History doesn’t just hang on the walls of the USGA Golf Museum, it lives in them. A century ago, when farms, peach orchards and summer estates blanketed central New Jersey, and Model T Fords traveled between the bucolic villages of Basking Ridge, Far Hills and Liberty Corner, ground broke on the future home of the USGA Golf Museum under the direction of famed architect John Russell Pope.
In the decades that followed, the house and its grounds would change hands and take on new roles, eventually serving as a state-of-the-art museum in which the nation’s finest collection of golf history artifacts is preserved and displayed. As the Pope House marks its centennial in 2019, the USGA Golf Museum celebrates the significance of its headquarters’ beginnings.
In 1919, change defined the times: The Roaring Twenties and Jazz Age hovered on the horizon, millions of immigrants poured through eastern seaports, women fought for the right to vote and modern means of communication and transportation began to connect the country in revolutionary ways. Like many wealthy New Yorkers, Thomas Frothingham and his young wife, Elizabeth, desired an escape from the dizzying pace, rapid expansion and unsanitary conditions of the city. Their search ended with 400 acres of land in the rolling Somerset Hills and John Russell Pope.
Pope was a respected and sought-after architect by the time the Frothinghams hired him. Acclaimed academic programs at Columbia University, the American Academy in Rome and Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts lined his résumé. His associations with the well-established offices of McKim, Mead & White and Bruce Price complemented his talent. Most importantly, Pope had designed an impressive array of residences for clientele in high society hotbeds like Newport, R.I., Long Island, N.Y. and Washington, D.C. in a variety of architectural styles.
He had also begun his foray into monumental and public architecture, for which he is now most famous. Later in life, his accomplishments would include the Jefferson Memorial, National Gallery of Art, Temple of the Scottish Rite and National Archives Building in Washington D.C., The Frick Collection’s Garden Court in New York City, and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Memorial Building in Hodgenville, Ky. His ability to translate the sensibilities of his time and the unique characteristics of the building’s purpose and location into his designs has allowed them to remain treasured pieces of the national landscape.
Pope’s plans for the Frothingham home reflected not only the land around it and the couple’s personal tastes, but the American political and cultural trends that emerged with the rise of the Progressive movement and the end of World War I. Small towns welcomed soldiers home and decorated their Main Streets with red, white and blue, while the country’s tastes in art, architecture and storytelling shifted to nationalistic and idealistic subjects and styles.