Nearing the dawn of the 19th
century, the ruined Proprietary
House would find a new lease on
life. Despite being gutted by fire in
the mid-1780s, it was still cheaper
to repair than to build a new
building. So, in the February 29,
1792 issue of the
New Jersey
Journal and Political Intelligencer,
After Bruen's death, his heirs resurrected the Brighton House resort
hotel, attracting wealthy guests, including military officers and their
families during the Civil War. Eventually the economic downturn of the
early 1880s forced it to close and in 1883 the Bruen family conveyed
the property to the Presbyterian Board of Relief for Disabled Ministers
and the Wives and Orphans of Deceased Ministers, who called it the
Westminster for the next twenty years, before returning it to the Bruens.
In 1904, the building and its grounds were purchased by a patriotic
immigrant from Denmark, J.P. Holm, who hoped to facilitate the
mansion's preservation as a historic site.  Lack of adequate funding,
however, dashed these hopes and by 1911 the land was subdivided
and the once great lawn cut through by Kearny Avenue. Next followed a
series of owners who operated the building as the Westminster Hotel
The mid-20th century saw the building’s decline into run-down boarding
house, with rumors of prostitution. Fortunately, however, local residents
remembered its place in history and would come to its rescue.
there appeared an advertisement "to be sold...eleven acres of land...the
property of the proprietors of East New Jersey...the remains of the
house lately burned, will be sufficient for a new building."
The property was acquired by John Rattoone in 1794. Rattoone was a
local businessman who, evidence suggests, had been a British agent
during the war, but was successful in keeping it a secret from his
neighbors. An investor in real estate, he repaired the fire damage and
lived in the house until it was sold in 1808 to Richard M. Woodhull, a
New York developer. Woodhull raised the roof and added a floor, along
with a four-story wing.
In 1809, Woodhull announced the building would be opened as Brighton
House, a luxury hotel overlooking Raritan Bay under the management of
B. L. Tomlinson. Woodcuts from newspaper ads show wings on both
sides, though only the left one had been built. It is possible the second
wing was planned for the future. The Brighton House was described as
elegant, surrounded by treed lawns for strolling, stables for 60 horses, an
ice house supplying 150 tons of ice, and easy access by road and
steamboat.
Brighton House's success was short-lived, however. Economic
downturns accompanying the War of 1812 depressed business and by
1817, the property was sold. It was purchased in 1817 by Matthias Bruen
for $14,500. Bruen was said to be one of the wealthiest merchants in
America at the time. He turned it into his family estate, entertaining the
likes of multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor and 10th U.S. President John
Tyler. Bruen lived in Brighton House until his death in 1846, making him
the mansion's longest resident.
Matthias Bruen
TOP RIGHT: Bust of Matthias Bruen, sculpted by Thomas Crawford, in the collection of the NJ Historical Society, Newark. BOTTOM
LEFT: A relic of the days when the House was a retirement home for the Presbyterian Church. BOTTOM CENTER: The Westminster
as it appeared in the 1920s. BOTTOM RIGHT: Woodhull's announcement of The Brighton in the
American Citizen newspaper, June
13, 1809.