By Lori Draz
In the spirit of the season, Historic Havens turned its eye on a location that has a history of joyful celebrations. Shrewsbury’s elegant and glorious Shadowbrook Estate was an easy choice, as the property is enjoying a renaissance under the new ownership of partners Jim Kourgelis, Mark Spinelli, George Kourgelis, Mike Kourgelis, Carl Carfello, and Chris Gourmos, who also currently own and operate the Venetian in Garfield and Seasons in Washington Township. These new owners were so taken by the original grandeur of Shadowbrook that they decided to forgo plans to expand and change the layout of the ballroom and instead received approval to build a new room in a separate home on the property. This decision has preserved one of the more spectacular sites in the state.
Shrewsbury is well-known as one of the oldest and most historic towns in the nation. In 1852, the George W. Stillwell farm spanned both sides of the “Stone Road,” which is now Broad Street. In 1908, Dr. Ernest Fahnestock (pronounced “fan” stock) purchased the 115-acre farm in Shrewsbury from the George W. Stillwell estate and named the property Shadow Brook Farm. He wanted to transform the farm into a gentleman’s estate and began building a Georgian-style mansion, which was designed by architects Lewis Colt Albro and Harrie T. Lindeberg.
In 1910, and at a cost of more than $200,000, the 25-room main residence was completed as a five-bay, hipped-roof Colonial Revival, with segmental arches over the door and third-story dormers. Wings on each side were fronted by open piazzas. The mansion is set about 1,000 feet off the road, allowing for a dramatic entrance via a winding bluestone driveway lined with large maple trees. Landscape architects Pitkin and Weinrichter created a carriage drive sweeping into the estate, and that same carriage approach is still regularly used by many a bride today.
The interior is daunting in its size, height, and rich wood appointments and fireplaces. While the estate is now used for private affairs, the original design started with the impressive entrance hall. The first floor included an oak-paneled living room with a large fireplace and wood-beamed ceiling, tiled floor gunroom with fireplace, dining room with fireplace, butler’s pantry, kitchen, flower room, powder room, and maid’s dining room. On the second floor, there are seven master bedrooms and six tiled baths, and two maid’s rooms and a bath. Four of the bedrooms have fireplaces. On the third floor, there are eight bedrooms and a bath. There was a large laundry room in the basement.
The grounds are no less spectacular. Careful planning and selection of flowering plants and trees put on a seasonal show. The back was centerpieced with a fountain and beautiful formal gardens. The rose garden was planted with over 100 varieties of roses that would bloom from early spring until frost. A formal English cutting garden was designed with hardy plants and flowers.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Fahnestock bought an additional 65 acres of land from a neighboring farm in 1912, making the estate 180 acres. His father died in 1916 and Dr. Fahnestock is said to have invested well over $1,000,000 of his inheritance in further developments. On April 5, 1937, Dr. Fahnestock died and his wife stayed on at Shadow Brook for another five years. Lavish country estates were not popular during the Depression, and Shadow Brook Farm, including 50 acres of land and all of the buildings, was sold for a mere $25,000 to Ray H. Stillman, a local real estate developer. Mr. Stillman reserved the main house and about eight acres. The balance of the property was developed into single family homes.
In 1942, he sold the main home to Frederick Thorngreen, who opened a restaurant named Shadow Brook Inn, with a restaurant, hotel, and nightclub on the first floor and suites on the second. In 1953, it was sold Rod Keller and Robert Downs, who changed the name to Shadowbrook. It has a stellar reputation for its elegant atmosphere and gourmet cuisine. The team also expanded the Oak Room, so the main dining area with beamed ceiling and paneled walls now included a wide expanse of windows looking out over the gardens. In 1969, the Regency Room was added, so Shadowbrook could host two separate events.
In 1971, Rod Keller sold it to the Zweben family. The restaurant attracted a glittering list of celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Henry Mancini, Leroy Neiman, Robert Kennedy, and Vice President Walter Mondale. During this time, the brass handrails leading down the grand staircase, as well as the art deco chandeliers and wall sconces that grace the Regency Room, were acquired from the Paramount Theater in New York City. The front porch was enclosed and a new portico was installed, along with restored antique doors that stand 11.5 feet high.
On February 3, 2015, the mansion and its surrounding 18 acres were sold to the partners of the Venetian and Seasons. Stunning upgrades have been added to the home; crystal chandeliers, granite floors, new carpeting, an updated bridal suite, and new ladies room all add a special glitz and glamour to the elegance and old world charm of this extraordinary venue. The new owners at Shadowbrook continue to maintain a strong commitment to the history and integrity of the original mansion, and for that, we are grateful.