The History of Drumthwacket

By Lauren Wanko

Nestled in Mercer County is New Jersey’s White House — Drumthwacket, the governor’s official residence.

“Drumthwacket is absolutely the people’s home,” said Drumthwacket Foundation Executive Director Robyn Brenner.

But it didn’t start out that way. This story begins in the 1680s. William Penn, the Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania owned the land. He sold parcels of it to prominent Quaker families, including the Oldens. Flash forward to 1799. Charles Smith Olden was born in a small farmhouse on the property. He moved to New Orleans and became a successful business man. He coupled his earnings with his inheritance to buy the property in New Jersey. In 1835, construction began on Drumthwacket. Olden became governor in 1860, becoming the first governor to live at Drumthewacket.

When asked where he came up with the name Drumthwacket, Brenner said, “We believe, and we’re not sure of this but we theorize, that the name Drumthwacket came from a very popular novel at the time. And within that book the name Drumthwacket appears. It means either to beat the drum or wooden hill and it just stuck with the property.”

Since Gov. Olden spent a lot of time in New Orleans, he was influenced by Southern architecture, which is incorporated here, but the house wasn’t always this large. Gov. Olden build the foyer, parlor and dining room. The next owner built the other additions.

After Olden’s wife passed away, Moses Taylor Pyne purchased the home for about $15,000.

“Moses Taylor Payne architect kept the main core and then added on the east and west wings, which included the modern kitchen and library, music room and governor’s study and the music room,” said Brenner.

Pyne’s granddaughter eventually sold the home in 1941, along with 12 surrounding acres, to inventor Abram Nathaniel Spanel.

“Early on, a lot of his engineers would do their experiments in what is now known as the music room,” Brenner said.

In 1966, the Spanels sold Drumthwacket to the state of New Jersey to be used as the official residence of the governor. It took about 15 years to renovate and repair the 18,000-square-foot estate. The Drumwacket Foundation — a non-partisan non-profit — was formed. Gov. McGreevey has been the only governor, in the past two centuries at least, to live here full-time. Gov. Christie uses the residence for official meetings and entertaining. In 2010, First Lady Mary Pat and the Drumthwacket Foundation spearheaded additional renovation work. Even though the Christie’s are framed on the coffee table, the Drumthwacket’s Foundation insists this home belongs to the residents of New Jersey.

“Which is why Mrs. Christie wants to restore it for the people, that we ensure that it is always here in historical preserved accurately for everyone to enjoy,” she said.