Once upon a time, a king lived in Bordentown.
Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother and the ex-king of Naples and Spain, fled Europe after the Battle of Waterloo and improbably settled in New Jersey, just south of Trenton in Burlington County.
Between 1816 and 1839, the former monarch, known as the Count de Survilliers, built a sumptuous home overlooking the confluence of the Delaware River and Crosswicks Creek at Bordentown. His estate, named Point Breeze, became a center of social life, where he entertained such dignitaries as Henry Clay, the Marquis de Lafayette and Daniel Webster.
After more than 175 years, the Bonaparte property is set to open to the public this spring, bringing renewed interest to a landscape that will now be preserved. There will be public recreational access to the historic site, renamed Delaware and Raritan Canal Park at Point Breeze. The property was purchased in October 2020 by the State Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program, the City of Bordentown, and the Delaware & Raritan Greenway Land Trust.
Unfortunately, Bonaparte’s first residence was destroyed by fire in 1820; however, locals saved most of his personal possessions, including furniture, paintings and jewels. Bonaparte publicly thanked his honest, courageous neighbors. He quickly constructed an imposing second home with grounds modeled on his Mortefontaine chateau and the adjacent park at Ermenonville in France. It was razed around 1850.
Bonaparte (1768-1844) created a picturesque compound that anticipated later 19th-century American landscape design. Winding carriage paths, charming stone bridges, and vestiges of subterranean tunnels still survive. Bonaparte’s residential buildings are long gone, but the gardener’s house and approximately 60 acres of its picturesque park remain, with trees that are remnants of Bonaparte’s design.
The D&R Greenway Land Trust now oversees the gardener’s house. Linda Mead, president and CEO of this land-preservation organization, says the renovated building will open on May 20 as the Discovery Center at Point Breeze. Its mission will be to spotlight the area’s history, and it will include exhibits about Bonaparte and a recreated kitchen garden.
The Bordentown Historical Society is showcasing a special exhibition celebrating the city’s royal resident that will run until the end of the year. On view is an array of artifacts including Bonaparte’s traveling library of miniature books, a gaming table, prints and paintings. Also notable is the rare public display of the ornate gold chalice from Bonaparte’s private chapel at Point Breeze, which he gifted to Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Bordentown.
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