IT ALL STARTED WITH A HIKE IN EARLY FALL 2007. On that September Sunday, I set out for a local county park I had not visited before. The colors of autumn lacked confidence, and a sunless sky muted them even further. Yet, vast verdant lawns extended in every direction. Overlooking it all sat an imposing mansion, the jewel in one of the region’s foremost grand estates: Natirar. The name conveys a hint of opulence entirely in keeping with the considerable cachet of the area; but significantly, the property’s southern edge is defined by a narrow bubbling river, a branch of the Raritan, and although it diminishes the mystique of an exotic name, Natirar is merely an anagram for Raritan.
The lush and expansive area between Morristown and Somerville, New Jersey, became host to a great variety of country homes in the Gilded Age, resulting in an elegant estate enclave that continued to expand well into the twentieth century. Affluent industrialists and their families populated Natirar’s neighbor estates. More recently, Natirar itself has been the home of the King of Morocco, an intimate of the rich and famous. Malcolm Forbes and Jackie Kennedy Onassis were among the elite who called these hills home at one time or another. As I scanned the landscape, I recalled that President Dwight D. Eisenhower once fished the very river within my gaze.
On that autumn day in 2007, as I completed the pleasant loop trail, I noticed a park kiosk with a wooden box labeled “Trail Maps.” Inside was a well-designed publication, Welcome to Natirar, which provided more than the promised map. I learned that Natirar was formerly the estate of Kate Macy and Walter Ladd. The property features extensive lawns and woodlands, river access, and scenic views. I was instantly curious about the people of Natirar.
Catherine (“Kate”) Everit Macy Ladd and her husband, Walter Graeme Ladd began to acquire land in Somerset County in April 1905, eventually, creating one of the largest estates in the area. They called it Natirar; their estate quickly grew to encompass one thousand acres. The Ladd’s brick, 40-room Tudor-style mansion, completed in 1912, was designed by Guy Lowell, a Boston-born architect who is most famous for his design of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the New York County Court House on Foley Square in Manhattan.
The Ladds and their wealth fascinated me, but it was a brief paragraph in the park brochure that riveted my attention and brought together the “perfect storm” of personal and professional interests that led to this book. I read that in 1908 Mrs. Ladd established a convalescent facility on the Natirar estate, originally at “Maple Cottage,” a large residence that once stood along Peapack Road where “deserving gentlewomen who are compelled to depend upon their own exertions for support shall be entertained without charge, for periods of time while convalescing from illness, recuperating from impaired health, or otherwise in need of rest.” The fact that the estate’s original owner, Kate Macy Ladd chose to provide a convalescent home on this stunning property for self-supporting women in a time of need stopped me in my tracks for it struck me as remarkable and unique.
I left the park that day feeling intrigued, excited, and certain that I must know more about Natirar and Kate. I was simply following my curiosity at first: Of course, that is how all good journeys begin.
Before long I became determined to follow Kate’s trail. I have been richly rewarded as her life story began falling into my hands, piece by piece, through amazing coincidences and connections neither one of us could have imagined. Finding Kate is our story.