USGA GOLF MUSEUM
A Milestone for the Pope House, Home of the USGA Golf Museum April 30, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By Victoria Student, USGA

The historic Pope House, which the USGA bought in 1972 and is the current home for the Museum, turns 100 this year. (USGA/John Mummert)

History doesn’t just hang on the walls of the USGA Golf Museum, it lives in them. A century ago, when farms, peach orchards and summer estates blanketed central New Jersey, and Model T Fords traveled between the bucolic villages of Basking Ridge, Far Hills and Liberty Corner, ground broke on the future home of the USGA Golf Museum under the direction of famed architect John Russell Pope.

In the decades that followed, the house and its grounds would change hands and take on new roles, eventually serving as a state-of-the-art museum in which the nation’s finest collection of golf history artifacts is preserved and displayed. As the Pope House marks its centennial in 2019, the USGA Golf Museum celebrates the significance of its headquarters’ beginnings.

In 1919, change defined the times: The Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age hovered on the horizon, millions of immigrants poured through eastern seaports, women fought for the right to vote and modern means of communication and transportation began to connect the country in revolutionary ways. Like many wealthy New Yorkers, Thomas Frothingham and his young wife, Elizabeth, desired an escape from the dizzying pace, rapid expansion and unsanitary conditions of the city. Their search ended with 400 acres of land in the rolling Somerset Hills and John Russell Pope.  

Pope was a respected and sought-after architect by the time the Frothinghams hired him. Acclaimed academic programs at Columbia University, the American Academy in Rome and Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts lined his résumé. His associations with the well-established offices of McKim, Mead & White and Bruce Price complemented his talent. Most importantly, Pope had designed an impressive array of residences for clientele in high society hotbeds like Newport, R.I., Long Island, N.Y. and Washington, D.C. in a variety of architectural styles.

He had also begun his foray into monumental and public architecture, for which he is now most famous. Later in life, his accomplishments would include the Jefferson Memorial, National Gallery of Art, Temple of the Scottish Rite and National Archives Building in Washington D.C., The Frick Collection’s Garden Court in New York City, and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Memorial Building in Hodgenville, Ky. His ability to translate the sensibilities of his time and the unique characteristics of the building’s purpose and location into his designs has allowed them to remain treasured pieces of the national landscape.

Pope’s plans for the Frothingham home reflected not only the land around it and the couple’s personal tastes, but the American political and cultural trends that emerged with the rise of the Progressive movement and the end of World War I. Small towns welcomed soldiers home and decorated their Main Streets with red, white and blue, while the country’s tastes in art, architecture and storytelling shifted to nationalistic and idealistic subjects and styles.

The Mickey Wright Room is one of several rooms inside the USGA Museum dedicated to the game's legendary players. (USGA/Jonathan Kolbe)

Simultaneously, restrained power replaced the unfiltered opulence of the Gilded Age. Reflecting on these themes, the brick home combines elements of the Georgian style and colonial precedents from the mid-Atlantic region. The four Corinthian columns rising above a manicured lawn evoke the classic Greek and Roman styles, while the side elevation porch is an abbreviated version of Mount Vernon’s riverfront portico. The home’s symmetry with a center block, hyphens and two wings are Pope’s version of the Maryland five-part plan. In addition to this blend of styles, Pope altered the proportions of various components to meet the Frothinghams’ needs for entertaining spaces, children’s bedrooms and servants’ quarters. Included on the grounds were equestrian buildings, a swimming pool, tennis courts, formal gardens, orchards, pasturelands and houses for the chauffer and the estate’s superintendent.

Pope discussed the motivations for his design in the October 1920 issue of Country Life Magazine, which reported on the tastes and pursuits of English elites and their American cousins: “…the estate and the house were both planned for an outdoor man; a man fond of active exercise and imbued with a love for the country and for the activities of the country.” Pope continues that the home is “the most nearly perfect expression that has been devised of the traits of character and mode of life that we like to call American.” Pope could not have known it, but the original building’s intimate connection with the land around it matches the spirit of the game now celebrated within its walls.

Due to failed financial ventures, the Frothinghams sold the property to John Sloane in 1926, just five years after they moved in. Nearly thirty years later, Sloane, inheritor of his grandfather’s furniture empire, sold the home to aeronautics inventor and Artic explorer David Potter III. Finally, in 1972, the United States Golf Association bought the house and 60 acres to serve as their global headquarters. In the 1980s, the USGA outgrew the three-story home and constructed an administration building next door, with the Pope House serving as the Museum.

There have been many changes to the home’s original footprint in order to properly display and care for the thousands of artifacts, photographs, library materials and video footage in the USGA Golf Museum’s collection. Between 2005 and 2008 the USGA added 22,000 square feet of archival storage and exhibit space. The Jack Nicklaus Room, which opened in 2015, is the most recent expansion with a new wing extending off the west side of the home. However, the Pope House retains its original character in both its well-preserved interior and exterior features. The wood-paneled library still boasts its original carvings, and an antique grandfather clock sits at the landing of Pope’s famous hanging staircase. To walk through its doors and many rooms is to step into the past and experience the rich history of New Jersey one hundred years ago.

The USGA Golf Museum is open to the public six days a week. Visit the museum’s landing page for more information.

Victoria Student is the USGA Golf Museum’s senior historian. Contact her at vstudent@usga.org.

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