Tucked away along the headwaters of the Passaic River, the Cross Estate Gardens go back to the early years of the twentieth century when wealthy people built grand country mansions as summer retreats in the “Mountain Colony” located in Bernardsville, NJ. Its gardens and buildings provide a glimpse of a lifestyle that is now all but a memory.

The original house, built by John A. Bensel in 1905, formed the centerpiece of his “Queen Anne Farm.” The estate included a carriage house, a five-story stone water tower, and a gate house.

Diagram of the Cross Estate formal gardenIn 1929, W. Redmond Cross purchased the property and renamed it “Hardscrabble House.” His wife, Julia Appleton Newbold Cross, was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society for eight years. Mrs. Cross made extensive improvements in the garden with the help of Clarence Fowler, a noted landscape architect. Together they cultivated an unusual assortment of plants throughout the garden. The house was extensively remodeled in 1940, after the death of Mr. Cross.

In 1975, 162 acres of the property, including the primary buildings, were added to the Morristown National Historical Park. This addition provided assured protection for the adjacent 18th century New Jersey Brigade Revolutionary War encampment area and a preservation corridor for the Jockey Hollow unit of the park. Funds were not available to maintain the gardens, which soon fell into disrepair.

In 1977, Jean Pope, a former Chester resident, began a volunteer project to bring the nearly obscured gardens back to life. Paths and walkways were uncovered and runaway vegetation removed, pruned, or replaced. This continued effort has preserved a fine example of an English country garden for others to enjoy.

Both new and experienced gardeners are invited to join the Cross Estate volunteers as they share gardening tips and camaraderie on Wednesday mornings from March to December.

In 1987, the New Jersey Historical Garden Foundation was formed under the auspices of James Spiniello to preserve the volunteer effort already established at the Cross Estate Gardens. The Foundation works with the Morristown National Historical Park to maintain the development of the Cross Estate Gardens.