This month, we travel to the far eastern corner of the Locust section of Middletown to visit Historic Portland Place, located at 200 Hartshorne Rd. This sprawling 15-acre property, now operated by the Monmouth County Park System, was the farmstead and then country home of one of the founding families of Middletown, the Hartshornes. The name is most easily recognized in the park named after them, Hartshorne Woods Park, and is pronounced “harts horn,” in case you wondered.
Richard Hartshorne (1641-1722) emigrated from England in 1669. Eight generations of descendants succeeded him. Richard was an English Quaker and a statesman who encouraged Quaker emigration to the young colony of East Jersey, calling it “a healthful, fertile and peaceful place.” He also became one of the county’s most prominent landholders. Portland Place is named after the Portland Tract. At one time, the tract was more than 2,400 acres of scenic waterfront property that began at the mouth of Sandy Hook and ran along the Navesink River. The land was divided among his descendants upon his death, and it was Richard’s son, William, who held the 200-acre farm that became known as Portland Place. Many family members sold their parcels over time; some even sold their property to the U.S. government for coastal defense – today’s Battery Lewis Historic Site – but the core remained in family ownership into the mid-1900s.
Some generations of Hartshornes were trade ships owners, farmers, art collectors and philanthropists. Some stayed and some moved on, like Benjamin Minturn Hartshorne (1826 – 1900), who made his fortune on the West Coast during the California Gold Rush. It was his fortune that helped sustain Portland Place’s transition from a working farm into country gentleman’s estate. This is the main house you will see along with gardens on the 15-acre property. The restored 19th century barn serves as the Visitor’s Center and houses exhibits about the Hartshorne family history and the area’s early settlements.
The elegance of the main home is literally full of history. In fact, the original 18th century cabin is now the dining room. That cabin is the core of the historic house and was added over the centuries, all while maintaining a modest farmhouse architectural style.
You will also be treated to sweeping views of the Navesink River and the beauty of the forested bluffs of the Navesink Highlands. The preserved century forests are the home of numerous sensitive wildlife species and stately tulip trees.
The family has preserved many artifacts, and the home features furnishings, household items and artwork from the eras. Some Hartshorne family members were known art collectors and commissioned artwork by several prominent American and British painters whose work you can see in the historic house.
In 2008, Daniel Ward Seitz, a Hartshorne descendant, bequeathed Portland Place to the Monmouth County Park System, ensuring its preservation for future generations and uniting historic Portland Place with more than 800 acres of preserved Hartshorne Woods Park lands.
As the park system embarked on its inaugural season, Gail Hunton, chief of Acquisition and Design for the Monmouth County Park System, commented, “We are grateful to Daniel Ward Seitz for bequeathing his family’s historic home. It has been our great honor to fulfill Dan’s wishes to restore Portland Place as a park system historic site to share the bigger story of this place in its magnificent setting.”
Portland Place is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Visiting season runs until Nov. 19, then Portland Place is set to reopen in 2024 during the first weekend of May.
Leashed dogs and responsible owners are allowed on the grounds but not in the buildings. The first floor is fully accessible, but the upstairs is available via stairs only. Please ask one of the historic site interpreters for a color guidebook of photos and descriptions of the second-story rooms.
The buildings are open Wednesday through Sunday 9 am to 4 pm, and docent-led tours are offered at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm, weather permitting; you can sign up at the Visitor’s Center on the day of the tour. This site, gardens and parking area are open seven days a week during daylight hours.
Tours are limited to 10 visitors at a time, and larger groups can be broken into two tours. To arrange a tour, email Dorothy Reilly, who Historic Havens sincerely thanks for her assistance with this article, at Dorothy.Reilly@co.monmouth.nj.us.
Reilly, historic site interpreter for the park system, shared, “An enthralled visitor recently commented that he never thought he’d have access to such a prestigious property, and his weekly visits are now the highlight of his summer. We encourage everyone to visit to enjoy this remarkable and local historic resource.”
There is limited on-site parking for Portland Place visitors, and Hartshorne Woods Park hikers are asked to park at Rocky Point, Claypit Creek or Buttermilk Valley access points.
Visit MonmouthCountyParks.com or call 732-842-4000 for updates and more information on Portland Place and the park system’s other county historic sites.