You know the Forsgate County Club of today – a spectacular setting for golf and a gracious backdrop for fine dining and special events. But what is the story behind this beautiful and timeless historic landmark? Join us for a fascinating journey back to the first decades of the 1900’s to see how Forsgate’s now famous tradition of fine food, golf and hospitality first began.
John Forster’s dairy farm, chicken farm, greenhouse and apple orchards started the tradition of fine quality food that continues at Forsgate more than 80 years later.
IT STARTED AS A SCOTMAN’S DREAM ~ THE EARLY YEARS, 1913-1939
In 1896 John Forster, a penniless Scottish immigrant, founded the insurance company of Crum and Forster. As his wealth grew, so did his longing to build a self-sufficient community for his employees, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In 1913 he eyed 50 acres of land in Monroe Township, west of the original 1831 Camden-Amboy railroad.
Here he decided to build a town, experiment with different types of agricultures and provide entertainment for his friends and relatives. While construction was in progress on the Farm, Forster and his wife and their daughter Edith would commute from Hackensack on weekends for site inspections. Since there were no facilities for meals or accommodations, the chauffeur-driven Packard would head down the road to the Railroad House at Prospect Plains.
When the Farm was complete, Forster dubbed it Forsgate, honoring his wife’s family name of Gatenby. His horse-breeding, dairy farm, chicken farm, greenhouse and apple orchards started the tradition of fine quality food that continues at Forsgate more than 80 years later.
In building the golf course, Charles “Steamshovel” Banks reproduced many of the golf holes that were handpicked by John Forster from his European golfing tours.
The History of Forsgate
With quality living and fine food uppermost on Forster’s mind, he decided, despite the crash of 1929, to build an elegant country club and golf course. Forster, not one to spare expense on the quality he sought, hired noted architect Clifford Wendehack to design the magnificent colonial clubhouse. The quality of the golf course was equally important, so he hired the famed Charles “Steamshovel” Banks to build it. In the design, Banks reproduced many of the golf holes that were handpicked by John Forster from his European golfing tours. The Country Club was finished in 1931, but Forster did not live long to enjoy it, leaving his dreams of building a church, a hospital and a school unfulfilled.
Forster’s daughter Edith and her husband, John Howard Abeel, took over managing the Farm and Club after Forster’s death. Although Abeel enjoyed playing golf more than he liked farming, he did encourage Edith to carry on her father’s plans. A 1931 Daily News article remarked “Forsgate Farm food products are famous throughout this part of New Jersey because its home-cooked and strictly fresh at all times.” It was this outstanding quality that helped the Farm carry on successfully through the Depression years.
Edith and her husband had to integrate the new, innovative technology that was developing in the 30s. When pasteurization and Vitamin D were first introduced to milk production, the Farm launched a major PR campaign to educate the public. A letter to the Farm management by a Forsgate salesperson highlights the changing attitudes in 1931: “Of course, Morristown is a raw milk city, but there were some inquiries for some pasteurized milk…” Forsgate Farms was ready to meet the public’s changing tastes.
In 1932 a pint of Forsgate’s delicious ice cream sold for 35 cents, & families throughout the state traveled to Monroe Township for a Saturday outing at the farm. In addition to the burgeoning milk business, the secret Danish ice cream recipe of Magnus Malgaard, never since duplicated, was gaining statewide fame. In 1932 a pint of Forsgate’s delicious ice cream sold for 35 cents, and the Farm was noted for making unique ice cream molds shaped like roses, carnations, liberty bells, pears, peaches, hearts, cupids and turkeys. As the Farm’s rustic appeal and agricultural strides gained recognition in the 30's, so did contact with city folk. The Farm offered guided tours highlighted by visits to noted cedar stall cow barns, the maternity barn and ice cream plant, where visitors were treated to free ice cream. Families throughout the state traveled to Monroe Township for a Saturday outing at Forsgate Farm.
Forsgate Ice Cream Menu in 1932
A quart in bulk was $1.00 and for pre-packed it was .75 cents; A pint was .50 cents in bulk and .35 cents for pre-packed; A pint was .30 cents and .25 cents for pre-packed; Single Cone was .10 cents; Double Cone was only .20 cents; Popsicles were .10 cents; Dixie Cups also sold for .10 cents; Sandwiches were only .12 cents; A Gallon sold for $1.40; Sugar Cones for sale for .11 cents!
Forsgate received its liquor license in 1933, making the still private country club an exclusive resort for New York and Philadelphia business friends of the family. Agricultural productivity was dramatically increased by the combine machine, which when first introduced made headline news by being able to cut and thresh wheat and bind it into 60 bundles an hour, all in one operation.
Golf memberships cost the Club’s exclusive clientele only $25.00 in 1955 – a small price for the pleasure of golfing on the famous Charles Banks’ course.
By 1939, right before the outbreak of World War II, the Farm’s success was evident by the fleet of milk trucks covering 12 retail and wholesale routes, and the 28 routes covered by independent distributors. As Forsgate’s future was brightening, the world’s political situation was darkening. World War II had started and Americans were preoccupied with the country’s involvement in the war. Meanwhile, the future of the Farm was about to move into the capable hands of John Forster Abeel, who had his own ideas about how to expand on his grandfather’s original vision.
JOHN FORSTER’S LEGACY LIVES ON THE MIDDLE YEARS, 1940-1970
In the early 1940's, Forsgate Country Club felt the influence of young John Forster Abeel, son of Edith and John Howard Abeel. Young John, who had spent his summers picking potatoes and milking cows, became Forsgate’s Chief Executive when he was just 26. His business acumen and generous personality were two key ingredients in Forsgate’s formula for success. After settling in and ensuring Forsgate Farm’s prosperity, Abeel’s keen mind looked at other business ventures. Long before commercial aviation was popular, Abeel built Forsgate Airpark in 1947; despite the public outcry that air travel would hurt agricultural productivity. It was said that the noises and fumes of the planes were sure to ruin egg production and cause stillborn calves. But Abeel built anyway, dispelling the community’s fears and creating a fliers’ Mecca. Small private planes would cruise over the beautiful Charles Banks golf course and land on the green sod runways. Forsgate employees would spot the planes and send out a red “Follow Me” jeep to guide the pilot and his golf clubs to the Country Club, where for 75 cents he could eat a hearty breakfast, or order a mouth-watering dinner for $1.25. Eventually, commercial airports forced Forsgate Airpark to close, but its hospitality to pilots remains legendary.