Historic Sites and Buildings
In 1772 William Livingston, who had retired from politics in New York, built and occupied this country mansion on an estate he had acquired in 1760. During the first year of his occupancy, Alexander Hamilton resided with him while attending nearby Barber's Academy. The outbreak of the Revolution dashed Livingston's hopes of becoming a gentleman farmer and propelled him into a new and even more illustrious career in New Jersey and national politics.
During the war, while Livingston was absent serving as a general in the New Jersey militia and as Governor, he was forced to leave his wife and children alone for long periods at the estate, which was often threatened by British troops. In happier days, guests included George and Martha Washington, Lewis Morris, Lafayette, and Elias Boudinot. At Liberty Hall, one of Livingston's daughters married John Jay, who went on to a remarkable career.
Soon after Livingston's death there in 1790, Susan Livingston Kean, his niece, purchased the estate, which has remained in the family since that time. In 1800, about 5 years after the death of her husband, who had been a Member of the Continental Congress, Mrs. Kean married Count Julian Ursin Niemcewicz, and renamed the residence Ursino in his honor. Since that time, however, the earlier name has been reapplied. The Kean family has continued to be prominent in State and National affairs.
The structure, in three sections, was built of frame over an elevated stone basement. The original two-story central portion, which had a modified gambrel roof and two interior chimneys, was flanked by one-story wings, built on the main axis, with polyangular ends, hipped roofs, and end chimneys. Exterior walls were flushboarded. Quoins marked the corners of the central section, and flat, key-blocked cornices topped the first-story windows.
In 1789 a second story was added to the west wing. In 1870 a third story was superimposed on the west wing and central section, and the second and third stories on the east wing. The rooms and tower at the northwest corner and the rooms at the northeast corner were also constructed at that time, as well as a gabled roof with bracketed eaves over the entire building.
Except for the additional levels, the south, or front, elevation retains its original appearance. Open-string steps, whose balusters are plain, lead to the pedimented front porch. A fanlight surmounts the paneled door. Shutters are paneled on the first floor and louvered on the second. Third-story windows lack any such adornment. The cornice of the porch, as well as its triangular pediment, are dentiled.
The floor plan and interior trim of the 18th-century portion of the mansion remain essentially intact within the larger present structure. The elaborate mantels date from the 19th century. While a number of rooms and their furnishings have been restored to their original condition, others have been added to meet the changing needs of different generations of the Kean family, and modifications have been made to add modern heating and plumbing systems.
Liberty Hall still contains furniture, manuscripts, books, pictures, and portraits that belonged to Livingston and other early owners. Several outbuildings, including an icehouse and a smoke house, have been preserved. A private residence, still part of a large estate, the building is not accessible to the public.
Last Updated: 29-Jul-2004