intersection of Central/Main Avenue and Railroad Avenue, Stirling, Morris County, NJ


NJ turnpike to US 78 west; exit 40 for Gillette; turn right at the ramp for Route 531 west; passes over a bridge into Morris County where the road is named Mountain Avenue; left turn on Valley Road (Route 512); in Stirling, right turn onto Main Avenue/Central Avenue. At the intersection of Central Avenue and Railroad Avenue, just after passing over the rail lines, is a triangular piece of land with the remains of a fountain in the center. Park where you can.

History (town historian Mary Lou Weller and Dr. Patrick L. Cooney):

In 1866 the southern part of Morris Township was split off to become the quiet farming community of Passaic Township (now Long Hill Township). But the township was not to remain quiet for long. Around 1868 The Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York announced that it was going to invest large amounts of money into Morris County. The expectation of huge coal shipments from Pennsylvania to New York City attracted many an eager investor.

As part of the new period of growth, the Passaic Valley and Pepack Railroad (allowing the extension of rail service from Summit to Pepack) was planned to go right through the lands of Passaic Township farmer Joseph Blake. The investor in the project was none other than Frederick S. Winston , president and a trustee of the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, who in 1869 purchased a 500-acre tract assembled by farmer Blake. In 1868 Winston bought the land and cabin that were on the Torrey plot of land.

In 1870 the Passaic Valley and Pepack Railroad changed its name to the New Jersey West Line (extending to the Delaware River). With the new railroad came three new railway stations, one in the established town of Millington, and two in the future towns of Gillette and Stirling.

The town of Stirling in Long Hill Township was a planned community with its streets laid out in rectangular blocks on open farmland. The name Stirling came in honor of the Revolutionary general William Alexander, known as Lord Stirling. Insurance Executive Winston hired farmer Blake to build the railway depot. He then had a building constructed near the new depot and also hired a builder to put up eight houses in the new town. He then made an agreement with minister Henry Grant to form a new Presbyterian congregation in the town, with Winston providing the land. (Mary Prendergast)

In 1872 regularly scheduled trains started to run through the town of Stirling, but the construction of the new town buildings proceeded so slowly that Winston turned to Herbert Gray Torrey (1838-1915) to finish the structures. Herbert Gray Torrey was the son of the famous botanist John Torrey. Herbert Gray Torrey had been his father's assistant at the U.S. Assay Office down on Wall Street, Manhattan. He was also the godson of the famous botanist, Asa Gray of Harvard University, former assistant to John Torrey and friend of the family. Asa Gray had even lived awhile with the Torrey family. Poor Herbert Gray had a curvature of the spine that was later corrected through surgery. In a letter home from Europe, Asa Gray mentioned Herbert Gray Torrey: "I am trying to imagine how Herbert looks now. He has probably changed very much since I parted from him. I have a very especial love for that little fellow. " (Letters of Asa Gray, February 23, 1839, p. 141)

In 1868 Herbert married Marie Louise Snow. The following year their first son was born, John Gray Torrey (1869-1898). In 1878 his second child, Ralph Guyot Torrey, was born. The latter died as early as 1893 at the age of 15. About three years later, in 1896 John Gray married Lora M. Spaun.

Winston is probably the one who had the mansion built around the old intact log cabin. The date of the construction of the building in was around 1868. There was on an 1845 map of the area a structure on the land and so the log cabin may date sometime before that date. In April of 1873 Herbert Gray Torrey had the grave of his father, the famous botanist John Torrey, transferred from Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to the Presbyterian section of the Stirling town cemetery. John Torrey is buried at the cemetery at the end of Elm Street on the left side (the Presbyterian side). According to Larry Fast, it is thought that Winston allowed Herbert Gray to live in the house on the land which Torrey later bought in 1880. Mary Lou Weller talked with Renee, the historian of the Presbyterian Church in Stirling. She remarked that Joseph Blake had a lot to do with the church early on. Mr. Torrey liked to host a lot of parties at the church but was not really a church going man nor was his family, or at least not in Stirling.

How Winston and Torrey knew each other is not known, but their paths certainly could have crossed earlier because the Torrey family had already been heavily involved in the railroad business. Herbert Gray Torrey's uncle, William Torrey, had helped build the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad. In this process he established the township of Manchester (which was one of the railroad workshops) that later became known as Lakehurst (where the Torreys maintained a store for their railway workers). William Torrey lived in Manchester from 1841 to 1865. Their railroad had gone bankrupt in 1867 and William Torrey left to live with his son in Montclair, NJ. (William Torrey moved back to Manchester in the late 1880s.) (Crockett 1990)

Winston could also have known Herbert Gray Torrey also through the insurance business. Samuel William Torrey (son of William Torrey) and, therefore, Herbert Gray Torrey's cousin, was in the insurance business, as well as many other businesses. In 1864 he became director of Equitable Life Assurance Company and in 1877 he was made president of the Universal Life Insurance Company and remained director of the Equitable until 1884. Or Winston could have known the Torreys through the Presbyterian church. For instance, we know that the William Torrey family had a great many important political friends and contacts through the Presbyterian circles in the greater New York metropolitan region.

Herbert lived with his family at what was then called "Hilltop." Also across the street from Torrey there was a big barn for his wagons and horses. That was refurbished so beautifully it was shown in Charm Magazine.

Looking at an 1887 map of the town of Stirling, the document shows that Herbert owned two structures on the north side of Long Hill Road, east of the intersection with Central Avenue. He also owned some lots on Railroad Avenue and a lot on Elm Street and one on Chestnut Street.

Writing on the history of Rockland County, Frank Bertangue Green (1995) wrote that there was a mad period of real estate speculation in Rockland County from 1870 to 1876 and one of the maddest events was the incorporating of the Sparkill Creek Canal Company. The purpose was to open a canal from the New Jersey state line, where the Sparkill crosses it, to the Hudson River. One of the many investors in the project was H. G. Torrey. The project never really advanced much farther than the state legislature passing an act on May 2, 1871 making the canal possible.

There was an article in the Jerseyman News (January 31, 1890) describing a reception given to Gray Torrey, son of Herbert Gray Torrey. "Fruits, corn, lemonade, with oysters on the half shell and the more substantial courses were all that taste and appetite desired. Drs. Crane and Crowell, former suppliers of the Presbyterian pulpit here, and several other neighboring clergymen graced the scene. The dancing scenes were graceful and full of merriment and glee, especially ‘the Candle Dane,' of twenty-one candles.

"The families and young ladies of Millington displayed beautiful and tasteful costumes. Mrs. Cole, of Stirling, the wife of our silk-mill owner, was beautiful and graceful in a home manufactured silk. Her sister, Mrs. Scheider, from Philadelphia, and Miss Cornish from Newark were prominent among the guests. A life like crayon of Mr. Gray Torrey, the work of an artist friend, was displayed for the first time. At a late hour in the morning with the sincerest and best wishes for the parents and the son, who bears the honored name of Harvard's great botanist, the carriages rolled away."

Herbert Gray Torrey came to have a small metal factory in town on Railroad Avenue. In the early 1900s he established a trap rock quarry in West Millington that now is called the Millington Quarry.

Ms. Dorothy Cook knew the Torreys when she was a child (reported in Crockett 1987:336). "My mother had acted years earlier in little plays with Gray Torrey at Hilltop. You see, Gray's mother had caused a little stage to be erected in the living room there as there was not much chance to act in Stirling. The living room, that I saw once more just a little while ago during the Torrey Club's visit to Hilltop, was much darker then; indeed the whole house was. As you entered the living room the stage was over in the right corner. Poor Gray, it was so very sad. He died when he was but 26 or 27 -- that was in 1898 two years after his marriage. He and his wife had no children. His brother -- a younger brother -- Ralph Guyot died at only fifteen years of age."

In 1885 a native of France, Claude Chaffanjon, who had a silk mill in Jersey City, purchased the entire factory tract in the town of Stirling. He converted an old button factory into a silk mill and filled the company houses with skilled French and Italian weavers. Chaffanjon was a neighbor of Herbert Gray Torrey. They worked together. Chaffanjon also had a house on Long Hill Rd. (E-mail from Mary Lou Weller, town historian.)

Chaffanjon ran into troubles with the silk mill. In 1889 he sold all his Stirling property to Julius Schlachter of Jersey City and returned there to live next to his first mill. Just a little over a year later he committed suicide. He has a stone in the Stirling cemetery.

Herbert was well-known for his participation in local political affairs. He was in addition active in the affairs of the local Presbyterian Church.

Herbert Gray Torrey died in 1915. His wife, Marie Louise Gray, died in 1923.

Hilltop became the Blessed Trinity Retreat Cenacle for retired nuns and then an annex of Honesty House, an alcohol rehabilitation facility at 1190 Long Hill Road.

On the grave stone marking Herbert Gray Torrey are the names of his father, mother, and sisters, although only two of his sisters and his father are buried here for certain. The marker does not mention that in his prime John Torrey was the leading botanist in the United States. It only mentions that John Torrey was an assayer. Passaic Township historical Society president Eleanor Turbett (Star-Ledger, April 19, 1987) remarked "It's quite surprising to me that somebody didn't know John Torrey was so famous. I'm surprised the family didn't make more of it (on the grave monument). It seems strange the son would only mention he was an assayer." But if there was jealousy of the relationship between Asa Gray and his father, Herbert may have wanted to forget the botanical connections between these two men and emphasize the relationship between himself and his father by stressing John Torrey's employment in the U.S. Assay Office.

Torrey Botanical Society historian Dr. Lawrence Crockett (Star-Ledger, April 19, 1987) remarked that he had the gut feeling that Herbert was somewhat jealous of the relationship of his father with the younger Asa Gray. The ties between the two older men were close indeed, with John Torrey even thinking that one day Asa Gray would be his son-in-law.

To rectify the glossing over of John Torrey's botanical contribution at the Torrey gravesite, the Torrey Botanical Society and the town of Stirling had a re-dedication at the gravesite. The write-up by Secretary Miss Mathilde P. Weingartner, ran thusly:

"Saturday, May 9, 1987, was John Torrey Day in Stirling, New Jersey. It dawned bright, cheery, and clear. Bright, clear dawns had recently been very scarce. At 11:00 a.m., the participants began gathering in Pollard Hall, the church hall of the First Presbyterian Church of Stirling, New Jersey. All were kindly invited to begin the day there by the Rev. Murray S. Blackadar, Pastor, and Mrs. M. Eleanor Turbett, president of the Passaic Township Historical Society (hereafter Historical Society). Awaiting the arrivals were coffee and cake thoughtfully provided by the Historical Society. For an hour participants continued to arrive and were introduced to each other. Among the arrivals were His Honor, Mayor George Armenti, Mayor of Passaic Township, and Mrs. Dorothy Smullens of the Shade Tree Commission.

"At noon everyone moved on to Long Hill Cemetery, less than a mile from the Church. The John Torrey monument stands at the edge of the Torrey Family plot in the Presbyterian Section of Long Hill. The sizeable plot is shaded by old white pines (Pinus strobus) and a white dogwood (Cornus florida) that, happily, was at its peak of blooming. The monument had previously been covered by Dr. Crockett, Chairman of the Monument Re-dedication Committee (he used his grandmother's large, 19th century paisley shawl).

"The Re-dedication was opened by His Honor, Mayor Armenti, who welcomed all to Stirling and praised our activities. Hen then asked Mrs. Dorothy Smullens of the Shade Tree Commission, Passaic Township, to read a Resolution by the Board of Chosen Free Holders of the County of Morris, New Jersey. ...

"Following this Mrs. M. Eleanor Turbett, President of the Passaic Township Historical Society, spoke kind words of welcome to all and told how honored Stirling was to have had a great man like John Torrey among them. She continued briefly telling all about Dr. Herbert Gray Torrey who long had been a Stirling and sterling townsman and who had provided them with a small town park near the railroad station which once boasted a fountain.

"Dr. Dominick V. Basile, Biological Sciences, Lehman College, Bronx, New York, and President of the Torrey Botanical Club, then spoke of how honored the Club felt to have been welcomed in such a heart-warming way by the Townspeople and by the Historical Society and for their help in re-dedicating the Torrey Monument.

"Dr. Lawrence J. Crockett, Department of Biology, CCNY, then asked Mr. Michael Bevans, direct descendant of John Torrey's brother James Dawon Torrey to join in the unveiling "that we may have some of Dr. Torrey's genes assisting us." He also asked Miss Mathilde P. Weingartner "for almost 40 years a devoted member" and "recently named Honorary Live Member by the Council" to come forward and join in the unveiling. (I was very surprised and extremely flattered to have been asked, I might add.) We all lent a hand and removed the beautiful paisley cloth revealing the tall monument and the new copper plaque at its base. (Dr. Crockett informed me later that it had arrived but the day before and would soon be attached.)

"The original monument indicated that Dr. Torrey had been the first Assayer of the NYC Mint and that he "died at Columbia College" but nowhere indicated his greatness as a botanist. Dr. Crockett read the words of the bronze plaque:

"John Torrey, MD, LL.D. One of America's great botanists: co-founder and president of the N. Y. Academy of Sciences, Trustee of Columbia College, Corporator of the National Academy of Sciences, major 19th century plant taxonomist of Federal Expedition Collections to the West Northwest and South, botanical mentor of Asa Gray, protector during the Civil War of the now National herbarium, creator of an extensive personal herbarium of unique scientific importance in its present home, the New York Botanical Garden, father (circa 1867) of the now international Torrey Botanical Club made New York City a national American botanical center. He was ever an honest kind and good man. Placed in his honor of May 9, 1987 by the Torrey Botanical Club during its 120th Anniversary."

"The re-dedication ceremony over, the participants return to the Church Hall where the Historical Society generously provided sandwiches and coffee. On one table was a huge cake marked Congratulation on your 120th Anniversary -- a really thoughtful gesture of their friendship. After lunch Mrs. Turbett introduced Dr. Crockett who then spoke on The Life and Times of John Torrey, M.D. -- Great American Botanist. This lecture had been created in 1985 as the Torrey Club's contribution to the 75th Anniversary of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. . . .

"After the talk Dr. Crockett asked Mr. Bevans, Dr. Basile, Mrs. Turbett, and Mayor Armenti to help him cut the Anniversary Cake.

"Hilltop is now part of Honesty House and supervised by Mrs. Vale Betts of Stirling, NJ, who was our charming hostess. She gave us the freedom of the house. Several rooms are much as they were when the Herbert Gray Torrey's lived there, especially the central log cabin-like room which the Torreys loved. They gathered on cool evenings around its large fireplace." . . .

The re-dedication ceremony was a success. But then a mystery developed. Dr. Patrick L. Cooney, TBS Field Committee Chair came across Joe du Pont's website asking for help in making the railroad park (Turtle Rock Park) the "Torrey Park." Through these early contacts Cooney came to know Stirling town historian Mary Lou Weller. Mrs. Weller invited Cooney out to her house on September 13, 2000 to learn more about Turtle Rock park. Her husband, Bill Weller, drove him over to the Torrey gravesite. Much to Cooney's dismay, there was no plaque on the grave monument. Mrs. Weller also did not know what happened.

Mrs. Weller later found out that Dr. Crockett had taken the plaque with him after the ceremony. Weller's sources told her that they believed he could not put the plaque up on the grave monument because he needed permission from a relative to place it on the monument. This, however, turned out not to be true. After all, there was a relative of the Torreys at the re-dedication ceremony. Dr. Cooney talked with Dr. Crockett and learned that Dr. Crockett still had the plaque. He said that he had tried to get the plaque fastened to the monument but he could never work out a mutually agreeable time to meet the workman at the cemetery so the plaque could be attached. Dr. Crockett mentioned that it was probably just as well that he had not attached the plaque because everyone had told him that since the plaque was made of copper someone was bound to steal it from the gravesite. He suggested making a duplicate out of a cheaper material and keeping the copper plaque in the Torrey archives at the NYBG.

Bill Weller also took Dr. Cooney over to see Turtle Rock Park. Herbert Gray Torrey was responsible for establishing and maintaining the park near the railroad station, which once boasted a fountain in the center. The park had no name so the town had a contest to name the park and some local children came up with the name "Turtle Rock Park." The park was so named in honor of the threatened bog turtle in the nearby Great Swamp. But as local inhabitant Joe du Pont wrote, "the park has no turtles and no rocks." Joe and some other town activists would like the name changed to the Torrey Park. In 1998 Joe actually tried to get the name changed to the "Torrey Park." The town commission rejected the idea. They said it should stay as Turtle Rock Park because the naming contest was one of the first forays into democracy in the town of Stirling and that some of the former children involved in the contest still lived in the area. The town commission did say, however, that a Torrey plaque could be put up in the park. Of course, since children were involved, some take the position that their trust cannot be compromised so the old name will stay. But perhaps a clumsy compromise can be worked out where the name "The Torrey Turtle Rock Park" can be adopted.

Dr. Lawrence Crockett tried to put up the plaque but he never could successfully arrange a meeting with the person who was to attach the plaque to the grave monument. The missing plaque caused Dr. Patrick L. Cooney and Stirling town historian Mary Lou Weller to track down the mystery of the disappearing plaque.

The plaque was finally attached in April, 2001. It would also be nice to put up a plaque at Turtle Rock Park.

Hill Top Mansion Tour

On September 6, 2001 the Long Hill Township Historical Society sponsored a tour of the Hill Top Mansion. Our tour guides were Larry Fast and Bill Halsey. The developer of "Hill Top Estates" is going to build seven luxurious homes on land that once belonged to the Torreys, some 27 acres in all. If no buyer can be found for the old Torrey mansion then eight luxurious homes will be constructed.

We walked up the porch stairs and entered through massive doors to the center hall. Off to the left (watch your step as you are entering a sunken area) was the large living room that could be used for dancing. On the right was another room. There was a discussion about the material used for the ceiling. Some conjectured that it was a tin ceiling with elaborate detailing. Straight up the hall is the old log cabin. (A discussion occurred as to whether this was "really" the "original" circa 1845 log cabin. Bill Halsey, the local architect, said he thought it was the original cabin.)

There were so many rooms that it was hard to keep them straight in one's mind. I remember at least two other large rooms around the log cabin central area, one was a dining room with a dumb-waiter. There were two sets of stairs leading down to the cellar complete with kitchen areas with dumb-waiter, along with a room for the boiler, and a room with an ironing board that can be hidden away in its own wall closet.

Upstairs are other rooms that were cut up into smaller rooms and an added dormitory wing (that could be removed because it was not original to the Torrey mansion). The upstairs is not as elaborate as the main floor.

It was a very interesting tour even though it had to be conducted by flashlight as just two days before the tour the electricity was cut off. And the mansion was in a lot better shape than I had heard or expected. After the tour there was a meeting of the Long Hill Township Historical Society led by Bill Webb. Introduced by Mary Lou Weller, Dr. Patrick L. Cooney, field chair and web master of the TBS, gave a brief statement about the relationship of Stirling and Hill Top Mansion to the Torrey family and the Torrey Botanical Society. Larry Fast talked about the latest news about negotiations for a buyer. The town is trying to find a way to lower the high tax rate on the property, which is scaring off some potential buyers.

Got an e-mail from Mary Lou Weller, 7/16/03, saying that the Torrey house was purchased for $300,000 dollars.  Many repairs will have to be made to the place. 

Dr. Patrick L. Cooney

Acer platanoides (Norway maple)
Acer rubrum (red maple)
Cornus florida (flowering dogwood)
Fraxinus americana (white ash)
Morus alba (white mulberry)
Picea abies (Norway spruce)
Picea pungens (Colorado blue spruce)
Pinus resinosus (red pine)
Pinus strobus (white pine)
Prunus serotina (black cherry
Quercus palustris (pin oak)

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry)
Hibiscus syriacus (rose of Sharon)
Pachysandra terminalis (pachysandra)
Philadelphus sp. (mock orange)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rubus sp. (black berry)

Campsis radicans (trumpet creeper)
Ilex hederacea (English holly)
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)

Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)
Alyssum sp. (alyssum)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)
Aster spp. (asters)
Begonia sp. (begonias)
Cichorium intybus (chicory) 10/29/00
Datura stramonium (jimsonweed)
Eupatorium rugosum (white snakeroot)
Euphorbia cyparissias (cypress spurge)
Glechoma hederacea (gill over the ground)
Hackelia virginiana (stickseed)
Hibiscus palustris (swamp rose mallow)?
Hieracium spp. (hawkweeds)
Iris sp. (iris)
Peltandra (arrow arum)
Polygonum cespitosum (cespitose knotweed) 10/29/00
Ranunculus acris? (tall buttercup)?
Solidago spp. (goldenrods)
Vernonia noveboracensis (ironweed) 09/13/00
Yucca filamentosa (Adam's needle)

Rushes and Sedges:
Juncus effusus (soft rush)

Ferns and Fern Allies:
Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern)
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)