A brand-new rental building just opened on the grounds of one of New Jersey’s many castles with a long history. Located just behind the 91-year-old Merriewold Castle, Merriewold at Highland Park is just off River Road, spans 17 acres, and is now home to 196 rental apartments, starting at $1,875 for a one bedroom.
Developer Kaplan Cos. also owns Merriewold Castle and has wanted to develop on the sprawling site for some time. “But we needed it to be the right project at the right time, the type of project that celebrates the grandeur of the Castle, but also recognizes the changing demographics of the community,” said Mr. Jason Kaplan, President of Kaplan Cos.
“It is a stunning place to live,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Merriewold is nestled in the woods, an oasis in easy walking distance to the Highland Park downtown and only a mile from train stations in New Brunswick and Edison. This is a terrific opportunity that we are proud to offer.”
To know the history of Merriewold Castle in Highland Park is to know the history of one of America’s wealthiest families and most profitable companies–Johnson & Johnson. Founded by Robert Wood Johnson along with his two brothers James Wood Johnson and Edward Mead Johnson in 1885, they produced their first products in 1886 and incorporated in 1887. The inspiration was ready-to-use surgical dressings conceived after hearing a speech about the virtues of antiseptic by pioneering surgeon Joseph Lister.
In 1924, J&J founder Robert Wood Johnson’s son, J. Seward Johnson, built the castle as a wedding present for his wife Ruth Dill, christening the estate overlooking the Raritan River Merriewold, meaning merry wilderness. Complete with ramparts and turrets, the castle also conceals staircases within walls and a Prohibition-era bar behind a bookcase. Merriewold Castle’s history, however, is far from a fairytale story. Many would say the 25 room castle is as cursed as the infamous J&J family (or at least as cursed as The New York Jets, the NFL franchise owned by Robert Wood Johnson, IV).
Ruth Dill divorced J. Seward Johnson in 1937 and retained ownership of Merriewold where she lived with her second husband in the small carriage house until her death in 1987. While Ruth lived on the property, industrial engineer Charles Farmer and his wife Barbara moved into Merriewold and their marriage suffered a more morbid fate–Charles shot and killed Barbara in 1963 after accusing her of having an affair and then tried to kill himself, unsuccessfully.
Finally, a much more stable force moved into Merriewold Castle; Nathan Kaplan converted the estate into commercial space and the headquarters of his construction firm Kaplan Cos. in 1963.
Their new development might not have 11 fireplaces or 150 leaded glass windows, but it does boast stainless steel appliances and high-end finishes as well as luxury amenities: an exercise studio with on-demand yoga and pilates classes, a lounge, concierge, and a swimming pool. And the Merriewold at Highland Park is offering no rent due until 2018 which is certainly a stroke of better luck.