The fire that ripped through the historic estate on Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury on Monday, destroying what villagers a century ago called “The Castle,” was not the first blaze to cause damage to the property.
One hundred years ago a large barn on what was then known as "Thornbrooke" was destroyed by fire, which consumed two automobiles, 50 tons of hay and "a lot of garden tools,” according to archives stored at the borough’s Historical Society.
An account of the September 11, 1913 blaze, found written in long hand on a few sheets of loose leaf paper in the historical society's files, detailed how servants discovered the fire and phoned a man who lived next door to the firehouse to ring the alarm.
In the interim, a Red Bank Register reporter, who happened to be in the area, stood atop the roof of the burning building and soaked it with water from a garden hose attached to the neighbor's kitchen sink until help arrived.
Sadly, the Shrewsbury Fire Department, joined by fire companies from four surrounding towns, was unable to stop the four-alarm blaze on Feb. 4 from destroying the bright yellow home at 469 Sycamore Ave. that served as a summer cottage for Manhattanites in the late nineteenth century.
Shrewsbury Mayor Don Burden, who also serves as president of the historical society, dug up a couple of photos of the house in its heyday showcasing the 16-room home and its extensive property.
The estate was owned in 1903 by Louis Casimir de Coppet, a Wall Streeter with a seat on the stock exchange, according to borough records. He lived with his family in Manhattan on East End Avenue during the winter months and spent summers at the estate named Thornbrooke and entertained extensively, including hosting famous pianists Ignace Jan Paderewski and Ernest Schelling.
Burden explained that the back of the house actually faced Sycamore Avenue and the front looked out onto the property’s formal gardens, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, apple orchards and cherry bushes, which required the effort of five men to maintain. Most of that land is now a part of the Thornbrooke community off of Broad Street.
The interior of the home 110 years ago boasted high ceilings, five fireplaces and inlaid parquet floors, according to records.
According to Monmouth County property tax records, the 7,042 square foot house is owned by Jeffrey and Joan Rich. In 2012, it was assessed for $1,057,000.
Burden said that Rich sent an email to neighbors Tuesday to let them know he and his family escaped the fire unscathed, as did their pets. In lieu of contributions for the family, Rich suggested those looking to help to donate to the Shrewsbury Fire Department, said Burden.