Artist’s rendition of the Gardens at Point Breeze and the Delaware River Overlook
From: Greenways, Winter 2020 edition
“Fit for a King” – Point Breeze of Bordentown
Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte’s Estate Preserved
Painting by Thomas Birch, 1779-1851
View of Point Breeze at Bordentown, NJ
The Country Estate of Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte
A majestic New Jersey landscape and Delaware River overlook – fit for a King – will be permanently preserved in the City of Bordentown by year-end. This revolutionary acquisition secures forever protection of the City’s last unprotected large landscape, on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Crosswicks Creek with the Delaware River. In the 1800s, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother and the former King of Spain and of Naples, lived on a palatial estate on the property, known as Point Breeze, for seventeen years. The former king owned the largest library in the United States, as well as an unparalleled collection of European art, and created one of the finest picturesque gardens in America. The property, sixty acres on Park Street, is at Bordentown City’s gateway. It has been under the ownership of Divine Word Missionaries since 1941.
This impactful preservation is a dynamic cooperative partnership among the City of Bordentown, D&R Greenway Land Trust and the State of New Jersey, all of whom are providing funding. The property’s sixty acres will remain as open space, with walking trails and outdoor and indoor recreation opportunities. Existing buildings will be repurposed for the City’s municipal use.
Announcing the preservation at a public meeting in October, the Mayor of Bordentown City James Lynch, said this is the most important action to take place in Bordentown: “This day is among the most important in the City’s history. On behalf of the residents of Bordentown City and our governing body, we are grateful to for our partners D&R Greenway and the State of New Jersey for making this vision a reality. Our future is bright and secure, and protected with our rich history.”
The Gardener’s House, the only remaining structure on the site from the time of Bonaparte, will be managed by D&R Greenway, with support for docent-led tours from the Bordentown Historical Society. The collective vision is to open the Gardener’s House, and restore the gardens, providing an educational opportunity to learn about the property’s history that goes back to Native Americans. Interpretive exhibits on Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte’s era through Divine Word’s stewardship of the land with benefit with artifacts from a private collection. The connection to the Delaware River, and the location as a gateway to the community of Bordentown, will bring people to this site of great national, even international, significance.
The State of New Jersey owns the land on the bluffs surrounding the newly preserved 60 acres of land. Working remotely during the pandemic, Terry Caruso and Fawn McGee of the NJ Green Acres Program spent countless hours with City and D&R Greenway staff to ensure this historic property would be permanently preserved.
Across Park Street from the Point Breeze land is the site of the former Ocean Spray plant, which will be converted into 296 loft-style apartments and mixed-use commercial space called Cranberry Park, with bicycle and walking access to the downtown.
Peter Tucci, a member of the Board of Trustees of both the Bordentown Historical Society and the D&R Greenway Land Trust, will exhibit his premier collection of Joseph Bonaparte artifacts to educate visitors and students of history. Tucci, who played an important role in facilitating this transaction, explains, “My collection includes furniture, gold and silver coins, letters, maps, books, and art having to do with Joseph and his brother Napoleon. I can’t think of a better place to exhibit these treasures than at the preserved Point Breeze, where all who are interested can learn what life was like in a small town for an exiled King.”
According to historian Patricia Tyson Stroud, the Bordentown years were the happiest of Joseph Bonaparte’s long life. Throughout the Point Breeze years, Joseph hosted politicians, diplomats, artists, famous authors and naturalists at his Point Breeze estate. Highly respected in many fields, “everyone from former President John Quincy Adams to the Marquis de Lafayette to Mexican revolutionaries visited Joseph Bonaparte and solicited his counsel.”
“Few people know that John James Audubon, the great bird illustrator who raised awareness about conservation through his drawings, created sketches of birds here as a young man,” says Linda Mead of D&R Greenway. “Audubon was friendly with Joseph Bonaparte’s nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a naturalist.” Charles Lucien would earn the title of “father of American descriptive ornithology,” due to species he discovered at Point Breeze and named in learned papers.
The homes of Joseph and Charles Lucien no longer stand. Tunnels do exist, leading from Crosswicks Creek up to the former dwelling area. These tunnels connect the property to the Delaware River, and the expansive Abbott Marshlands and the Abbott Farm National Historic Landmark.
Richard Veit, Ph.D., of Monmouth University, has conducted significant archeological excavations on the site. In the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Veit reveals that “Joseph Bonaparte’s Point Breeze estate was one of the finest country houses in the Delaware Valley. …Although only traces of the original Point Breeze mansions in Bordentown, New Jersey, remain, extensive archaeological deposits survive to reveal their grandeur during Bonaparte’s American sojourn (1815-1839).”
Divine Word Missionaries purchased the property in 1941, acting as its steward for almost 80 years. They have used the property for education and mission activities and as a retirement home for priests. Father Jefferson Pool oversees the Mission’s work and care of the property. As resident numbers declined, it became apparent that the land would have to be sold and the Mission moved off the site. Father Pool entered into exploratory discussions with D&R Greenway and partners, The State of New Jersey and The City of Bordentown, all of whom wanted to see this property preserved.
The site’s permanent preservation is a testament to the resident priests’ interactions with the community for many years and their care and love for this land, along with the commitment of the preservation partners to ensure this national treasure remain for the benefit of future generations.
Divine Word Missionaries – United States
In 1905 the Divine Word Missionaries began work in African American parishes in Mississippi and the first seminary for the training of African American men for the Roman Catholic priesthood was opened in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi shortly after. Divine Word Missionary priests have long worked in African American communities in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, in Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Numerous African Americans have joined the Society of the Divine Word as priests and brothers and have served as foreign missionaries throughout the world.
Many of the men who studied at Divine Word schools or have other connections to the Chicago Province have served the Catholic Church and the world in distinguished ways.
Making African-American history
In the early 1920s, the Society of the Divine Word established the first seminary for African American men who wished to become priests and brothers. Church hierarchy chose one of the school’s alumni, Father Harold Perry, as the first 20th century African-American bishop in the United States. He served as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans for 25 years.
An old culture revealed
In 1929, Rev. William Ross led an expedition into the Northeastern New Guinea central highlands, where they found half a million inhabitants who were living in a Stone Age culture.
Two events in particular marked Asian Catholic history in the 1940s. In 1946, Archbishop Thomas Tien—who later lived at Techny—became the Catholic Church’s first cardinal of Asian descent. In 1949, Divine Word Missionaries founded the University of Nanzan in Nagoya, Japan.
Stationed in Ghana in 1957, Rev. John Koster became the first scientist outside of Russia to track Sputnik I. He recorded three orbits of the satellite before the Russians even announced the launch. Father Koster’s work in physics also proved that the Earth’s upper atmosphere is most ionized over the Equator and not the poles as originally thought.
The world beyond the Pacific islands understood little about the region’s language until pioneers such as Rev. Francis Mark Mihalic undertook studies. In 1957, Father Mihalic published Grammar and dictionary of neo-Melanesian. He followed with Introduction to New Guinea Pidgin in 1969 and edited New Guinea’s only national newspaper printed in Pidgin.
Peace Corps connection
In 1971, the Peace Corps turned to the Divine Word Missionaries for help in preparing volunteers who were heading to the Solomon Islands. The missionaries gave them permission to reprint Anthopos, a journal of linguistics and ethnology, founded by Rev. Wilhelm Schmidt in 1906.
After the fall
The Society of the Divine Word was the first religious order in the United States to accept Vietnamese candidates after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
City Announces Its Purchase of Divine Word Property
Partners With Green Acres
By KRISTIN ANTONELLO, TAPintoBordentown
October 12, 2020 at 8:28 PM
Credits: City of Bordentown
BORDENTOWN CITY, NJ—The Bordentown City Commissioners unanimously approved a sales agreement to purchase the Divine Word Missionaries property on Park Street on Monday night, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program and the Delaware and Raritan Greenway Land Trust.
The property is being sold for $4.6 million dollars, with the City paying $1,655,000 for its portion of the land.
The City will be acquiring 5.44 acres of the property, including the existing main seminary, dormitory and gym buildings. The City will be repurposing those structures and moving the Municipal Building and Police Department to the buildings.
Mayor Jim Lynch said that the deal was “no easy lift,” as the sale of the property attracted intense interest from other parties, such as those wanting to build warehouses and over 1,000 high-density apartments on the property.
Calling the acquisition of the property a “great benefit to the City and its residents,” Mayor Lynch expressed his gratitude to Divine Word and Father Pool, who is overseeing the transition.
“Our relationship with Divine Word was more than just money, it was a partnership,” he said. “It would have been so easy to sell this property to the warehouse developer, and they chose to work with the state of New Jersey and the City of Bordentown and D & R Greenway.”
Daniel Kennedy, Chair of the City Planning and Zoning Board, said that had this sale had not taken place, the open space would have been converted into something else that would not be nearly as favorable to the City. Noting that the space will now be part of a large lot of continuously preserved land and trail region, he hopes that the property will become a draw for visitors to the City, and that the open space will lend itself to events and programming for not just the City, but also state and county activities.
Calling the Divine Word Missionaries land a “special, special piece of property,” Deputy Mayor John Brodowski noted the historical significance of the property, which has counted Joseph Bonaparte as a resident and has been the site of archaeological digs. He said that by preserving it, the City and entire region will be able to enjoy it in perpetuity.
Former Mayor Joe Malone called the sale “spectacular” and said that Monday night was “one of the most significant nights in the City’s history.”
“Towns this small just don’t usually get into this big time stuff… this is a prize second to none,” Malone said.
Mayor Lynch was thanked by members of the public, the D&R Greenway and the Commissioners for the role he played in securing the property, which will benefit current and future residents of the City.
“Thank you to the Mayor,” Commissioner Joe Myers said. “I truly appreciate your leadership during this process.”
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