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A Brief History of the Durand-Hedden House

The land on which the Durand-Hedden House now sits was first the home of the Indigenous People called the Lenape, or Leni Lenape. 


The first European settlers in what is now Essex County came to Newark from the New Haven Connecticut Colony, led there by Robert Treat in 1666. By 1678, the outer limits of the Newark Colony stretched to the top of the First Watchung Mountain. Early roads from Newark were surveyed, often along old Indian trails, two of which eventually became South Orange and Clinton Avenues. 


Settlers from the Newark Colony, in search of land to farm or to develop early industry, moved west along these roads. They established farms where they planted wheat, rye, corn and fruit trees, raised cattle and sheep, and set up grist and saw mills. Over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, small settlements developed in what is now Maplewood. These settlements took on local names; the west eventually took the name of Jefferson Village, the east, North Farms.


A few local roads developed, including Ridgewood, Elmwood, Parker, Tuscan and Valley, creating links between farms in the area. Another important artery, the Newark-Springfield Turnpike, was built in 1806. Because those who settled here primarily came from England, their farmhouses generally followed English traditions and were built close to these main arteries. Early families such as the Balls, Crowells, Baldwins, Beaches, Browns, Smiths, and Heddens bought large plots of land and eventually members of their extended families owned property throughout the area.

The Building of the Durand-Hedden House

The Durand-Hedden House, whose southern half was built in about 1790, sits on two acres that were part of of the 72-acre tract of land acquired by Ebenezer Hedden from the British Crown before 1740. His son, Obadiah Hedden, was born on the land, and in 1787, after the Revolutionary War, Obadiah was able to take title to the 25 acres upon which he built a modest clapboard side-hall farmhouse.


Obadiah and Susanna Hedden’s original house is now the southern half of the present house. The main room is a kitchen with a large, deep red sandstone fireplace whose beehive oven was reconstructed by the Durand-Hedden Association in about 1980. A smaller adjoining room has a fireplace extending diagonally across the corner of the chimney, and was probably a bedroom. This is a relatively unusual example of two fireplaces on one chimney, an earlier example of which is in the 1743 Timothy Ball House farther along Ridgewood Road. Upstairs in the original section are two bedrooms, one of which also has a fireplace, and a loft area that was used for storage, weaving, spinning and other activities.


In 1804, after his wife’s death, Obadiah Hedden sold the property to Dr. Watts Bonnel. In 1812, it was sold to neighbor Henry Durand.

The Durand Family

Henry Durand was the brother of Asher Brown Durand, who later gained fame as a founder of the Hudson River School of art, and grandson of Samuel Durand, who had settled in the town of Newark in about 1740. The Durands were an artistic and creative family. Samuel, termed “a skillful and modest clockmaker of the village,” was born in 1713. His son John, born in 1745, was a jewelry maker who moved to Jefferson Village in 1774 and built a house on property at the corner of (now) Durand and Ridgewood Roads. In the Revolutionary War, John Durand reportedly put his jeweler’s skills to use in repairing George Washington’s field glasses.


Henry and Asher Durand were born in John's house, which burned to the ground in about 1843. Henry, carrying on the family tradition, made jewelry, silverware and watch crystals and played the violin. He and his wife, Electa, moved to what is now the Durand-Hedden House in 1812 and Henry lived there until his death in 1846. Electa and their son James Madison Durand (also a skilled engraver and watchmaker who established a major jewelry-making firm in Newark) and his family continued to own the property until about 1866, when Electa died. The northern half of the house, with a high-ceilinged front room, back parlor and side porch on the main floor and two large bedrooms above, was built around 1860, probably added by James. The peaked gables with rounded-top windows were Gothic Revival features popular at the time. Other interesting decorative and stylish touches from that period include an Italianate walnut staircase and a Greek Revival style front door, with a pedimented and eared door frame.


The Ripley Years

The William Chauncey Ripley family purchased the house in 1923, and may have been the owners who remodeled the back parlor into a pantry and kitchen. They also added a small room as maid’s quarters to the rear, using red sandstone on the exterior to match the early kitchen fireplace. The house remained in the caring hands of the Ripley family until 1971.

Saved from Destruction

The house fell into disrepair in the years that followed and was threatened with demolition. A campaign to save the historic property was led by Maplewood’s mayor, Robert Grasmere, and the Town of Maplewood bought it in 1977 with the help of the state Green Acres program. The Durand-Hedden House and Garden Association was established in 1979, and has spent the ensuing years restoring the property and offering historical and educational programs to schools and the community. The House now sits on two acres of gardens and meadows in Grasmere Park, named in honor of the late Mayor Grasmere.

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