Peter Sammartino, founder and first president of Fairleigh Dickinson, had been investigating the acquisition of acreage in rural New Jersey in anticipation of the day the recently designated university would need to expand. Several years earlier, after the death of Florence Vanderbilt Twombly in 1952 and Ruth in 1954, the remaining Twombly family members decided to give up the celebrated Florham estate. In August 1957, Sammartino received a call from Edward T. T. Williams, the chairman of FDU’s Board of Trustees. The board had successfully negotiated the purchase of a portion of the estate that included the main house, carriage house, recreation facility, orangerie, several greenhouses and other outlying buildings.
Sammartino immediately called a meeting of 17 key University administrators. Malcolm Sturchio, presently professor emeritus of chemistry and then an instructor at the University’s Teaneck location, recalls Sammartino directing the group to “Just get into your cars and follow me.” They proceeded to Madison, past the College of St. Elizabeth and alongside an extensive brick wall.
“When we saw two massive pillars,” wrote Sammartino in his book, I Dreamed a College, “we pulled into two iron gates. After riding through a beautifully kept road and underneath a railroad trestle, a magnificent building came into view, reminiscent of Hampton Court in England.”
After the group parked in front of the massive home, Sturchio recalls, Sammartino announced, “‘Well, this place is ours. Now what do we do with it?’” The group entered the 100-room Mansion (now known as Hennessy Hall) and sat on the grand stairway in the expansive, 150-foot-long Great Hall, with its floor of Carrara marble. “Then Peter proceeded to tell us exactly what we were going to do,” Sturchio chuckles.
Sammartino chose to debut the University’s acquisition 10 months later with the 1958 Commencement exercises being held on the lush grounds. “When we got to the Madison Campus [as it was then known], we were astounded,” recalls Sylvia Preziosi Schroeder, AA’58 (R), BA’61 (R), MPA’80 (R). “The grounds were lovely and expansive. … I knew that we were a part of a greater higher-educational institution that would be progressive … I am grateful that I was a part of the evolution of FDU.”
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