After his older brother’s defeat at Waterloo and the collapse of his own government in Spain, Joseph Bonaparte fled in disguise to the United States. He briefly lived amongst other French expatriates in New York and Philadelphia before purchasing 1,800 acres in Bordentown, New Jersey. With this land located roughly halfway between Philadelphia and New York, Bonaparte planned to turn his Point Breeze Estate into the new center of high society in the United States. To entertain guests, the 38,000 square-foot, three-story home had one of the largest libraries in the country (at the time), with over 8,000 books and 150 paintings, as well as twelve miles of carriage trails and ample grounds for hunting. The estate was also well known for its beautiful landscaping and vast orchards of plants imported from France.
However, this wasn’t to last. On January 4, 1820, the mansion at Point Breeze caught fire. While most of the books, paintings, and furniture were saved, the building itself was destroyed. In its place, Joseph Bonaparte had an even bigger mansion constructed—one that would earn the title of “second-finest house in America.” Along with this mansion, the estate would also include a lake house for Bonapartes daughter, Zénaïde, an ice house, a gardeners house, and a house for the servants.
Joseph Bonaparte moved back to Europe in 1839, but retained ownership of the estate until his death in 1844. After his death, much of the furnishings and art were purchased by both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. Over the next few years, the estate would go through multiple owners. In 1850, Point Breeze was sold to Henry Beckett, the son of the British Consul in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Beckett was a francophobe and had the mansion torn down and replaced with his own, until that too burned down in 1983.
Since 1941, the land has been owned by the Divine Word Missionaries, a Roman Catholic Mission, for use as a seminary and retirement home. This changed in October of 2020, when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection purchased 60 acres from the Mission to incorporate it into the state parks system.
The only remaining structure is the Gardener’s Home, a quaint two-story house in which Point Breeze’s gardener lived year-round. While the structure is set to become a museum housing the largest private collection of Joseph Bonaparte’s former belongings, the remaining outdoor space will be open to the public, accommodating both interpretive trails and guided audio tours.
Know Before You Go
The Gardener's House is located just next to the road. There are some paths into the woods where some of the original stairs leading down to the lake are intact. While the park is still being developed, parking can be tricky.
The estate is located just outside Bordentown on 662. While Bordentown can be accessed by the River Line, walking to Point Breeze is not recommended as 662 lacks a sidewalk.