We continue with the “Destination: Ewingville” series as we consider yet another “hot spot” in Ewingville: The Hillwood Inn.
As Robert Reeder Green states in his book, Land Along the Shabakunks, by 1920, “major changes were about to take place” in the area of Ewingville. The Driving Park, built in 1885, had lost its popularity, and was only used for training horses.
The Trenton Street Railway Company had installed a trolley along Pennington Road around the turn of the century, which provided transportation to and from Trenton and other Mercer destinations along the main road to Pennington. New homes were being constructed along the road as well. The Ewing Hotel (situated where the 7-11 is today) added a general store within its walls.”
But perhaps the biggest change was Clement V. Hill’s purchase of a large swath of land in the area, including the race track, and portions of a meadow and three neighboring farms.
The “refrigerator genius”—born and raised in Hopewell, manufacturing titan in Trenton and later living in Ewing—was a very successful businessman, and would eventually have nearly 50 patents in refrigeration technology.
He had a vision for a “showplace” on the site, and set his resources on making it come to fruition.
The land was cleared of trees and buildings, and two lakes—Ceva (upper, near Pennington Road) and Sylva (lower, towards back)—were dug and created with the help of earthen dams on the Shabakunk.
Bridges, islands, boardwalks and walking paths through wooded areas were constructed. But the main attraction was a large inn, which was located near to the land between the two lakes, about where the School of Education parking garage is now located on The College of New Jersey campus. It opened in late 1922.
Green describes the wood frame Hillwood Inn as “a delightful place with a large dance floor and orchestra and serving delicious meals. It soon became a well-known place—very high class… People came from far and near to have dinner and parties.”
It could accommodate up to 300 people, and had a wide wrap-around porch from which you could view the lakes while you dined in the warmer months. There were some guest rooms as well, and living quarters for some of the people who operated the Inn.
The Hillwood Inn was definitely a regional destination and very popular. In the days of the roaring ’20s and Prohibition, it was a dining and dancing destination—a night out for a couple or a crowd.
It also hosted business luncheons, meetings, and celebratory gatherings. While Green states that it “did not serve drinks” (after all, it was Prohibition!), who knows what may have been going on behind the scenes, so to speak.
The grounds were lovely and unique as well. A boardwalk edged the lake, lit by ornate lamp posts. Swimming and diving was allowed in the lower lake, which had a small beach area as well. In the winter, the shallower, upper lake Ceva froze over for skating.
Row boats and canoes were available to rent by the hour, and guests could also pay to be given a ride around the lake with that “special someone.”
And CV Hill—who you may recall reading in last month’s column had built a miniature village in his boyhood front yard in Hopewell—similarly had constructed a miniature village near the Inn, through which one could walk and watch the water wheels turn and move parts of the village. Mr. Hill never lost his inventiveness!
The Inn lasted until 1928 or so, just prior to the market crash of 1929. Maintenance costs of the property were rising, and Mr. Hill was looking for a buyer for the property. As it happened, one came along—and that will be the subject of next month’s column.