By Sharon Hazard
FEBRUARY 1 DOESN’T seem like the perfect time for the wedding of the year to take place, but on that day in Sea Bright in 1883, Kate Shippen, daughter of William W. Shippen, married Hilborne L. Roosevelt.
Hilborne Roosevelt was a first cousin of Assemblyman and future President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.
“It was one of the most brilliant weddings of the season,” gushed the New York Times.
The Times went on to report that a special train had transported nine carloads of friends of the bride and groom, leaving Jersey City at 10:45 a.m. and arriving at the Sea Bright train station at noon. At that time there was a train station located right in the middle of town, not far from the current Sea Bright Beach Club.
Many of the other guests had arrived the night before. They were entertained by a German band at Harmony Hall, the hotel built and owned by the groom’s family. (It was later purchased by Edward Pannaci in 1887 and operated as the Pannaci Hotel for many years after.)
Some guests most likely stayed at the colossal Octagon Hotel or the nearby Peninsula House. Those hotels were built by Miflin Paul for each of his daughters. Miflin Paul, along with William Shippen, was one of the developers of Sea Bright.
William W. Shippen was also the president of the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company and Hoboken Ferry Company as well as one of the founders of Stevens Institute. Being his daughter, it was only right that Kate should have a grand wedding, one that the New York Times described as the “event of the season.”
The groom, in addition to being first cousin to the future president of the United States, was well known in his own circles. His fame did not come from politics or business like his Roosevelt relatives, but from the magnificent musical instruments he made. Hilborne Lewis Roosevelt built and held the patent for the first electric organ in the United States, showcased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. He had factories in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore and built some of the grandest and largest pipe organs in the world, many of which are still being played today. A fine example of one of his creations can be heard during the summer months at the Moses Taylor Memorial Church in Elberon.
The Shippen-Roosevelt wedding was held at the Shippen Cottage, located northeast of what is now the Sea Bright-Rumson Bridge. Described as a “villa,” it was a large structure with mansard roof and wide piazzas, sitting right on the ocean.
For the nuptials, the grounds were decorated with palms, Southern plants, smilax and an assortment of flowers. Inside, the three glass-enclosed piazzas were covered with flags, possibly as a tribute to the politically connected Roosevelt family. Among the floral pieces that graced the living areas was a ferryboat of white flowers floating on a sea of roses. It was a gift from Shippen’s employees at the Hoboken Ferry Company.
The wedding took place at 1 p.m. The ten groomsmen included: Elliott Roosevelt, first cousin of the groom, who was also Theodore Roosevelt’s brother and the father of Eleanor Roosevelt; Emlen Roosevelt and Frank Roosevelt, brothers of the groom.
The bride was attended by 10 bridesmaids, five wearing blue and five wearing pink. She wore a white satin gown with a full train trimmed in lace, and a long flowing veil of point lace caught with a diamond ornament and a spray of lilies of the valley. Her bouquet consisted of white roses and lilies of the valley.
Guests included Anna Roosevelt (it is not clear if it was Elliott’s wife Anna or Theodore’s sister Anna, also known as “Bamie”), John Stevens, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt (Alice Lee Roosevelt, the first wife of Theodore Roosevelt), Mr. and Mrs. James Roosevelt (future parents of Franklin D. Roosevelt) and Congressman Robert Roosevelt, an uncle of the groom.
Music, dining and dancing continued through the afternoon until a special train arrived in Sea Bright to bring the guests back to New York. As the train headed north, the gentlemen cheered and the ladies waved handkerchiefs.
The bride and groom were driven to Red Bank, where they embarked on an extended honeymoon through the southern states.
The following year, 1884, Theodore Roosevelt’s wife, Alice Lee, died in childbirth. William W. Shippen died soon after the wedding. Hilborne Roosevelt died in 1886, leaving his young wife, Kate, and his three year-old daughter, Dorothy. Elliott Roosevelt died of alcoholism in 1894, leaving the future First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, fatherless.
Feb. 1, 1883 was a glorious day for the Shippen-Roosevelt family, but sadly, one of the last times this group would be celebrating together.