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The Romance and Tragedy of a Widely Known Business Man

William Ingraham Russell's 1905 book, with a bit of vitriol and gossip about his very thinly disguised former Short Hills friends/neighbors, was probably a best seller in the community.

William Ingraham Russell was likely the wealthiest man in Short Hills when he lived there from 1879 to 1893. Although his autobiographical book, The Romance and Tragedy of a Widely Known Business Man, never reveals his occupation, it suggests he was a commodities broker. His career success and his growing family brought him to the community he called Knollwood, which he saw growing from the ground up as he passed by on the train every day.

The Russells moved first into a modest house that still stands at the intersection of Wells Lane and Knollwood, and of which he wrote:

"Of course we must have a name for the place. Every one does that, in the country, and we were not to be the exception. One of our boundary lines was a brook and we decided on Brookside Cottage.

The stationery and visiting cards were so engraved, when, alas, a few weeks later our brook dried up and we had to select another name.

At this time, where the brook had been, a new line of sewer was laid, and my wife suggested Sewerside, but after punishing her with a kiss for her bad pun, I suggested Sunnyside.

The name was adopted and to this day the place has retained it.

Sunnyside was not the only house in Knollwood completed that spring. There were several others, and when the summer commenced there resided there a little community of delightful, congenial people. Most of them were of about my age, and with the exception of the owner of the Park, of moderate means. Probably at that time I enjoyed a larger income than any of them.

Wealth cut no figure in that community. We all respected each other and met on the same social plane, regardless of individual means. While we liked them all, we became particularly intimate with two of our immediate neighbors, the Woods and the Lawtons, who had come to the Park at the same time as ourselves.

This intimacy became a strong and close friendship, so much so that it was very like one family. The children of the three families fraternized and almost every disengaged evening found the parents gathered together in some one of the three houses, which were connected by private telephone.

In its social elements Knollwood was peculiarly fortunate. The people were bright and entertaining."

The Russells quickly became involved in the social life in the Park, and became close friends with many of their new neighbors. Their immediate family continued to grow, too, and they decided to move to a larger house. The author wrote: 

"Within a stone's throw of Sunnyside was a plot of land, a little less than two acres in extent that we had always admired. I bought the land for five thousand dollars and the architect commenced at once on the plans.

We thought that the new house was to be our home for the rest of our days and naturally the greatest interest was taken in every detail. The first plans submitted were satisfactory, after a few minor changes, and ground was broken on July 2d, 1881. How we watched the progress.

From the time the first shovelful of earth was taken out for the excavations until the last work was finished, not a day passed that we did not go over it all.

Redstone, taking its name from the red sandstone of which it was built, was, and is to-day, a fine example of the architecture then so much in vogue for country houses.

The Matthews House on Riverside Drive, New York City, so much admired, was designed by the same architect and modelled after it.

Standing on a hill its three massive outside chimneys support a roof of graceful outlines and generous proportions. From the three second-story balconies one gets views near and distant of a beautiful country. The fourteen-feet wide piazza on the first floor, extending across the front and around the tower, with its stone porte cochere and entrance arch is most inviting. With grounds tastefully laid out, driveways with their white-stone paved gutters, cut-stone steps to the terraces, great trees, and handsome shrubs the place
was a delight to the eye, and at the time, of which I write there was nothing to compare with it in that section.

Through a massive doorway one enters a hall of baronial character, thirty-three feet long, eighteen feet wide, and twenty-one feet high, finished in oak with open beam ceiling and above the high wainscot a rough wall in Pompeian red.

Two features of the hall are the great stone fireplace with its old-fashioned crane and huge wrought iron andirons and the stained glass window on the staircase, a life-sized figure of a Knight of Old.

This hall was illustrated in Appleton's work on Artistic Interiors.

On the right is the spacious drawing-room in San Domingo mahogany and rich decorations in old rose and gold, and back of it the large library in black walnut with its beautifully carved mantel and numerous low book-cases. Then came the dining-room in oak and Japanese leather and a fountain in which the gold fish sported--but enough of description. This was our home and when we had completed the appointments they were tasteful and in keeping.

We moved in on April 28th, 1882. Here then we were settled for life, so we said. If a new painting was hung or a piece of marble set up we had the thought it was there to remain.

We loved the house and everything in it. We loved the friends we had made. Our life was all that we would have it--peaceful, happy, contented."

[Note: See attached photos of Redstone]

After a few years, however, small tears began to appear in the fabric of the Russells idyllic life in Knollwood/the Park:


"When we moved to Redstone we had been residents of Knollwood three years, long enough to become thoroughly acquainted with the characteristics of each individual in our social circle. 

While with all our relations were cordial, it is essential in this narrative to refer only to the three families with which we formed a close friendship. These were the Woods, Lawtons, and the new owners of Sunnyside, the Slaters.

Frank Slater was a partner of Mr. Wood. Without exception he was the most attractive man I have ever met. Possessing in a high degree every attribute of a true gentleman, he had withal a genial, winning way that was peculiarly his own and made every one who knew him his friend. We were drawn to each other at once and soon became most intimate. His wife, a woman charming in every way, became my wife's intimate friend.

Charlie Wood was rather a queer combination. That we were fond of him and he of us there is no doubt, but he was a man of moods. Intellectual, a good talker, and an unusually fine vocalist, his society as a rule was very enjoyable, but there were times when in a certain mood he was neither a pleasant nor cheerful companion.

Perhaps a remark which he made to me one day at Sunnyside will show better than anything I can write the true inwardness of the man.

We were discussing some business affair of his, over which he was feeling blue. I was trying to cheer him up, when he said, 'I tell you, Walter, I could be perfectly contented and happy, no matter how little money I had, if everybody around me had just a little less.' 

...George Lawton was always in need of money. His expenditures exceeded his earnings year after year and he borrowed to make up the deficiency. Wood was as well able as I to loan him the money and as a closer and an older friend should have been the one to do it.

On the train one day, when sitting together he said to me, 'Walter, how much does George owe you'? To which I replied, 'Oh, a small matter.' It was at that time nearly six hundred dollars. 'Well,' he said, 'I am glad you can help him out, but he don't get into me more than two hundred dollars; that's the limit, for I doubt if he ever pays it back.' "

Russell became a benefactor to a number of his friends and neighbors in the Park, particularly as the economic depression that became known as the Panic of 1893, tightened the noose around the estates of those friends. When Russell saw that as things worsened his fair-weather debtors were ignoring him and their indebtedness to him, the family severed their ties with the community and moved to New York. A few years later Russell penned the tale of his little community in Hartshorn's Park, about which he wrote: "No spirit of malice has animated the writer. Although his wounds have been deep he knows now no feeling save sorrow and regret that they should have been inflicted by his "friends."

Redstone eventually became a boarding house and/or inn in the 1920s and in February 1934 a fire completely destroyed the stately home. For more information about the Russells and their "friends," transcriptions of the entire book can be found online at:

http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Romance-and-Tragedy1.html

(scroll down the page for the text and return to the top, to click on the "Next part" to continue reading)

or at:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6163

(then click on "read this ebook online")

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