Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stone House IV

A continuation of the timeline I started in Stone House II and Stone House III gets us up to the Bethuel Pierson houses.

We suddenly come upon a flurry of house construction around 1774. This appears to be the date of the Riggs House rebuilding, the possible date of the stone portion of the Old Stone House in Maplewood, and the possible date of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook.

There are a few other existing houses in the two towns as old as these. We are interested in the ones I mention for a few reasons. The Riggs house, not longer in existence, was "rebuilt", whatever that means, from possibly the second house in South Orange. Bethuel Pierson's two houses are relevant to claims that the Stone House by the Stone House Brook is the oldest existing house in South Orange. It probably is, too, but by my reckoning it's almost a hundred years younger than is sometimes claimed.

January 11, 1774 (1773 old style)

Clark writes in one paragraph:

Bethuel Pierson, "heir-at-law", administered upon the estate of Samuel on Jan 11, 1773. Bethuel Pierson gave a mortgage upon one hundred acres, whereon he now lives at the mountain plantation by a certain brook called Stone House Brook. (A, m'tg'e Essex Co, p 250.)

This is the earliest documented reference to the Stone House in South Orange if the two sentences are intended to refer to the same date.

The first sentence is baffling. An heir-at-law inherits property from someone who died without a will, but who was Samuel? Bethuel's grandfather Samuel Pierson died in 1730, 44 years before this, his father-in-law Samuel Camp died in 1744, 30 years before this, and his uncle Samuel Pierson was still living. Did Clark mean to say the estate of Bethuel's mother Hepzibah, who died in 1769, a widow for ten years? At any rate Bethuel "administered upon" someone's estate.

The A mortgage book is not available, but the B mortgage book (the second book chronologically) starts at a date in 1777, giving us the latest possible year for the item Clark refers to.

What's the relation between settling an estate and taking a mortgage? It sounds as if Bethuel inherited money or property that he could use as collateral. I'll make a suggestion. These events were the basis for Bethuel building the stone portion of the Old Stone House in Maplewood, and building the Stone House by the Stone House Brook. The latter represents Bethuel stepping away from the mill business and living in the emerging village at South Orange.

Clark's wording, "Bethuel Pierson gave a mortgage upon one hundred acres, whereon he now lives" appears to be a quote from the A book. It's not Clark in 1884 saying that Bethuel "now lives". Since the words refer to giving the mortgage in past tense and living there in present tense, the book is recording a mortgage signed earlier than the date of record. We don't know the date of this entry in the A book, but Clark implies it is after January 11, 1774, and we know it is before some date in 1777. That's the best I can make of it. What's your interpretation?


Reconstruction by Daniel Riggs (1724-1786) of the Joseph Riggs (c1642-1689) house, no longer in existence. Clark writes that the house was "added to and rebuilt in 1774 ... The memorial stone over the entrance had a double heart, enclosing the letters: D S R 1774".

The date is clear from the description of the stone, even though the house no longer existed when Clark wrote in 1884. It is not obvious what was meant by it being added to and rebuilt.

The first clearly dated mention of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook happens to be in connection with this same Daniel Riggs's death in 1786 and the survey of another property he owned a few blocks farther east.

A painting of the house was reproduced in Wickes's History of the Oranges, 1892. The spot above the door would be the stone heart mentioned by Clark. The dimensions might be 25 by 40 feet, but there may be some artistic license involved, because the left side of the house seems to be on a larger scale than the right: is it one story or two below the attic?

unknown, possibly 1774

Construction of the stone portion of the Old Stone House, still standing at 22 Jefferson Avenue, Maplewood. The date of this portion of the house is unknown. It is about 30 feet square. The usual date given is approximately 1774. The Historic American Buildings Survey (1936) says, "According to local tradition, the house was built by Timothy Ball and completed in March 1776." Ball did not build the house, but the date is similar to other accounts.

One of the stone steps leading to the door of the stone portion has a monogram of J and H carved into it, which may identify the original owners of the frame portion, Joseph and Hepzibah Pierson. If so, and a date of circa 1774 is correct, it was a gesture to them by their son Bethuel who now owned it.

I had a good conversation with Susan Newberry at the Durand-Hedden House, in which she pointed out that the J H monogram could be from any date. But the ownership of the old house by Joseph and Hepzibah Pierson seems to have been forgotten by the 1930s, so it seems to me that the monogram is old. It might even be argued that the monogram means that the stone portion dates from their ownership of the house, before Joseph's death in 1759. I have no good argument against this. The type of construction is consistent with the Timothy Ball House of 1743. The only reason I date it as late as circa 1774 is the tradition that it was built around that date. But that could be wrong.

In 1967, the owners of the house found two documents in the wall between the wood frame and stone portions of the house. One was for an auction in 1750. The other document was a land transfer signed in 1763 by Timothy Meeker, the widower of Bethuel Pierson's sister Sarah, who died in 1738. Both documents therefore are older than the stone portion, if a date in the 1770s is correct.

An undated statement in Clark says:

Deacon Bethuel Pierson had a stone addition added to his dwelling-house, which he caused to be dedicated by religious ceremonies, especially requesting that the following words should be sung on the occasion: "Be not too proud by any means, / Build not your house too high ; / But always have before your mind, / That you were born to die."

Cheerful. This appears to refer to the Old Stone House on Jefferson Avenue. That house clearly had an addition made to it. The statement has often been applied instead to Bethuel Pierson's other house in South Orange. My original Stone House piece is an example.

I wish to thank Lynn Gale for pointing out to me that the statement could refer to this house. I think this makes more sense. Bethuel's South Orange stone house shows no evidence of being added to, while his Maplewood house clearly does. If it was still Bethuel Pierson's "dwelling-house", then he had not yet relocated to the Stone House in South Orange, and if the date of 1774 is correct, then the Stone House is later than 1774. That's two "if"s.

The house was owned by Daniel Beach from 1837 to 1853, and then by the painter Asher B Durand (1796-1886) and family until 1922. Beach was married to Betsy (Elizabeth) Durand, Asher's sister. It is sometimes called the Beach-Durand House or simply the Durand House, not to be confused with the Durand-Hedden House still standing a few blocks away on Ridgewood Road.

A photograph from the late 19th century shows the front of the house in the same condition as a drawing by Asher Durand dated 1866. The Morris and Essex Railroad was still at street level, and the driveway from Dunnell Road was still open. The small barn at the left is in the Durand drawing too. The little wood frame portion is dwarfed by the stone addition to its right, as modest as it is, with just a door and two windows.

A postcard mailed in 1909 gives a similar view of the "Durand House". It was owned by the Durand family at the time.

Once the railroad grade was raised, about 1915, the front yard of the house facing Dunnell Road became hidden, and the owners planted bushes where the lawn had been. Views like those above became impossible. Below, photographs from 1936 and 2009 show the south side of the house. The dormer windows were added in the mid 1920s when the interior was renovated.

A close view of the front side shows the carefully cut stones.

Photographs from 1936 and 2009 show the north side. This is the only side readily visible today, since it faces Jefferson Avenue. (Riders on New Jersey Transit's Morris and Essex Line can still see the original front from the train window.)

The rarely photographed back (west side). On the right is the modern kitchen, an enlargement of a kitchen that was added during the 1920s renovation. The kitchen is in the back of the frame portion.

The J H monogram. This on the steps leading to the front door of the stone portion.

Elevation, and plans of the basement and ground floor, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1936. There is no basement under the old frame portion. The ground floor of the stone portion is supported by an awkward arrangement of two wooden beams with iron post interior supports, similar to houses from the 1920s and thus probably dating from the 1920s renovation. Only the ground floor room of the wood frame portion has an authentically colonial period look to it, and even that may be partly re-created since the upper floor has been changed to a more modern style.

May 1775

Bethuel Pierson was elected to represent Essex County in the Provincial Congress.

unknown, possibly 1775

Construction of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook, still standing. The date is my guess.

The size of the house, 30 by 50 feet, is similar to the size of the Timothy Ball House as enlarged in 1772. The foundation of this Stone House gives every indication of construction as a unit, with a center stone wall running lengthwise, allowing for joists spanning just 12 feet on both sides. By contrast the Ball house and the Old Stone House have more square sections requiring a center beam about 22 feet in length carrying joists of about 12 feet on each side of it.

Tradition is that Bethuel's son Joseph began managing the family mill at an early age. His 21st birthday was in 1775. Is this the year when Bethuel moved to the large house at the Stone House Brook in South Orange and turned over the mill and the old house to Joseph?

Bethuel's wife Elizabeth died in 1776. Her brother Daniel Riggs owned the property immediately south of the Stone House at the Stone House Brook, although he seems to have lived at the old house he rebuilt in 1774 (see above). Is there any connection?

The northwest corner of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook, South Orange, seen in June 2009. The rubble stone construction is quite a contrast with the Old Stone House, Maplewood. Was it meant to be hidden under a finish coat of cement? Was the front, now hidden under walls of the 19th century frame portion, of cut stone?

August 21, 1787

A survey by Thomas Ball (brother of Timothy Ball) of a portion of the "Bowers Place", which was the property sold to Daniel Riggs on November 25, 1767 (see Stone House III). The survey was done in connection with Daniel Riggs's will, dated October 1, 1786. In it he gave 10 acres of the Bowers Place to John Hedden and 4 acres to his daughter Phebe. Excerpts, from Clark (Shaw):

The 10 acres piece which sd John Headen is to have ... Begins at the east corner of the widow Mary Headen, By the Road that goes to or past Bethuel Person's, and from thence south 20 Degrees and a half west, 6 ch, 83 links to the Road that Leads to Town by Daniel Hays', thence along sd Road south 29 degrs east 8 chains to a stake by sd Roads, thence north 42 degrs and 5 minutes, east 14 ch and 90 l to a stake by the Road first above mentioned, near against sd Person's house, Thence along sd Road North 61 degrs and 35 min, west 1 ch and 15 l, Thence North 79 Degrs and 15 min, West 10 ch and 72 links to the Begining Corner, Containing teen acres, Strict Measure.

A Survey of a Tract, of 4 acres of the old feild Near Mr Elihu Ward's and one acre of wood land adjoining the same that was Given unto Phebe, Daughter of Daniel Riggs, now the wife of Amos Turrell, by her father, Daniel Riggs, deed.

This is the first clearly dated reference to Bethuel Pierson's house on the Stone House Brook. The "Road that goes to or past Bethuel Person's" is South Orange Avenue, and the "Road that Leads to Town" is Irvington Avenue.

Please note that the correct date for this reference is 1787. That is not a typographical error. The survey was done following Daniel Riggs's death in 1786.

Could you figure out that first description? I had to draw it to understand it. Here is the five-sided shape. The circle is the starting point, the east corner of the widow Mary Hedden, and the survey goes clockwise from there. There are 100 links to a chain, and 8 chains to a mile. A chain is 660 feet (and that's why a mile is the peculiar value of 5,280 feet.)

The road that goes past Bethuel Pierson's house, South Orange Avenue, is represented by the last two lines. The rightmost corner of the pentagon is at Grove Road, so the Stone House by the Stone House Brook is just north of that short line at the upper right.

Next time: Dill Weed.


  1. I just noticed that the first wife of Bethuel's son Joseph Pierson (1754-1835) was Hannah Baldwin (1763-1802). They are probably the J H in the monogram on the step, since they lived in the house. But she was only 11 in 1774, so they were not married until the 1780s.

  2. Joe,

    Getting back to Stone House #1 and the basement sketch.

    The original basement may have ended about where the stairs come down in the sketch. The portion towards the Police parking lot has a stone and masonry Chute (coal?) incorporated into it and may have been the Pierson addition from the 1770's (not 22 Jefferson).

    At that time the ground level may have been backfilled to become more of a basement level and the second floor became more of the first floor with additions above that. "Modern" 18th Century times call for modern (less damp basement) living.

    This is consistent with the Hermitage in HoHoKus which is a stone structure but had earth banked up around it in a later couple of remodels and then eventual early "victorianation". The Blackledge Kearney House in Alpine NJ (PIPC - Alpine Boat basin) is worthy of story too in regard to a ground level not turned into a basement.

    In my second to last trip inside the interior of the old kitchen (NE corner of the house) had so deteriorated that the entire tin 19th C. ceiling had come down - exposing the original beams (Gassman did not see those) which are all "beaded" along their edges. This is something indicating a much earlier construction. This bears comparison to some of the other early dutch houses in Bergen County.

    I have this on tape - but am hoping it will show up in one of the digital pictures too.

    Would be happy to share.

    Tom Vilardi