Greenfield Hall, which serves as the headquarters building for the Historical Society of Haddonfield, is the third home built on the property which was given by Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh to her first cousin John Gill I (1686/7-1749) in 1728. Elizabeth’s original gift to her kinsman was for eighty-seven acres of land fronting on the north side of Kings Highway. The first building on the property was a small cabin located towards the rear of the property. The house is described by John Clement as “a small hipped-roof frame building that stood on the north side of the mill stream that falls into the mill pond – a house many years since torn down.” When this house was destroyed is not known.
John Gill II (1721-1796), son of the first John Gill, built the next house on the property. He had received the property as a gift from his father in 1747. He is thought to have built a home on the site fairly soon after he received the land. John Gill II’s house stood right by Kings Highway on the site of the present day Greenfield Hall. There are no pictures or descriptions of the 1747 house, although the two small rooms attached to Greenfield Hall on the east side are remnants of the original John Gill II house. This house passed to John Gill III (1758-1838) in 1796 on the death of his father. John Gill III lived in the house until his death in 1838 when the property passed to his son John Gill IV (1795-1884).
John Gill IV was the builder of the house known today as Greenfield Hall. At the time he inherited the property John Gill IV was a widower with four children, two sons and two daughters. He had been living at Mountwell, the brick mansion house built by Francis Collins, the first European settler in Haddonfield. On the death of his father, John Gill IV moved his family to the house on Kings Highway. John Gill IV, in addition to owning and farming large tracts of land in Haddonfield and vicinity, was involved in both banking and politics.
By 1841, John Gill IV wished to marry Elizabeth French (1794-1854). Elizabeth was a wealthy, successful, independent lady who lived in the French mansion on Kings Highway in Moorestown with her elderly mother and three sisters, Sara and Sabilla French who were both single, and Ann French Hollingshead who was a widow. She managed both her own wealth, which was considerable, and the financial affairs of her sisters and of her deceased brother. Certainly it would take a lot for John Gill IV to entice this learned and wealthy woman to leave the life she had made for herself in Moorestown, become his wife and move to Haddonfield. He decided to tear down the old house and in its place build a new mansion more appropriate to his own station and the station of his intended bride.
The new mansion was the red brick, center-hall two and a half story Georgian mansion which today serves as the home of the Historical Society of Haddonfield. Interestingly, the house is not built in any of the styles that were popular in 1841. Instead the house echoes the earlier 1820′s design of the Moorestown home of Elizabeth French. While the details of the front door entablature are Greek Revival with some Italianate details, the rest of the house reflects the early Classical Revival style found in the French Family house.
Although the Haddonfield house is larger, its floor plan is very similar to the floor plan of the French Family home. Both were built center halls and side-by-side parlors on the left side with fireplaces made from similar black, beige-flecked Yorkshire marble. On the right side the Gill house has two more side-by-side rooms, one fitted out as an earlier era “keeping” room with a large fireplace and hearth. In the French home the right side consisted of a single large room with a single fireplace in the center of the outside wall.
Construction began on the new Gill house on April 15, 1841 and the house was finished on October 15, 1841. It must have been a great success for on October 21, 1841 John Gill IV married Elizabeth French.
Following the death of John Gill IV in 1884, Greenfield Hall passed to his daughter Rebecca Morgan Gill Willits. Rebecca and her husband, Samuel Abbott Willits, lived in the house with her father during the last years of his life and continued to live there until the death of Rebecca Gill Willits in 1904. The property then passed to her son John Gill Willits (1849-1920). John Gill Willits, falling on hard financial times, turned the house into a combination nursing and old-folks home. This continued until John Gill Willits died in 1920 and his wife put Greenfield Hall up for sale. For the first time since the early 18th century the property passed out of the hands of the Gill family.
In 1920 Greenfield Hall was purchased by Colonel Alexander Brodie, former Governor of the Territory of Arizona who owned the property until his death two years later. The property was then sold to Mr. W.P. Hallinger who then sold it to Mr. Ralph Van Hart. The Van Harts lived on the property until it was sold in the summer of 1930. The house was purchased by Mrs. J. Fithian Tatem who owned the adjoining property to the west. The property was bought from Mrs. Tatem in 1931 by Harry A. and Sylvia Tatem Bauer, Mrs. Tatem’s daughter and son-in-law. Mr. and Mrs. Bauer and their family resided in the house until 1960 when it became the headquarters of the Historical Society of Haddonfield.
The architectural significance of the house was recognized in the 1930′s when it was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey. The house, thanks to a succession of sensitive and caring owners, is very much unchanged from its original 1841 appearance. Although the Bauers added a much-needed modern kitchen during their tenure, they carefully left the historic fabric of the mansion intact.
Today Greenfield Hall has three rooms, a parlor, dining room and bedroom, which are furnished in keeping with the period of Elizabeth French Gill’s tenure as the first mistress of the house. Because the building is more than a house museum, but is instead a historical society, other rooms are used to show various items from the Society’s large collections relating to other important periods in the history of Haddonfield and vicinity. The Historical Society of Haddonfield also regularly delves into its extensive collections to put on changing exhibits. Learn more about the Historical Society’s collections here.
More information on the building of Greenfield Hall and the lives of the Gill and French families are available in the book Elizabeth French Gill 1794-1854: First Mistress of Greenfield Hall (Harriet Gotschel Monshaw) published by the Historical Society of Haddonfield in 1998 and available from the Society.