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History of the "Beacon"

The Founding of Beacon Hill Club

Beacon Hill Club was originally a private home built in 1910-1911 by Carroll Phillips Bassett and Margaret Kinney Bassett.   Following the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Bassett in 1952 and 1954, respectively, the home was put up for sale.  Although several builders were eyeing the nine-acre property, a group of Summit residents united to purchase 250 Hobart Road to create a private family-oriented club.  After numerous city council and zoning board meetings, approval was finally given for the property to be used as a private club.

Work quickly commenced to convert the private residence into a family recreational club.  A committee was formed to recruit members; the goal was a 300-member maximum.  Plans included a swimming pool, four tennis courts, an ice hockey rink and an upgrade of the existing bowling alley. Future plans called for the possibility of squash and paddle tennis courts. The main residence was to be renovated to include a tap room, dining room, card room and billiards room.

Beacon Hill Club opened Memorial Day, 1956. The pool was complete and construction of the tennis courts had begun. An original stone fountain was preserved in its shaded garden setting alongside one of the courts.  Work on the ice rink was completed that winter.  In the first year charter membership totaled 50 families. Today, membership includes over 400 families.  The club’s amenities include expanded and upgraded tennis, paddle, hockey, ice skating, swimming and dining facilities.

At the time of its opening, Beacon Hill Club was characterized by total family participation.   Members worked hand in hand with professional contractors to convert and furnish the original clubhouse. 

This spirit of member participation endures today.  Members help develop and plan social functions, coach and manage hockey teams, write ribbons at swim meets and announce at figure skating recitals.  Beacon Hill Club prides itself on a family atmosphere and the willingness of members to contribute their time and ideas to help make Beacon Hill Club one of the most desirable and prestigious family sports club in the state.

The History of the Bassetts

The Bassetts came to Summit by way of Newark, Irvington, Connecticut, the West Indies and England, where the family’s name appears twice on the Magna Carta. Genealogy traces the family to the Norman Invasion of England in the eleventh century.  In the early 1200s, Allan Bassett was an English baron who appeared in Magna Carta among those of the king's counsellors.

Centuries later, Carroll P. Bassett was a distinguished man.  Born in 1863, he shared in and contributed to the great post-Civil War development of the country.  After preparation at Newark Academy, he graduated from Lafayette College, where he eventually taught and earned additional degrees. He was a civil and mining engineer, a Doctor of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy. He was a director of the Mountain Water Company, the Commonwealth Water Company, the West Orange Water Company, the Mountain Electric Company as well as the Mutual Building and Loan Association and the First National Bank of Summit.  Carroll P. Bassett was active in Summit civic affairs and a quiet philanthropist.   For Summit, he designed a water supply system, supervised construction of the sanitary system and served as town engineer.  During the World War period, 1917-1918, he chaired the Summit Chapter of the American Red Cross and was vice-president of Summit Defense Organization.  He was a trustee of Lafayette College, a major donor to the school and signed its endowment fund.

Margaret Kinney Bassett founded the Summit Garden Club in April, 1916 with hopes that people would spend an afternoon enjoying sunshine and flowers as respite from the demands of wartime.  She was also President of the New Jersey State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and she actively worked to repeal prohibition. 

The Bassetts had two sons and one daughter: Carroll K. Bassett, William B. K. Bassett and Estelle Pomeroy.

The Beacon Hill Mansion

As his roots went deeper into the community, Mr. Bassett began the exciting chore of building a new house for his developing family during the years of 1910 - 1911. The house was designed by renowned Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, but the unmistakable stamp of Carroll P. Bassett appeared in every detail. Mr. Bassett expressed his wishes and character to the architect, but he was his own contractor-builder.  Suppliers were constantly challenged to discover, explain and apply the latest materials and techniques of the day. 

The main residence was intended to accommodate the family’s physical comforts and security of Mr. Bassett’s family.  It was ideally appointed for the exacting demands of entertaining. The generously proportioned reception hall and principal rooms, decorated in excellent taste, showed the English Georgian influence, creating a charming and inviting atmosphere in keeping with the sturdy traditional lines of the exterior. 

The stained glass windows on the landing from the first floor to the second floor contain the family shields of the Bassett and Kinney families. The banister on those stairs contains custom woodwork bearing the initials MKB and CBB. The Bassett coat of arms - a chevron with three horns- is by Tiffany. The Kinney coat of arms displays three canaries. 

The enduring construction is shown by the external walls of symmetrically-cut granite, stucco and terra cotta roof tiles. The residence is supported by a foundation of massive stone masonry.  The house contains twenty-seven rooms and ten baths.  Originally there were five master bedrooms, each with a private bath, and eight servants’ rooms. There are fifteen open fireplaces with exquisite mantels. The basement included recreational facilities, a bowling alley, a billiards table and a wine cellar, as well as storage and laundry facilities.

The Carriage House was built in stone to match the main residence.  It combined the garage, stable and greenhouse, as well as two apartments of four rooms and a bath each. In addition, the Gate Lodge, which consisted of six rooms and bath, was built facing Route 24.

Privacy of the grounds was ensured by the construction of stone masonry walls surrounding the estate. Stately oaks, beeches and elms with smaller ash, linden, birch and evergreens effectively screened the residence.  Profuse shrubs and flowers provided a colorful background all year.  Rumor has it that Mrs. Bassett planted at least one of every tree native to New Jersey on the grounds. It was in one of these gardens that Thomas. A. Edison, a good friend of Mr. Bassett, filmed his movie called the “Chocolate Soldier.”

West of the residence, a series of stone steps led down to a long grass plaisance with a lovely pool and fountain at one end.  In a quiet and picturesque setting bordered by great masses of rhododendrons, ferns and shrubs backed by beautiful woodland, a colorful rose garden and an exceptional rock garden were planted. Nearby, a rustic masonry summer house with pagoda was shaded by vines and tall trees. To the right of the plaisance were several fruit trees and another picturesque garden. Some distance away were a unique garden and tea house, imported from Japan, with stone-walled banks for a stream under quaint Japanese rustic bridges. Separated from these structures and on the opposite slope of the property were a tennis court and an outdoor gymnasium, well screened by trees and shrubbery.  The grounds were designed with studied informality so they presented lovely vistas at every turn. They left an impression of quiet, restful charm.

The Beacon

There are plenty of tales of the importance of beacons and alarm guns in the victory of General George Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The prime purpose of these devices was to give alarm on approach of the enemy in order to assemble the militia at prearranged points and to direct the movements of certain Continental battalions.

The summer of 1777 found Washington working the fire signals in New Jersey, and eventually he established a chain of numbered beacons and alarm posts on the most strategic hills.

There were twenty-three of these beacons, covering the country from Monmouth County in the south, to the hills northwest of Morristown and Springfield. Three beacon sites were in the Springfield vicinity, one of which is recorded as being “on the Top of the Hill about a Mile south east C(h)atham Bridge,” positively identifying the Beacon Hill site.

While most of these beacons were in the form of log pyramids filled with dry brush, all the evidence indicates that the Summit beacon was a tall pole or a lofty tree, probably the latter, with a tar barrel at the top. The alarm was given by firing a cannon placed nearby and igniting the tar barrel. The reverberations of the gun could be heard far back in the mountains of Morris and Sussex, while the blazing tar barrel and its rising column of heavy, black smoke could be seen for many miles, either by day or by night.

The hill upon which the beacon stood, 447 feet above sea level, commanded a view of the whole country east of the mountains, including the entire seaboard of New York City, so that the slightest movement of the enemy could be detected. The lighting of the signals could be observed for long distances, permitting beacons on the other hills to pick up and carry on its message.

Washington’s signal system in New Jersey, especially the post on Beacon Hill, received no better test than on the morning of June 23, 1780, when the operation of beacon fires and alarm guns greatly speeded the assembling of the militia and the Continental Army.

“The Red-Coats are coming!” boomed the alarm gun Beacon Hill about six o’clock that morning, calling the countryside to arms as the Redcoats began moving from Elizabethtown.

A few minutes after the alarm gun boomed, in the top of a lofty tree towering high above the others on the ridge, a blazing tar barrel and its rising column of black smoke confirmed the news for miles in all directions that the British were on the march. Responding to these alarms at his temporary headquarters at Rockaway, N.J., Washington, at 6:30 AM, sent a reinforcement of troops to Major General Nathanael Greene who was headquartered in Springfield.

British and Hessian columns under General Knyphausen were on their way from Elizabethtown to force the pass through the Short Hills and to capture Washington’s military supplies at Morristown. What a welcome they received! “Minute Men”, summoned by alarm guns and signal beacons, came swarming over the hills to Springfield to support the Continental forces under Major General Greene.  Soon every bush had a musket in it—with a determined American behind it - and Knyphausen found himself in a hornets’ nest.

After vigorous action against an army superior in number and in weight of artillery, Greene outmaneuvered the enemy and gained the advantage of a strong position commanding the important pass. Knyphausen, recognizing retreat, satisfied himself by burning the village of Springfield. Pursued and harassed all the way to Elizabethtown, the enemy crossed hastily to Staten Island on a bridge of boats, and by six o’clock the following morning had completed their evacuation. Thus the last serious attempt to bring New Jersey under British control concluded.
 

This information was condensed from a number of sources which include an article written in 1944 by Melvin J. Weig, Historian of the Morristown National Historical Park and "A History of Canoe Brook Country Club" written in 1965 by Louis J. Perottet and Barbara Budd in a 1990 BHC newsletter as well as various newspaper articles.