A Short History of Maplewood

Maplewood Township today best reflects its early-twentieth-century suburban history, yet it has roots dating back to the seventeenth century.  Settlers from Connecticut originally purchased the area that includes present-day Maplewood from Lenape Native Americans in 1667; this purchase stretched east to west from the Newark Bay to the foothills of the Watchung Mountains, and north to south from present-day Clifton to Hillside.[1]  This 40,000-acre area formed the bulk of what became Newark Township, one of the three original townships that made up Essex County when it was established in 1683.  The group of settlers consisted of approximately thirty Puritan families of mostly English heritage under the leadership of Robert Treat.  Settlement centered around Newark but some families began to move farther west into what was referred to as Newark Mountain after 1681[2], and by the early-eighteenth century, small farm settlements were established near the foot of the mountains and along the East Branch of the Rahway River.[3]

The Durand-Hedden House & Garden Association is Maplewood’s historical society and their website contains additional articles about the history of the township.

One of the early villages to develop west of Newark was part of the western section of present-day Maplewood.  The village did not have a name until the late-eighteenth century when it was named Jefferson Village in honor of Thomas Jefferson.  Another early settlement was located in the area that became the southeast section of present-day Maplewood, and by turns had several different local names over the years: Newark Farms, North Farms, and Middleville (c.1830); finally the name Hilton was eventually adopted around 1880 when the area received its own post office.[4]  Another settlement developed north of Jefferson Village and the North Farms section, which was associated with what became present-day South Orange Village.  All of these early settlements grew up around old Native American trails that eventually became roads, or around colonial highways that connected to Newark, Orange, Springfield, and other early major towns; some of Maplewood’s earliest roads include Ridgewood Road, Jefferson Avenue, portions of Valley Street, Parker Avenue, and Tuscan Road.[5]

In the early-nineteenth century, Jefferson Village remained a rural settlement of farms dotting Ridgewood Road with small industrial enterprises emerging to the east near Valley Street including a saw mill, grist mill, woolen mill, a cider mill, a forge, and later a store and shoe manufacture.[6]  The North Farms area developed differently due to its proximity to the inland harbor of the Elizabeth River and because it was a stopover for stagecoaches between Newark and Morristown.  This settlement centered around the intersections of Tuscan Road with Boyden, Burnett and Springfield Avenues.  Boyden Avenue led downhill to river harbor docks and boats at Stuyvesant Avenue that allowed local farmers and tradesmen to transport and trade goods and produce to Newark, Elizabeth and beyond.  Development in the area further increased after the opening of the Newark-Springfield Turnpike (present-day Springfield Avenue) after 1806.  Stores and hotels developed to accommodate passing travelers, and it soon became a flourishing village with manufacturers of nails, carriages, clothing, shoes and other goods.[7]  Jefferson Village, North Farms/Middleville and the other land that became present-day Maplewood Township were part of several different municipalities as boundaries changed and new townships formed throughout the nineteenth century; portions of Maplewood were at one point part of Springfield Township, Orange Township, Clinton Township, Millburn Township and South Orange Township.

Two important historical figures associated with early Maplewood were Asher B. Durand and Seth Boyden.  Asher Durand (1796-1886) was a famous painter and engraver born in Jefferson Village.  He became one of the most prominent landscape artists of his time and was credited as one of the founders of the Hudson River School of Painting.  While he spent most of his career in New York, he returned to his birthplace of Jefferson Village at aged 73 where he spent the rest of his life.  Durand Road, originally named Artist Lane, was named for him.[8]  Seth Boyden (1788-1870) was a great inventor who retired from Newark to Middleville (the Hilton section) in 1855.  He designed and manufactured the first two steam engines for the Morris & Essex Railroad, produced the first American malleable iron, daguerreotypes and patent leather, and started several successful industries in Newark; after settling in Middleville he cultivated a large variety of strawberries known as “Hilton Strawberries.”[9]

The introduction of the railroad in the nineteenth century marked the beginning of a shift from the area’s rural, agricultural roots to its later suburban development that is evident today.  In 1836, the Morris and Essex Railroad began construction west from Newark, reaching Morristown by 1838, and passed through what would become the center of present-day Maplewood Village.  A flag stop for the railroad was located near Jefferson Avenue at a dwelling that still exists today and is known as the Old Stone House (22 Jefferson Avenue).  The first railroad station was built in Maplewood in 1860 on the west side of the tracks near the intersection of Baker Street and Maplewood Avenue, and it is at this time that the name Maplewood first appears; a name was needed for this new station stop on the railroad line, and Maplewood Station was chosen because of the large maple tree that stood nearby and because of the great maple swamp that had been well-known in the village.[10]  With the addition of a railroad station, Maplewood began to attract wealthy people from Newark, New York City, and other nearby cities who wanted a break from city life.  A number built large country residences in Jefferson and Middleville/Hilton villages, a phenomenon witnessed in many small suburbs along the railroad lines that stretched across northern New Jersey.  More country residences were constructed throughout the end of the nineteenth century as the number of commuter trains to New York increased to meet the growing demand.[11]  During this period of residential growth is when all of present-day Maplewood was completely incorporated under one municipality.  South Orange Township was incorporated in 1861 and acquired a final portion of land on the southwest border in 1863; this new township included present-day Maplewood Township; the present-day Village of South Orange, which was created within the township in 1869;[12] and the present-day Vailsburg section of Newark.

In 1902, the Morris and Essex line was upgraded with elevated tracks and at this time, a new railroad station was constructed in Maplewood.  This second station is the present one still used today and is located on the east side of the tracks on Dunnell Road.  In 1904, the Village of South Orange formally separated from South Orange Township, now Maplewood (Vailsburg had incorporated as a borough in 1894).  Also beginning around this time, Maplewood experienced the start of dramatic community-wide growth as open space, farmland, and large estates were sold to developers and platted out for residential development.  At the turn of the twentieth century only a few main streets existed amongst the farmlands and open space in Maplewood, but during the first three decades of the century new streets were created; the streets were laid with concrete sidewalks tempered with trap rock gravel, and some of the streets with a steeper grade received cobblestone gutters.[13]  Houses were built in a variety of popular styles including bungalows, many revival styles, and eclectic styles.  During the first decade of the century, an average of fifty houses were built per year,[14] and many of them were architect-designed.  This first wave of high-quality building set a standard that led to distinctive neighborhoods with architectural variety.  South Orange Township officially changed its named to Maplewood Township in 1922 and by 1926, formed a planning committee and adopted zoning to control the building boom.  The local building code adopted at this time stated that neighboring houses could not be identical to each other, and this contributed to the architectural variety of Maplewood’s neighborhoods.  The majority of today’s housing stock dates to the first four decades of the twentieth century and the neighborhoods still retain their original scale and character.

Two of the men who played important roles in Maplewood’s suburban development during the first four decades of the twentieth century; Kenneth W. Dalzell and Edward C. Balch, are both responsible in part for the way Maplewood looks and feels today.  Edward Balch was a prominent builder and developer responsible for building around 175 homes in Maplewood between 1903 and 1921.[15]  He was an integral part of planning and marketing Maplewood as a safe and desirable suburban in the early-twentieth century.  Early on Balch saw the potential of Maplewood as an attractive residential community so he purchased, subdivided, and developed extensive tracts of land on the slopes of the South Watchung Mountain.  Most of his homes are variations of the foursquare using elements of the Colonial Revival and Arts and Crafts styles; no two houses are the same, yet they have a cohesive design and character.  It is unknown where Balch got his designs, as no architects are listed in building permits or plans; it is possible the designs came from house catalogs or pattern books.  There are thirty-seven buildings within the Center of Maplewood survey area that are attributed to Balch, and they are listed in Table 2 in Appendix B.

Kenneth Dalzell was an architect responsible for designing and building around 300 buildings in several areas of Maplewood between 1911 and the 1930s.[16]  He was born in New York City in 1889 and attended public schools in New York City and Newark, New Jersey.  He began his professional career in the real estate business, but always had an interest in architecture and eventually studied at Columbia University.  In 1911, Dalzell incorporated the Budal Realty Company in Maplewood with William Buchan, Jr., with the purpose of constructing and selling houses designed by Dalzell; the company was very successful, building many houses in Maplewood and the surrounding area including Short Hills, Summit, Essex Fells, and East Orange.[17]  He lived in a home he designed on Walton Road in Maplewood before later designing a home in Short Hills for his family in 1923.  Besides his office in Maplewood, Dalzell maintained a professional office in Summit, East Orange, and Short Hills at different times throughout his career and eventually opened a practice with his son, Kenneth W. Dalzell Jr.[18]

Dalzell designed convenient and comfortable homes of modest size that were based on historic traditions; he often employed popular revival styles including the Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival.  His designs incorporated modern technology for the time and addressed the changing needs of the American family.  In 1921, he published the book Homes of Moderate Size, which was illustrated with about forty of his homes, most of which were located in Maplewood.  He also published many articles in various architecture journals including “American Architect,” “Architectural Forum,” “Architectural Record,” “House and Gardens,” and “Better Homes and Gardens.”  Dalzell also designed the Maplewood Country Club and several commercial buildings on Maplewood and Springfield Avenues.  He became a member of the New Jersey Society of Architects in 1919 and a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1920, serving as the President of the New Jersey chapter.[19]  He also was a member and governor of the Board of Realtors of the Oranges and Maplewood; President of the Art Centre of the Oranges, and wrote the Building Code for the Township of South Orange, among many other roles.  Dalzell eventually relocated to Florida in the 1950s where he continued to practice with his son before eventually retiring.  He died in 1971.  There are twenty-seven buildings within the Center of Maplewood survey area that are attributed to Dalzell, and they are listed in Table 3 in Appendix C.

Between 1920 and 1930, Maplewood experienced approximately a 300% population increase from 5,283 to 21,321; the population has stayed around this number, plus or minus a few thousand, ever since.  To support the rapidly growing population, schools were constructed, parks were laid out, and a commercial center developed.  Three of the five elementary schools and the high school were constructed in the 1920s in popular revival styles.[20]  Prominent architects Guilbert & Betelle were hired to design most of the schools, which continued to set a high standard for architecture in the Township.  A commercial center developed along Maplewood Avenue in response to residential development.  In 1890, there was only one store at Maplewood’s center, Harry Baker’s grocery on Baker Street.  By 1920, several more stores had opened on Baker Street, Maplewood Avenue, and surrounding streets and electric utility poles with street lights had been installed.[21]  The commercial center was mostly developed by the 1930s and has seen little new construction since the mid-nineteenth century.  Similar to the residential neighborhoods surrounding it, the commercial center along Maplewood Avenue retains much of its original scale and character.

As the residential and commercial character was established, the Township Committee, under the visionary leadership of Mayor John S. Dehart, sought to create a unique civic image for itself.  In 1922, the Township hired the prominent landscape architecture firm of Olmstead Brothers to design a park for the center of the Maplewood.  The plan for Memorial Park featured natural plantings alternating with open space, play areas, a lake, and an amphitheater.[22]  The Olmstead Brothers created the initial design, but the plan was ultimately implemented by Brinley & Holbrook, another prominent landscape architecture firm.  The Township purchased the land surrounding the park to build its government and other civic buildings, including its town hall and police and fire stations.  Most of these buildings were constructed of brick in the 1920s and 1930s in various iterations of the Colonial Revival style.  This picturesque suburban park remains as the civic center of Maplewood today, with its associated municipal buildings located in and around curving paths, rolling hills, stands of trees, and play areas.

Maplewood Township today retains much of its early-twentieth century scale and character, having seen limited development or new construction since the mid-twentieth century.  Buildings designed to house the main and Hilton branches of the Maplewood library were constructed in the 1950s, the YMCA was built in 1970, and the Community Center in DeHart Park was constructed in 1984.[23]  Overall, the residential neighborhoods and the commercial core, particularly at the center of the Township, have experienced minimal change and retain a high level of historic integrity.  The railroad continues to play an important role in the community, much as it did in the early-twentieth century when it helped shape the township’s development.  There have been examples of adaptive reuse of historic buildings in recent decades rather than the teardowns and out-of-scale new construction that many other municipalities have suffered from.  The careful planning that went into the early development of the Township still continues today, making Maplewood a “residential enclave of unique civic appeal, with an intimate scale and distinctive architectural styling.”[24]


[1] John T. Cunningham and Charles F. Cummings, Remembering Essex: A Pictorial History of Essex County, New Jersey (Virginia Beach, VA: The Donning Company, 1995), 15-16.

[2] Cunningham and Cummings, 17.

[3] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, “A Brief History of Maplewood,” Appendix A.1 of the Historic Preservation Plan Element for the Master Plan of the Township of Maplewood, February 2008, 16.

[4] Durand-Hedden House and Garden Association, Images of America: Maplewood  (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1998), 7.

[5] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 16.

[6] Kate Lemos, “The History of the Township of Maplewood,” from Historic Resources Survey of Maplewood Township, September 2005, no page number.

[7] Lemos, no page number.

[8] Helen B. Bates, Maplewood Past and Present: A Miscellany (Maplewood, NJ: Friends of the Maplewood Library, 1948), 9.

[9] Durand-Hedden House and Garden Association, 60.

[10] Benedict Fitzpatrick, Joseph Fulford Folsom and Edwin P. Conklin, The Municipalities of Essex County, New Jersey, 1666-1924 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1925), 843.

[11] Lemos, no page number.

[12] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 17.

[13] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 17.

[14] Fitzpatrick, Folsom and Conklin, 846.

[15] Durand-Hedden House & Garden Association, “Edward Balch: Builder and Visionary in Early 20th C. Maplewood,” Available online at http://www.durandhedden.org/archives/articles/edward_balch_builder_and_visionary_in_early_20th_c._maplewood (Accessed July 2012).

[16]Durand-Hedden House & Garden Association, “Kenneth Dalzell: A Maplewood Architect Rediscovered,” Available at http://www.durandhedden.org/archives/articles/kenneth_dalzell_a_maplewood_architect_rediscovered (Acessed July 2012).

[17] David Lawrence Pierson, History of the Oranges to 1921: Reviewing the Rise, Development and Progress of an Influential Community (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922), 194.

[18] The American Institute of Architects, “Membership File for Kenneth W. Dalzell,” Available online at http://communities.aia.org/sites/hdoaa/wiki/AIA%20scans/C-E/Dalzell_KennethW.pdf (Accessed August 2012).

[19] The American Institute of Architects, “Membership File for Kenneth W. Dalzell.”

[20] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 17.

[21] Durand-Hedden House and Garden Association, 94.

[22] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 17.

[23] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 18.

[24] Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission, 18.