“Hilton has always been a prideful, hard-working section of Maplewood which produced a great deal and to this day it has maintained its identity.”
These are the words of Louis deFillipis, a long-time Maplewood attorney whose wife was descended from a dairy farmer whose farm was on Boyden Avenue, near the present Maplewood Pool.
This intriguing part of town was one of the first areas to become a thriving community on a well-traveled thoroughfare we now know as Springfield Avenue.
The Hilton section has been the subject of a number of historical accounts in Maplewood Past and Present, edited by Helen Bates, Beatrice Herman’s book The Trail to the Upland Plantations, and numerous newspaper articles Mrs. Herman and others wrote over the years.
The area was originally part of Newark Township, formed in 1693. According to Maplewood Past and Present, from the time of the first settlements on the banks of the Passaic River, Newark “was the parent of small settlements scattered westward toward the Mountain.”
It became known as North Farms, an industrious area where people grew their own food and made all their clothing, shoes and hats by hand. In 1806, the Newark-Springfield Turnpike, a toll-road, was extended through the area, bringing travelers and business. By 1830 some of the hat-makers had expanded into small factories. As it developed as a stopover point about equidistant between Morristown and Newark, the community took the name of Middleville. Taverns, hotels and stores flourished along the Turnpike, including Headley’s General Store at the intersection of Springfield and Burnett Avenues.
In 1880, when the community sought its own post office, it was discovered that a Middleville already existed, so the name Hilton was chosen. At that point Hilton, along with Maplewood, was part of the Township of South Orange.
An Entertainment Destination
The area became known for its entertainment opportunities such as shooting matches in the thick woods near the Tuscan Club, on the edge of what is now Maplecrest Park; buggy races between the Old Hilton Hotel and Millburn; and bicycle races, which reportedly attracted as many as 10,000 spectators along the route.
Becker’s Grove was the site of many picnics and German-style songfests. In 1915, a concert hall built for the Songfest was turned into an opera house. Eventually the Grove became the site of Olympic Park, a popular amusement park that flourished until 1965. Its carousel, the largest ever made in America, is now in Disney World.
The Hilton area became known for the strawberries developed by Seth Boyden, a renowned inventor who retired to the area in 1855.
Charles Dzuba, an engineer who worked at Public Service Electric & Gas, came across Seth Boyden’s process patents for manufacturing malleable cast iron. He became fascinated with the inventor, and wondered if there was a connection between Seth Boyden and the Boyden Avenue address of his laboratory.
Over time, he has amassed a wealth of knowledge on Boyden, and he spoke at a Durand-Hedden Open House in November 2004, showing slides and some of the items that he collected.
Seth Boyden’s experiments produced enormous, delicious strawberries and local farmers started growing them and selling them to top hotels and restaurants in New York.
Boyden’s close friend was Elias Wade Durand, son of Cyrus and nephew of Asher and Henry. Elias became an expert horticulturalist in his own right, and in 1876 he won a bronze medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
By 1915 strawberry cultivation had dwindled and farmers started growing pansies and cutting flowers. The largest landowner in the area, Timothy Burnet, died in 1903 and soon after, his 100 acres were divided into residential lots, becoming the suburban development it is today.
Compiling an accurate history of an area is a complex undertaking. Trustees Patty Chrisman, Maria Heningburg and Susan Newberry read historical accounts and writings, reviewed census records, deeds and old photographs, and interviewed long-time residents to explore, verify and record as much information as possible.
The Durand-Hedden House hopes that residents with information and artifacts (letters, mementos, photos, family stories, etc.) will be willing to share what they have to enrich the history.