Dec 1, 1999
The Timothy Ball House is one of the most interesting and impressive early houses in the region, both historically and structurally. It was built in 1743 by a grandson of Edward Ball, who settled in Newark in 1666 (just six years after the English took over the Island of Manhattan from the Dutch and renamed it New York) and was a signer of the Fundamental Agreement Among the Puritans. In about 1718, Edward Ball’s son Thomas acquired a 400-acre tract of land between what is now the Wyoming section of Millburn and the Hilton section of Maplewood. Thomas, a blacksmith and constable of the Colony of Newark, divided up his plantation among his seven surviving sons, including Timothy, upon his death in 1744.
Timothy and his wife Esther Bruen Ball lived in a small cabin not far from the present house when they married in 1734. Eight years later, to accommodate a growing family, they built a larger house with spacious proportions, a long roofline, massive chimneys and thick foundation walls. Although a farmhouse, it had distinction more in keeping with a man of Timothy’s standing as a prosperous farmer in the community.
The house was constructed just beyond the brook that divided Orange from Springfield, made of reddish-brown sandstone quarried on Orange Mountain (later called First Newark Mountain). Oak trees were cut down in nearby woodlands to make structural beams, the kitchen mantelpiece and other woodwork. In the front chimney, above the peak of the roof, is a stone inscribed T. & E.B. 1743. Photographs remain of the house in its original state, with dark siding and one small window beside the front door.
After Timothy Ball died in a smallpox epidemic in 1758, his widow, Esther, and her two older daughters continued to run the farm and care for three younger sons, John, Uzal and David.
Timothy and Esther’s boys grew up to join the New Jersey Militia in the Revolutionary War. A short distance away, at the corner of the Road to Springfield and Old Mountain Road (now Ridgewood and Cedar Lane), was a cavalry stable for 40 horses; a watchtower on Coon Road on the mountaintop above the house was used to exchange signals with the Vaux Hall ridge regarding the movements of the British. George Washington, who may have been a cousin (his mother was Mary Ball), was a frequent visitor to the house during the war and reportedly slept in the large room over the kitchen, or a smaller room next to it. The General was said to have tied his horse to the huge walnut tree that juts into the roadway in front of the house and in one instance, for safety, to have kept his horse in the kitchen overnight. David Ball had married and moved a short way down the road, and General Washington sent his wife and baby up in the mountain at one point for safety.
Esther continued to live in the house for 50 years with her children and grandchildren. Her son Uzal eventually took title to the homestead and lived there until his death in 1799. In 1802, the land was partitioned among Uzal’s five children and one grandchild, and the property remained in the Ball family until 1853. A series of other families owned the house and land over the ensuing decades, and it gradually fell into disrepair. In 1919 it was sold to the developers of Washington Park, who restored and renovated the house, adding three dormers and a columned portico, and opened it to the public as The Old Washington Inn, which it remained for more than 30 years.
The House is commodious and substantial, built on six different levels. The lowest, a half-story below ground level, was probably designed as a storage cellar, and is now the modern kitchen. The original kitchen, on ground level, has a huge hearth, 11 feet wide and three feet deep. The logs for it were so large that they were reportedly dragged in by horses that entered through the front door and exited through a smaller door on the other side of the room (now a window).
Originally, steep, ladder-like steps connected the kitchen with the parlor level, which has a hallway extending the width of the house, from a door to the back to an upper front entrance. On the west side of the hallway are two small rooms sharing a unique structural feature that is the earliest example of one found in several Maplewood houses: two diagonal fireplaces facing into two separate rooms, but using one chimney. (A similar arrangement is in the Durand-Hedden House.) The fireplace in the second room was closed off some years ago.
The next level up is a large room over the kitchen that shares the kitchen chimney. This room would have been quite warm because of the fire in the kitchen hearth, and was said to have been used by Washington when he was in the area. A small bedroom is off the north side of that room. A small, square window to the right of the fireplace overlooks the road.
A full flight of stairs extends up to what is now a master bedroom suite, the west part (now a sitting room) a few steps below the east. The room has lofty ceilings brightened by the 1919 dormer windows. The massive stone chimneys dominated either end of the space (now obscured by closets and a bathroom), but there were no fireplaces. This was in all likelihood a sleeping loft for the family.
As “Maplewood Past and Present” concludes, “The house was not built as a mansion for formal living but as a homestead for the comfortable and efficient carrying-on of a considerable farm of the time. It is a house of originality and integrity and says much for the character of its builders.”
Information about the house was derived in large part from Maplewood Past and Present, 1948, and from research by Beatrice Peppard Herman in 1984.
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March 15, 2020, 1:00 PM