-31, to provide dormitories, library, class rooms and laboratories for training Salesian teachers and priests.

The foundation was laid in 1930 and an imposing three-story, red-brick building was raised at a cost of $250,000. It consisted of three main sections: the center, the east wing or gymnasium, and the west wing or chapel. At the main entrance, there was a private office on the left and right, a spacious waiting room, thirty-two feet in length, and an approach to a flight of stairs leading to the second and third floors. From the center of the waiting room there were two corridors, each 69 feet in length. There were three rooms along the west corridor at the front of the building: a private parlor and two classrooms. Another classroom and a large refectory or dining-room were located on the other side of this corridor. Two large rooms, sixty-nine feet in length, flanked the east corridor, serving as a boys’ study hall and a refectory. A large, airy kitchen, equipped with electrical appliances, was located directly behind the waiting room.

The plan on the second floor was similar to the first. Six classrooms lined the west corridor, while the clerics’ dormitory, accommodating twenty persons, was located along one side of the east corridor, at the back of the building. Five private bedrooms were located on the opposite side. A chemical laboratory was situated in the center of the second floor, directly over the kitchen. Three rooms, one used as an office and two as bedrooms, were located in the center and front of the second floor, directly above the offices and waiting room. Two large dormitories, each sixty-nine feet long and fifty feet wide, capable of accommodating sixty to seventy-five boys, flanked the third floor landing. A large library in the front and an infirmary in the rear occupied the center of the third floor. Six private rooms, two in front and two in the rear, and one on each side, were located above the third floor.

The building also had a narrow basketball court, 28 x 42 feet. The gym was about fifty feet high, scientifically ventilated and heated, and electrically illuminated. The chapel in the west wing matched the dimensions of the gymnasium at the opposite end of the building. Besides the main altar there were two smaller ones, all of Carrara and Sienna marble. Stained-glass windows flanked the main entrance; another three were spaced along the west wall. Three paintings, depicting the Inspiration, the Work, and the Death of Don Bosco (in January 1888), decorated the chapel ceiling.

The Salesian Seminary received boys who desired to become priests and educators according to the Rule of the Salesian Congregation. The school provided high school courses and a one-year Novitiate, and three-year trial vows for those considering a religious profession. After two-years of this advanced training, the young Salesian left Newton to teach at one of the Salesian boarding schools in Ramsey, Goshen, or New Rochelle .

His Excellency Most Reverend Peter Fumasoni Blondi, D. D., Apostolic Delegate to the United States, officially dedicated the new Don Bosco Seminary on June 14-15, 1931. Many monsignors and priests were present to perform and assist at the inauguration ceremonies on the old Horton estate.

On June 22, 1984, the Salesian Society, Inc., parent corporation of Don Bosco College and the Salesian Society of New Jersey, Inc., conveyed the Don Bosco Campus to the County of Sussex for $4,209,800. Sussex County Community College is now located on the former Don Bosco Campus, College Hill, Newton, New Jersey.

Copyright 2000 Kevin W. Wright. All rights reserved.