Maplewood, in the Orange Mountains

Jan 12, 2003

The name “Maplewood” dates back to 1860, but the history of the section can be traced back many, many years, to a time before the hum of motor cars with their blatant horns broke the quiet that brooded over the hills, to the time when the first white settlers crowded out the Lenni ¬Lenape and Hackensack Indians, parts of the great tribe of Algonquins, who had held undisputed sway over these forests and streams.

Ridgewood Road, over which now the motors speed in almost endless stream, was but a trail winding through the hills and traversed only by Native Americans. It was called the Upper Trail. At the foot of the hill ran the Lower Trail, now Valley Street. Both led to the tidal waters now known as Newark Bay.

The old trails were well-beaten paths, two or three feet wide, their course mostly determined by their levelness, degree of dryness in wet weather, convenience to fishing points, game forests and camping sites and the absence of rocks and stones. Then, too, there must be food, such as roots, berries and nuts nearby, and drinking water not too far away.

And so began the little town, nestling cozily among the foot-hills of the Orange Mountains. Sixteen miles from New York and six from Newark, its streets now run in patterned neatness over hills and valley. From the summit on the west, which is 550 feet above sea level, a sharp drop to the East Branch of the Rahway River brings it down to 130 feet. It rises again to the East Ridge above Prospect Street to a height of 350 feet and then slopes gently down to Newark.

The early settlers of the town were of English descent and came to New Jersey from Connecticut. The community of straggling farms had no name until Jefferson became famous as the author of the Declaration of Independence, when it was named in honor of him. The farms on Ridgewood Road, extending up to the Orange Mountains, were in what was then called the Township of Springfield, while those in the section extending from Valley Street to the top of the hill to the southeast were before 1835 in Orange Township. Orange was created in 1806 out of the old town of Newark. It extended from the Township of Caldwell to Elizabeth and the Township of Springfield, which included Jefferson Village. Clinton Township, no longer in existence, took in the southern half of the little hamlet of South Orange. Jefferson Village was not de¬tached from Springfield until 1857, when Union County was set off from Essex.

The farms were much like the farms of today, except that they could boast of no modern equipment such as tractor plows, mowers and reapers. The silo, a familiar feature in today’s farm landscape, was un¬heard of. Apple, peach and pear orchards were many. It was here that the famous Harrison and Canfield apples were grown. No market for the ripe fruit being available, many of the apples were dried, the re¬mainder were used for cider, vinegar and apple-jack, known as “Jersey Lightning”. Each farm had its cider mill, and many were the distilleries where the “Lightning” was made.

In the Middleville section, now Hilton, were raised the “Hilton Strawberries”, each the size of a small plum. Seth Boyden, well-known inventor, had come from Newark to be better able to work at his patents and he introduced the berry to the section. John Van Ness, who died in the 1930s, was a pioneer grower of the famous berry.

Many of the descendants of the early settlers remained in the old homesteads. The Van Ness home was built in about 1833 and is lo¬cated on the corner of Boyden Avenue and Van Ness Terrace, the latter road having been cut through the farm land at the rear of the house. The home is a treasure trove of Colonial relics. On the opposite corner stands the homestead of Caleb Van Ness; it is well preserved from the peak of its roof to its foundation, about which grow hundreds of rose bushes, bringing a splash of color in early summer.

On what is now Parker Avenue was located the old Ball homestead. About 1648 [1748] a descendant of Edward Ball, who came to Newark a few years after it was settled by Robert Treat, bought the farm on which was an old house of cut brown stone. In this he lived until 1784, when he tore it down and built a new house using the same stones. The new dwelling was one and one-half stories in height. It was here that Joseph Ball was born. He was the great grandfather of the Misses Alice and Fannie Ball, who live on Walton Road. In 1926, after the death of their brother Amzi, they sold the house. It was torn down and each stone numbered. It was rebuilt in exact reproduction in Westfield.

On Parker Avenue, near Boyden Avenue, still stands the homestead of Philander Ball, uncle to the Misses Ball. There, in the old white house, its dignity and beauty unmarred by the march of time, still live his grand-children.

In the late 1930s, Warren Ball, son of Philander Ball, was still living in the home he built years earlier on Boyden Avenue, near Parker. These all were cousins of Mary Ball, mother of George Washington. They can recall the happy times spent at “Tuscan Hall” built by Ezekiel Ball and located on what is now Maplecrest Park. Holes about ten inches in diameter near the top of the house were ‘look-out” windows, where the early settlers could watch the movements of their Indian neighbors.

Another cousin of Mary Ball, Timothy Ball, with his wife, Esther, built a house on Ridgewood Road, still standing. Timothy was a grandson of that same Edward Ball who came to Newark in 1667. Their first house was a log one, the present stone one being built in 1743 according to the stone inserted in the chimney. During the harrowing days of the Revolution Washington often visited these cousins, sometimes stabling his horse in the kitchen for safety.

On top of the mountain, just back of what is now Washington Park, on Coon Road, was a watch tower. It was from this tower that observa¬tions were made of the movements of the British soldiers toward Morris¬town. It was supposed that they would come along Ridgewood Road from the East, and Washington warned all the people to seek refuge over the mountains. Lookouts were stationed at Baldwin’s Station, on Scotland Road, and at Vaux Hall, on the ridge opposite Coon Road. The signals came through successfully and the British were defeated at Springfield, June 23, 1780 as the result. When Washington made his headquarters at Morristown, a cavalry scout stable accommodating 40 horses was located at the corner of Ridgewood Road and Cedar Lane.

Pierson’s Mill, located now at Valley Street and Pierson Road, was built in 1831, but from early in 1700 mills on the East Branch of the Rahway River belonged to the Pierson family. The old homestead on Valley Street, near the mill, was occupied by descendants of those early settlers until 2000, when the family sold the entire property.

The Courter homestead, made modern by an addition and a front porch, stands on Tuscan Road, opposite Oberlin Street. The rolling country round about was a dairy farm. David Courter died when over ninety years of age, in 1935, in the home he built on Oberlin Street about thirty years ago. The spring-house near Tuscan Road, a land-mark re¬membered by the older residents of the town, was torn down about a year ago. [It may still be standing.]

The farm at what is now Parker Avenue and Valley Street belonged to the Crowell family. One of the Crowell descendants, Mr. E. B. Kitchell, resides on Prospect Street, opposite Elmwood Avenue. Mr. Kitchell re¬members when Valley Street was not cut through beyond Parker Avenue, but a road wound through the fields and past the brook and at last ended at Tuscan Road. The brook was then called “Hat-shop” brook, because of its grimy waters, polluted by the hat-shops in South Orange. The Kitchell family can date proudly back to Robert Treat but went to Hanover and Whippany before coming to Maplewood.

On the west hill of the town was the farm of Samuel Durand, whose son John, built a home at what is now the westerly corner of Durand and Ridgewood Roads. This was the Durand homestead for 162 years. Asher Brown Durand, one of the eight children, became a world-famous artist. He was the first President of the National Academy of Design and an original member of the Century Club of New York. Raccoons, foxes, deer and other animals roamed at will on the farm. Often a bear, with more temerity than his mates, came down to the farm-yard, only to be tracked to his den and killed, and his body dragged down the trail, giving rise to the name Bear Lane for the street which is now Claremont Avenue.

The Isaac Smith farm included the land purchased in about the 1860s by Cornelius Roosevelt. This included what is now Roosevelt Road and the streets in its vicinity. In the southwesterly gate-post is the stone inscribed “J. S. 1766” taken from the old farm house. Theodore Roosevelt, our former President, often visited his uncle at the old place.

In those early days there were neither newspapers nor periodicals. After service, little groups might be found in the old Meeting-house, exchanging bits of gossip or the latest news. The general store answered the same purpose. It is true there were no motion pictures then, but perhaps more enjoyment was derived from the “Living Pictures” posed by young men and women of the community and featured at church socials and home entertainments. Quilting and husking bees, straw ride and sleigh rides all were popular forms of amusement. The County Fair from its very beginning was looked forward to by old and young alike with joyous anticipation. Various competitions inspired “Ma” and “Pa” to become proficient in pickle-making and hog-raising; for “Mary” and “John” the crowds and the excitement meant thrills seldom experienced by young folks of today.

The Bible and the Almanac were practically the only books read. In fact, farm work and caring for a family and “hired hands” left little time for reading. Children were given names from the Bible and it was not at all unusual to have most of the Old Testament characters represented in one family, the families being larger than those today.

From the thirty families in the town in 1815 the population has increased until there are now 24,000 people living in Maplewood. And changes came with the years. The queer stage that was a familiar sight on Springfield Avenue disappeared and trolley cars pitched crazily on rails laid at each side of the street, leaving the center free for vehicular travel. The women ceased dipping tallow candles and used odd little lamps with two wicks jutting out, not unlike the torches used by street workmen. It is true, they smoked, but they gave more light than the candles. Next came chimneys, which eliminated the smoke, but gave the busy women one more chore to do. Friction matches made their ap¬pearance in 1836.

Then, on January 29, 1835, came the charter for the Morris and Essex Railroad, operating from Newark to Orange at first and later from Newark to Madison. The carriages, horse drawn, were of the stage coach type, and the rails were laid on longitudinal sleepers. In 1837 Seth Boyden built the first steam engine on this road and named if ‘The Orange’. The Old Stone House at Jefferson Avenue was the town stopping place, though no tickets were sold there. Anyone wishing to board the train at this point in the fields was required to wave a hand¬kerchief by day and a lantern by night. In 1860 John Shedden bought thirty acres of land and laid it out in streets. He and a few other resi¬dents gave one acre to the railroad company for a station, which was built on Maple Avenue. Nearby was the Great Maple Swamp. A partic¬ularly large maple tree stood close to the little depot, and gave it the name of ‘Maplewood”. The town soon adopted the same name. The present station was built in 1902.

The first school of Jefferson Village stood at Necessity Corners. The building still stands on the easterly corner of Ridgewood Road and Baker Street. Another school, called Vaux Hall School, a small brick building, still stands on its original site on Tuscan Road midway between Prospect Street and Valley Street. It was absorbed into the Jefferson Village dis¬trict in 1869. Middleville, now Hilton, had its early school at Springfield and Boyden Avenues. Its records date back to 1817. The schools were supported by a tuition fee of $1.75 per quarter for each pupil. Subjects outside the very restricted curriculum cost $.25 per subject in addition. The teachers were obliged to collect their own fees, keep the schools clean and the fires going.

Gradually the State began to take on a share of the school respon¬sibilities, and in 1846, the town was forced to raise as much money as was given by the state, the fund providing for those unable to pay. Around 1900 a new school was built. This, formerly Ricalton School, named for James Ricalton, an outstanding teacher in Maplewood, has since been enlarged and became Maplewood Junior High School.

Maplewood and South Orange have a combined school system, which ranks high in the state. In September 1927, a new High School was built at Valley Street and Parker Avenue at a cost of over $2,000,000. Columbia High School has been used as a model throughout the country. Its main auditorium seats nearly 1,000. Among its special features are an organ, a radio, large offices, a conference room, comfortable class¬rooms, gymnasium and swimming pools. It has a school council, with a representative in each class, a dramatic club, debating society, girls’ and boys’ athletic associations and a school paper. At the end of January 1937 there were enrolled 6,882 pupils.

In close competition with the schools, the Maplewood Library has done much toward the educational growth of the town. The Library organized in 1913 and until 1922 was supported entirely by subscription membership. It was known as the Maplewood Public Library Association. In the Autumn of 1921 it was voted on by the people to become a Free Public Library, supported by the Township. Since January 1922 it has been an active institution, its circulation increasing yearly. There is a main library on Maplewood Avenue, a Branch on Springfield Avenue, over the Firehouse, and a branch in the Fielding School.

The churches, too, have had much to do with the development Maplewood. In 1810 a Baptist Society was formed at Jefferson Village, with Elder Joseph Gildersleeve as pastor. There were 18 communicants. The next year Caleb Durand gave to this Society a plot of land located at the northerly corner of Ridgewood Road and Bear Lane. It was called “Babel Chapel”. It was occupied from 1812—1846, when the pastor died.

In July 1859 [July 10, 1858] the property was transferred to the Methodist Episcopal Church of Jefferson Village. In 1870 it became the Methodist Episcopal Church of Maplewood. In December 1897 it was changed to Morrow Memorial M. E. Church. The present Episcopal church edifice was erected in 1895. Other churches are Christ Lutheran, First Church of Christ, Scientist; Central Reformed, and Prospect Presbyterian and the Hilton section St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Congregational, Hilton Methodist and Maplewood Gospel Chapel. Many of the churches are community in spirit. Hilton Methodist last year celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The town of Maplewood, or then as it was known as the Township of South Orange was incorporated in the year 1861. [The Jefferson Village part of Maplewood did not become part of the Township of South Orange until 1863.] The first meeting of the Township Committee was held April 13, 1861. The original com¬mittee included Moses P. Smith, Philander Ball, Benjamin E. Baldwin, Ira Taylor and Philip J. Anshutz. At that first election the following appropria¬tions were voted for: support of schools, repairs of highways and support of poor. Even as far back as that there was need of public relief. Maplewood was separated from Village of South Orange in 1903. [The Village of South Orange separated from the Township in 1903.] The name was changed to Township of Maplewood from Township of South Orange in 1922, though the section had long been called Maplewood.

Maplewood consists of 2,061 acres, with 58 miles of streets, 5,000 one-family dwellings, 311 two-family; 17 three-family and 21 of four or more families.

The reins of government are held by the Township Committee. The members are chosen by popular vote. The committee members elect one of their number as chairman. Each member serves three years and acts as chairman of two of the ten standing committees, which include fi¬nance, roads and side-walks, sewers, police, street lighting, fire, legal, poor, public buildings and parks, and the building committee. Meetings are held twice a month and are open to the public. The new Municipal Building built in 1932 is one to be proud of, with ifs stately white columns and turret, its large and commodious rooms.

Maplewood has two parks, Memorial, near the center of town, and Maplecrest, near Springfield Avenue. Each park, as well as being a beauty spot, has a shelter-house, supervised play-grounds, tennis courts and ball-grounds. A section in each is flooded in winter to provide skating, and the blade plow attached to the Worthington Tractor has speeded up the clearing of ponds after snow storms.

One of modern Maplewood’s landmarks is the Ward Homestead located on Elmwood Avenue. This large and beautiful estate was started in 1925 and opened in 1927, building and maintenance being taken care of by the will of the late Marcus L. Ward, of Newark. The terms of the will read: “For aged and respectable white bachelors and widowers who have lived in New Jersey for ten years previous to making application and who through misfortune have been deprived of support and are wholly or partially unable to support themselves.” The atmosphere is that of a real home not an institution. There are now 104 members of the “household.”

Two fine brick fire houses take care of the fire apparatus. About 28 years ago there were several branches; one was located on Prospect Street, on the property of C. A. Goldsmith; one in the Ivy Hill section. The former still stands on the Goldsmith land—the flat addition was the home of the old two-wheeled, man-drawn hose cart, the higher building the “meeting room”. Telephones first brought the news of a fire, but later a gong was attached to the fire house. There were just a handful of farm houses, but the people felt they needed protection; the insurance rates were lower if a town had fire protection. The department was organized about 1898.

Maplewood Police Department’s first authentic records are dated 1906. Headquarters were in the old Town Hall, which, renovated is now used for the Library. Various members served as “head” from time to time, but the first permanent chief Arthur Boyle was appointed in 1913. He resigned in 1918 and Chief Jacob HeIf took his place in 1919. The first vehicle owned by the department, besides the motorcycles, was a large Winton automobile, given to the department by the late William Kemp. This was converted so that the seat dropped down to accommodate an injured patient. Later came the “pie wagon” in other words a Ford patrol wagon, which “bounced up in the air on the curves, but righted itself again with remarkable adaptability”. After the war, with the aid of Mrs. Garfield Gifford, then Agnes Jones, the chief procured one of the motor corps ambulances.

On the second floor of the building are the fine court room, paneled in chestnut, the detention room, the Chief’s two rooms and the record room, while on the first floor are the reception room, the Captain’s room and two detention rooms, with five cells. In the basement are the locker rooms, shower room, kitchen, assembly room, bullet making room, vault, photography room, boiler room and a target range of 75 feet. [This seems to be a description of the present Police Headquarters building dedicated May 30, 1931.]

Maplewood's community spirit is not only displayed in its churches, but in its celebrations as well. Its Fourth of July celebration is renowned far and wide, visitors from neighboring towns flocking in, nearly crowding the residents out. There are athletic events in the morning, a circus in the afternoon and community singing at twilight. And when the dark¬ness falls, the fine fireworks make the heavens bright with their streamers and colored falling stars.

Exercises in Columbia High School followed by a parade are the Memorial Day features. Perhaps the best of all is the Christmas observ¬ance, when the townspeople sing carols around the Community tree.

The early settlers would rub their eyes and wonder if they were dreaming should they step back into the picture and see the modern homes sprouting up from their well-kept fields, should see the neat, dwarf ever-greens supplanting their crooked apple trees, and hear the hum of vacuum cleaners, washing machines and iceless refrigerators where only the bees used to hum.

Maplewood has progressed, yet Maplewood has kept her individu¬ality. And Maplewood is still a haven of rest to the man of the house, not after a hard day in the fields, but after a hard day in the city. To this little town he may come at evening, forget his weariness and refresh mind and body before the dawn calls to him once more to march on with the world. Maplewood is so near the city, yet in its nest in the hills so very far away.

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