top of page

Brighton & Westminster 1792 -1904

Nearing the dawn of the 19th century, the ruined Proprietary House would find a new lease on life. Despite being gutted by fire in the mid-1780s, it was still cheaper to repair than to construct a new building. So, in the February 29, 1792, issue of the New Jersey Journal and Political Intelligencer, there appeared an advertisement "to be sold...eleven acres of land...the property of the proprietors of East New Jersey...the remains of the house lately burned, will be sufficient for a new building."

The property was acquired by John Rattoone in 1794. Rattoone was a local businessman who, evidence suggests, had been a British agent during the war, but was successful in keeping it a secret from his neighbors. An investor in real estate, he repaired the fire damage and lived in the house until it was sold in 1808 to Richard M. Woodhull, a New York developer. Woodhull raised the roof and added a floor, along with a four-story wing.

In 1809, Woodhull announced the building would be opened as Brighton House, a luxury hotel overlooking Raritan Bay under the management of  B. L. Tomlinson. Woodcuts from newspaper ads show wings on both sides, though only the left one had been built. It is possible the second wing was planned for the future. The Brighton House was described as elegant, surrounded by treed lawns for strolling, stables for 60 horses, an ice house supplying 150 tons of ice, and easy access by road and steamboat.

Brighton House's success was short-lived, however. Economic downturns accompanying the War of 1812 depressed business and by 1817, the property was sold. It was purchased in 1817 by Matthias Bruen for $14,500. Bruen was said to be one of the wealthiest merchants in America at the time. He turned it into his family estate, entertaining the likes of multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor and 10th U.S. President John Tyler. Bruen lived in Brighton House until his death in 1846, making him the mansion's longest resident.

After Bruen's death, his heirs resurrected the Brighton House resort hotel, attracting wealthy guests, including military officers and their families during the Civil War. Eventually the economic downturn of the early 1880s forced it to close and in 1883 the Bruen family conveyed the property to the Presbyterian Board of Relief for Disabled Ministers and the Wives and Orphans of Deceased Ministers. They called it the Westminster for the next 20 years, before returning it to the Bruens. In 1904, the building and its grounds were purchased by a patriotic immigrant from Denmark, J.P. Holm, who hoped to facilitate the mansion's preservation as a historic site.  Lack of adequate funding, however, dashed these hopes and by 1911 the land was subdivided and the once great lawn cut through by Kearny Avenue. Next followed a series of owners who operated the building as the Westminster Hotel. The mid-20th century saw the building’s decline into a run-down boarding house, with rumors of prostitution. Fortunately, however, local residents remembered its place in history and came to its rescue.

bottom of page