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28 Walnut Street
Madison, NJ 07940 (map)
LOOKING BACK COLUMN
THE NATHANIEL NILES ESTATE “MONATIQUOT”
Nathaniel Niles was born in Kingston, R.I. on Sept. 15, 1835. He entered Yale University in 1855 but was forced to leave in his first year due to the illness of his father. His first job was at the New York law firm of Fulton Cutting in 1857 where he received most of his legal training. He left to form a partnership with his brother, Marston Niles, and they opened a law office on Wall Street. He came to Madison in 1865 and in 1868 purchased property at the corner of Brooklake Road and Main Stree
The original owner of the property was Mr. Bridgeman who started building a house on the 30-acre tract, but had to move to California before the construction was completed due to his wife’s failing health. Mr. Niles purchased the unfinished house and completed it and a surrounding wall using large stones that were taken from the grounds of the property. A small portion of that wall remains standing in front of the first few houses on Brooklake Road. The house had 15 spacious rooms with high ceilings, a broad central staircase and a large reception area with French windows. The 12 acres around the house were graded and planted with maple and fir saplings. At that time the property extended north to what is now Delbarton Drive and west on Main Street beyond Niles Avenue, which didn’t exist until 1924. Being a man of many accomplishments, Mr. Niles was elected to the New Jersey Legislature, serving as speaker in 1872 and authoring many laws including one that established 1,200 school libraries in the state. He was the director of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1879, the president of the Tradesmen’s National Bank of NY, and for many years was senior warden of Grace Episcopal Church. Niles acquired enough distinction to be listed in “Who’s Who in America” and the 1909 New York Social Register. He also composed hymns and once wrote the verses of “Precious Promises” on the margins of his newspaper while traveling by train to New York City. It appears that Niles also had another side. In 1887 he took a lease on Café Bijou in New York City, a notorious brothel which was eventually closed down for lewdness.
Nathaniel Niles died in 1917. He had been married twice, first to Anna Eliza Thompson of Madison and later to Ella Jones from Georgia. Niles had no children and after his death the house was occupied by various tenants. In 1920 the estate was sold by Niles’ sister-in-law, Anna H. Foster, to George Alfred Lewis, a noted composer and organist from New York who used it as a studio as well as his home. Also occupying the property was the Country School managed by Miss Louise Ryer who cared for children whose parents were in the theatrical profession or in an occupation that required them to be away for extended periods of time. Attorney William Francis Headley purchased the property in 1924 and received approval from the Borough Council to divide the 30-acre property into108 building lots to be known as Brooklake Heights. The Niles home and stone wall were torn down in 1960 to make room for commercial development. The Lukoil Gas Station and Hudson City Bank now occupy that corner.
Researched and written by Staff Asst. Helene Corlett