Robins Park – Metuchen, New Jersey
Earlier we wrote about Wright Robins, the train station he built near Grove Avenue and Henry Street, and his role in the development of the Robinvale neighborhood of Metuchen between Grove Avenue, Woodbridge Avenue, and Jonesdale Avenue. Wright Robins owned the primary house south of Woodbridge Avenue. David Trumbull Marshall around 1930 recounted and remembered Robins and his estate nearly 50 years after Robins’ death:
When I was a very small boy Wright Robins owned a beautiful place on Woodbridge Avenue at Metuchen. I have never been inside the house, but the grounds outside were extensive and to us children very grand, with their long, neatly trimmed hedges and marble statues. Mr. Robins built a fine fountain on his lawn and ran a pipe from his pond about a quarter of a mile away to this fountain. To reach the pond one went up quite a hill and down the slope on the other side. Everybody supposed that the pond was higher than the fountain. When all was ready the water was turned on. No water came. Mr. Robins sent for my father, who ran a level to the pond and found that it was lower than the fountain. Mr. Robins was not to be cheated of his fountain by a trifle like that. He built a tank of bricks on top of the hill and over this a housing and on top of that a wind-mill. This Dutch wind-mill was a landmark for many years. When the wind-mill was in order and the wind blew and kept the tank full Mr. Robins had plenty of water for the fountain and the house and for his large stable.
Wright Robins was a good deal of a humorist. He came to the village one day and announced that he no longer wished to be known as plain Mr. Robins, but that his name was the much more aristocratic “Row-beans” and by that name he was to be called in future.
When it came time for Mr. Robins to die he sent for my father to draw up his will. After making various and sundry bequests he gave directions for his funeral. He particularly directed my father that Mrs. Robins was to be instructed to put a whole pair of socks on his feet as “he did not want his immortal soul to show through holes in his socks.”David Trumbull Marshall, Recollections of Boyhood Days In Old Metuchen, 1930.
Following the death of Wright Robins in 1882, the next owner of the estate was Frederic Coudert, a French lawyer who figured prominently in national and international affairs. An early reference in 1888 mentioned: “Mr. Frederic Coudert, of the well-known firm of French lawyers, has a farm at Metuchen, New Jersey, where he raises Aldersey cattle. Mr. Coudert says that he finds much more pleasure in going over his farm than he does in going over law papers. There is certainly more breath-giving pleasure in the former pastime.” A newspaper from Minneapolis In 1890 noted: “Frederic R. Coudert is also quite a farmer. In the summer months all his neighbors at Metuchen are interested in his doings. He has a fine collection of Alderneys and other fine cattle, and the sturdy acumen which Mr. Coudert exercises in the purchase or sale of a calf is part of the play spell of his life.” In 1896 another mention was made of Coudert in Metuchen: “It may not be generally known that Frederick R. Coudert, one of the Venezuelan Commissioners is a resident of Middlesex county. His handsome country residence at Metuchen is one of the finest in that town. He spends six months of the year at Metuchen and the remainder in New York.
The Coudert estate ranged many acres and included a grove. The Daily Times referred to an annual picnic of St. Francis’ Church to be held in “Coudert’s grove” on July 19, 1890. The same picnic was repeated again on August 22, 1891. A photograph of the Robinvale Depot shows several neat and tidy lines of trees behind it what would later become the Robinvale neighborhood between Grove Avenue, Woodbridge Avenue, Jonesdale Avenue, and the railroad. Given the name of Grove Avenue, it is reasonable to expect at least part of Coudert’s grove were located here.
An announcement in The New York Times in 1901 for “New Jersey Property Sale” named a “dwelling house of eight rooms; improvements; steam heat; barns; abundance of fruit; six minutes from two rail road stations; easy terms.” While the announcement does not name Coudert by name, it is plausible the estate was his, for the following year Coudert died while on a diplomatic mission to Washington, D.C. in 1902.,
Frederic Coudert near before his death in 1902
James C. McCoy was the next owner of this impressive house. He factored prominently in a number of regional improvement efforts. One of these was incorporation of the Raritan Trolley Company, capitalized at $1,000,000. According to an article, “The company intends to build a trolley right through Raritan and Woodbridge townships, connecting Perth Amboy and Metuchen.” In 1900 McCoy who was the largest incorporator of the Raritan Trolley Company was substituted by Adolph Lewisohn of New York City. The trolley line was built under the direction of William G. Rock. McCoy was also among those who donated land for the Perth Amboy Library to be built upon. The Perth Amboy Library cost $20,000 to build. When the land was given Lewisohn and McCoy gave a gift of $1,000 for the purchase of books. McCoy had an interesting association with Coudert too. They were both in hearings before the United States Congress, House Committee on Appropriations.
Papers reported McCoy was living in Metuchen in 1904. The Central New Jersey Home News wrote: “the Perth Amboy trolley and copper magnate, who lives in Metuchen, will sail for Europe tomorrow on the Celtic, with his family.” Following the return from this trip, he resigned from the Raritan Copper Works, which at the time was the largest copper refinery in the world and one of the largest smelters in the U.S. The same article claimed upon returning from Europe, “He lives at the old Coudert place, Metuchen.”  His time owning the former Coudert and Wright Robins home was brief, for in May 1905 McCoy sold the house to A.C. Case of New York. Following the sale McCoy moved to Peru. McCoy had purchased the property from the Couderts for between $20,000 to $25,000. Mr. Case paid a figure near this. A newspaper article recorded after the purchase, that Case intended to make $15,000 of improvements to the property. The grounds surrounding the house at the time contained seventeen acres.
Case had lived in Metuchen in the 1880s and this is where his daughter Helen Case was born on November 14, 1886.  Case later went on to be over the credit department of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1899 he was made a partner of that company, and for forty years served as auditor. Following the organization of the United States Steel Corporation he took considerable financial interest in that organization. Upon his resignation in June 1901 he moved to New York and became President of the American Cotton Company.
The house in Metuchen would frequently host visits of family members. In April 1909 it was reported: “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Case, of Woodbridge Avenue, are entertaining their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Smith of New York City.” That same year it was said “Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Smith who have spent the summer at the home of Mrs. Smith’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Case, left the borough this week to pass the winter in New York City.” Helen Case Smith visited her mother, Mrs. A.C. Case, in Metuchen in October 1911. Again, in 1911: “Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Smith of New York, are spending a few days with Mrs. Smith’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Case.”
Helen Case, who had been born in Metuchen, and her husband Mr. Abel I. Smith were married in New York City on December 27, 1906. For many years she was associated with the work of the Berkshire Industrial Farm, in Canaan, Connecticut, having served as chairman of its committee. Regrettably her association with the house in Metuchen came to an end. Helen Case Smith sold her interest in 17 acres at Woodbridge Road to her father Albert C. Case in February 1913. Understandably, her association with the house and references in the paper were less frequent after selling. Their vacation activities shifted northward from Metuchen to Norfolk. In 1913 a local paper reported, “Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Smith and son, of Woodbridge avenue, are visiting relatives in Norfolk, Conn.” Again, in July 1914,Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Smith are spending the month of July with Mr. Smith’s parents at Norfolk.
An article from May 1914 stated “It is thought that Mr. A.C. Case of New York and daughter, Mrs. Irwin Smith and family will soon occupy their beautiful summer home on Woodbridge Avenue in Metuchen. Newspapers announced: “The spacious home of A.C. Case of Woodbridge Ave is thrown open for the summer. Mr. Case and daughter, Mrs. Irwin Smith, and family have recently arrived in town from New York.” Later the same year in June 1914 it was said that “A.C. Case of Woodbridge avenue, has sold his beautiful residence to a party from Perth Amboy.” Albert Case died January 10, 1918 at the Post Graduate Hospital in New York City following an operation. In February 1924, Helen Case Smith sold her property in Metuchen to Henry Nelson.
Abel Hansen was founder of the Fords Porcelain Works in Perth Amboy, one of the largest manufacturers of porcelain plumbing fixtures in the world. He was involved in a land dispute for property owned on Woodbridge Avenue in 1918, shortly after purchasing the former A.C. Case residence. At issue was the width of the street, and the claim of the Borough that they were entitled to a piece of Hansen’s property. Subsequently the Borough built a sidewalk along Woodbridge Ave, and Hansen sought damages. The suit was tried in the District Court of Perth Amboy. A jury awarded Hansen $360. During the trial Hansen testified how he purchased the estate in 1914. In the course of constructing the sidewalk, 250 blackberry plants and 50 shrubs had been cut down.
Later an ad was seen in 1917, seeking a “Colored man and wife” for a “man to understand shrubbery and garden, and “woman to understand work in house” for work starting August 1 at Maplehurst Place in Metuchen. Apparently having limited success funding someone, another ad in October 1917 stated: “Couple wanted, wife as cook, no laundry. Man to take care of furnace, to milk cows and to be all around useful.” The address given was Maplehurst, 39 Woodbridge Ave in Metuchen.
Abel Hansen’s daughter Carolyn Abele Hansen was engaged to Everett Gordon Reid of Brooklyn in 1923. A wedding followed at the home in October that year. Owing to the recent death of the bridgroom’s father the wedding was limited only to immediate family members. Another wedding occurred at the house two years later when Edna Marie Hanson married Sydney Wells Talbot of Connecticut.
The farming in this area was recognized in 1928 when five Middlesex County dairymen were recognized by the National Dairy Council. Among these were Irving A. Hansen of the “Maplehurst Farms,” Metuchen. The following year, the farm sold off equipment. Several stanchions, stalls, complete with water cup and changeway equipment was advertised for sale at “39 Woodbridge Ave.” The following year, a “Herd of 30 cows, either in whole or part” was advertised for sale.
Abel Hansen sold property on Woodbridge Ave in Metuchen near the Hanlon estate to Linda Hansen in 1923. A fire in December 1931 badly damaged the east wing of the home of Abel Hansen. Newspaper articles at the time recounted two fires in previous years. Barns were destroyed by fire two years ago, and early last winter a burner exploded doing some damage before the flames could be subdued.
A few years later in December 14, 1937 Abel Hansen passed away at his home Maplehurst, on Amboy Ave., The property appears to have stayed in the Hansen family. A newspaper reported Irving Hansen who owned 39 Woodbridge Ave in 1939, appealed the assessed value and had the land reduced from $6,500 to $3,259, and building from $13,000 to $6,500. Another entry for Irving A. Hansen saw land reduced from $3,400 to $1,700 and building from $7,500 to $3,700. Two years later Irving M. Hanson of 39 Woodbridge Ave, appealed his tax assessment and saw a decrease for improvements from $20,000 to $13,000.
- Mrs. Edward Mawbey, age 49 was living at 39 Woodbridge Ave in 1945.
- Mr. and Mrs. Peter Reid of 39 Woodbridge Ave were mentioned in 1951 when their son Peter B. Reid reported as airman apprentice the Navail Air Technical Center in Jacksonville. He went there for training as a naval ordnanceman. He later went to serve aboard the aircraft carrier Antietam in the Far East.
- When Miss Christine Broderson, age 87, died at Ashbrook Nursing Homes in Scotch Plains in 1963, she was remembered as having been a resident of Metuchen at 39 Woodbridge Ave for 30 years.
- Caroline Hansen died at a nursing home on June 24, 1966.
- Herbert Fenrow lived at 39 Woodbridge Ave in 1976, when his daughter Lynn Fenrow married Christopher Eckert of East Brunswick.
While this distinguished house and estate made it to the 1970s, this was the end of the line for a property that hosted many of the most interesting people and personalities in Metuchen from the 19th and 20th centuries: Wright Robins, leader of the New Jersey State Senate; Frederic Coudert, an international lawyer; J.C. McCoy, active with the Raritan Copper Works; A.C. Case, a partner of Andrew Carnegie; and Abel Hansen, founder of the Fords Porcelain Works in Perth Amboy. The house was demolished to make way for a $2.7 million project to build 45 condominiums, the construction of which was started in 1977. Today the Irongate condominiums stand on this property and little is left to remember the distinguished estate that once stood here.
 The Rural New Yorker, Volume 47, Rural Publishing Company, 1888. https://books.google.com/books?id=cUBJAQAAMAAJ&lpg=PA505&ots=dBViGNoQpZ&dq=coudert%20%22country%20home%22%20metuchen&pg=PA505#v=onepage&q=coudert%20%22country%20home%22%20metuchen&f=false
 Men at Play, Fads, Diversions, and Sports That Ease Their Minds of Care, Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 26, 1890, Page 19. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38424142/coudert_18901026/
 United States Congress House Committee on Appropriations, 1954. https://books.google.com/books?id=7jvVAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA476&ots=g9TI-QQx_2&dq=mccoy%20coudert&pg=PA469#v=onepage&q=mccoy%20coudert&f=false
 Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, October 5, 1911, Page 8.
 Social Time at Reformed Church, Home Department Meet and Enjoy Delightful Program – Missionary Society Meets – Other Items of Social Interest, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, June 3, 1911, Page 6. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38481279/case_19110603/
 Middlesex County Dairymen on National Honor Roll, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, December 15, 1928, Page 7. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38782201/hansen_19281215/
 Real Estate Sales in Various Sections of Middlesex County, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, January 4, 1923, Page 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38769698/hansen_19230104/
 Rites tomorrow for Abel Hansen, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, December 15, 1937, Page 15. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38770380/obituary_for_abel_hansen_aged_74/
 County Taxpayers Declare Assessments Third of Value, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, September 1, 1939, Page 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38787759/hansen_19390901/
 Metuchen senior citizens housing project underway, The Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, New Jersey, February 5, 1978, Page 61. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/38759579/irongate_19780205/