Historic Vail Mansion Restored

By Candace Kelley

If you visit the Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey, you’ll be greeted by a 15,000 square foot opulent structure and a reflection pool. It’s filled with wrought iron, floor-to-ceiling windows and a sweeping staircase. This piece of history was a home built over a two year period from 1916 to 1918 by telecommunications giant Theodore Vail. 

“Visually, physically, historically a gem,” said the Morristown & Morris Township Library North Jersey History & Genealogy Center Assistant Archivist Cheryl Turkington.

Vail served as the president of AT&T and is credited to leading the company to be the greatest and longest-lasting communications monopoly in American history. Working with Alexander Graham Bell, he believed that the telephone was superior to the telegraph. He also managed the development of AT&T’s own laboratory- Bell Labs- recruiting the best and brightest from around the world. Eight Nobel Prizes have been awarded for work completed there. 

“He wanted to use it to be a showcase for the town, for local history and even maybe a museum,” said Turkington.

A museum to hold his vast collection of art and family inventions. A school in Morristown is named after his first cousin – Alfred Vail. He was instrumental in developing the first telegraph.

Theodore Vail, died shortly after the home was built and never had a chance to live in it. For years the space was used for municipal offices – the town jail was even housed here – and the lack of maintenance on the space began to show.  Now, this piece of history has been restored. 

Chris Cannon is a partner at the Jockey Holley Bar and Restaurant that sits inside the mansion. He spent much of his career as a principal at Italian restaurants in New York City, but says the history of the New Jersey mansion spoke to him the first time he walked through the brass front doors.

“The challenge of taking it and turning it into something to make people happy and have fun was a huge challenge and I couldn’t pass it up,” said Cannon.

He says that the commissioned artwork keeps true to Vail’s original plan to house art collections. But there were some limitations to upgrading this historical landmark.

“Everything has to be removable, the bars are all not bolted down to the floor, the pieces of furniture, you can pick them up and take them out,” said Cannon.

Part of the mansion will house luxury condos and they are already sold out. The purpose of this mansion may be different than what Vail had planned- but it still stands as a viable symbol of the New Jersey giant who led AT&T- a company that ruled the American telephone industry for nearly seven decades.