Dec 1, 1999
Lewis Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Mill, built the House known as Vaux Hall in 1843. Vaux Hall and the Durand-Hedden House are the only early Maplewood houses still having a large share of land about them.
Lewis’ father Samuel Pierson came from Connecticut to Newark, and in 1776 moved to Maplewood, to a section described as “wooded, wild country.” Samuel purchased 250 acres between what is now Springfield Avenue and what became Jefferson Village (west of the railroad tracks) and built a store and house on Valley Street, a country road that was a direct road from Orange to Springfield. Lewis, born in 1801, expanded the family business, building a gristmill in 1831 after damming up the East Branch of the Rahway River to generate waterpower. Area farmers brought their wheat, corn, oats, barley and buckwheat to Pierson’s Mill and took home flour for baking and feed for their poultry and livestock.
According to a diary kept by Lewis Pierson’s wife, Abby Susannah Beach Pierson, on May 3, 1843, the family moved into the barn for the spring and summer so that Samuel’s original house could be torn down to make way for the present structure. The elegant and imposing building is one of only a few Greek Temple-fronted Greek Revival houses still standing in New Jersey. It was a style that celebrated the ancient Greek ideals of democracy, beauty and simplicity.
Within a month the frame of the new house was raised, and construction proceeded with breathtaking speed. On September 16, Mrs. Pierson wrote, “We have taken tea in our new house this eve for the first time.” A nearby spring supplied the house with running water, and fed a fountain on the lawn.
Classical features are present throughout. Dramatic fluted Doric columns support a thick entablature and pedimented front-gabled roof. A high style, full-width colonnaded porch beneath the gable gives the house the appearance of a Greek temple. Fluted pilasters adorn the corners of the house. A fanned design in the pediment served as both a Greek Revival style embellishment and a functional role as a louvered vent to the attic. The classic pediment of the portico is repeated harmoniously throughout the house. The front door is capped by a pedimented lintel and flanked by fluted vertical piers. Inside the house, windows, doors and the archway between the parlors are framed by pediments and stepped vertical posts.
In the larger of the front parlors, an Empire sofa original to the house has pride of place before the inviting hearth, adorned with mid-19th century lamps called lusters, hung with prisms. The stone chimney behind the Italian marble mantelpiece is nearly five feet deep and forms a foundation for the entire structure. The kitchen fireplace opened off the other side of it, a later example of the two-fireplace chimney seen in the Timothy Ball and Durand-Hedden Houses. The original kitchen was made into a dining room many years ago, and the fireplace area has become an arched and enclosed china cupboard. A cherry corner cupboard in the room has been in place since the house was built.
Unusual folding doors are found in several rooms in the house, including the “carriage door” through which visitors arriving by carriage or horse would enter.
The staircase adjacent to the dining room is completely walled on both sides with original woodwork. Just beyond is a cozy room now used as a library. It reportedly served as a holding cell for the town jail at one point in its history.
Upstairs, the hall and bedrooms remain much as they were save for the addition of a tasteful master bath adjacent to the spacious master bedroom.
The authors of Maplewood Past and Present found the Lewis Pierson House to “give a clear impression of the judgment and good taste of the planners, as well as of the unhurried and skilled workmanship that went into its building.”
Information about the house was derived in large part from Maplewood Past and Present, 1948.
Read more about:
February 24, 2019, 1:00 PM