Maplewood Town Hall is located at 574 Valley Street, Maplewood NJ 07040; phone: 973-762-8120.
The built environment of the Township of Maplewood looks today much as it did in the 1920s when most of its development took place. Maplewood's historic buildings and sites contribute greatly to the beauty of its tree-lined streets, unique neighborhoods and vibrant commercial areas. Equally important are Maplewood's parks and civic buildings, which add to the cohesive quality of the town. It is fortunate that many physical reminders of Maplewood's history still exist. These historic resources illustrate important historical themes such as settlement, early agrarian life, early industry and manufacturing, the coming of the railroad, and the 'City Beautiful' movement.
Maplewood's earliest history is represented by a number of old farmhouses remaining from the 18th century. A mill and former tavern/school represent the next stage of development. With the coming of the railroad, the local population gradually increased, and during the late nineteenth century, the area began to attract the wealthy, who were looking for a retreat from city life and a beautiful location for their summer residences. Large homes with porches in picturesque late nineteenth century styles remain throughout the township. With the improvement of the railroad, following the turn of the twentieth century, Maplewood grew into a true railroad suburb. Commuters were able to travel easily to and from work every day. This was the period of greatest growth for the township. Developers created whole neighborhoods of comfortable houses using the historical revival styles that were popular throughout the country. As Maplewood flourished, civic, governmental and educational structures were added, creating a community with a distinctive sense of place. The first known inhabitants in the area were the Lenape Indians. Since there have been limited archeological excavations within the township, physical evidence of these early local inhabitants remains to be discovered. What is now Maplewood was originally a portion of larger tracts of land purchased by the founders of Newark from the Lenape in 1667 and in 1678. Settlement of small farms near the slope of the First Watchung Mountain began after 1681. Old Indian trails were surveyed and eventually became "highways" such as South Orange and Clinton Avenues. Over the next century, one of the small outlying settlements developed into what is now the western half of Maplewood. By the end of the 18th century this small settlement became known as Jefferson Village — named for Thomas Jefferson. During this early period, the settlers built their houses close to the roads and paths that connected the settlements of Newark, Orange, Connecticut Farms (now Union), Springfield and Morristown. Several of Maplewood's earliest buildings survive on the town's first principal roads: Elmwood, Boyden, and Parker Avenues, Valley Street, and Ridgewood and Tuscan Roads.
During the Revolutionary war, many local men served in the Continental army and/or the militia and a number saw action at the Battle of Springfield which took place nearby. Throughout the decades following the war, Jefferson Village remained a sleepy settlement with approximately thirty families, but no center of commerce. The same could be said for the valley and hills to the east that would become the eastern part of Maplewood. Just a few decades later however, the effects of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to be felt in the community. In 1831 Lewis Pierson constructed a gristmill in the valley along the East Branch of the Rahway River. Pierson attained such prominence that in 1843 he was able to build Vaux Hall — a temple-front house in the Greek Revival style. Both the mill and Vaux Hall survive and have been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. By 1837 a paper mill (no longer extant) was located along the Rahway River on Dunnell Road — the site of the present Fire Department headquarters. During this same period, the Crowell family established and ran three key businesses along Valley Street: a cider mill, the area's first general store (built in 1841 and called the Clinton Valley Store) and a "shoe manufactory" that operated out of the store's second floor.
The coming of the railroad was a turning point for the township, eventually leading to the gradual conversion of the area into a residential community. In 1838, the Morris and Essex Railway was constructed and passed through the center of what would become Maplewood Village. In 1860 Maplewood Station was constructed at the foot of Lenox Place near the intersection of Baker Street and Maplewood Avenue. In 1902, the tracks were elevated and the present station was constructed on Dunnell Road. This station and its train line are listed as part of a thematic nomination in the National Register of Historic Places. Initially, the coal-fired trains allowed city dwellers access to the more rural landscape of the First Mountain. Wealthy families, exemplified by Cornelius Roosevelt, the uncle of future president Theodore Roosevelt, constructed large homes which served as country retreats. The area now known as Roosevelt Park was developed in 1905 from the Roosevelt's "Hickories" estate.
The Hilton section, originally called "North Farms" or "Middleville," was developed after the opening of the Newark-Springfield Turnpike (now Springfield Avenue) in 1806. The Hilton section became a flourishing village in its own right in the 1800s and served as a stagecoach stop between Morristown and Newark. There were several hotels and many small shops were established for manufacturing nails, barrel hoops, shoes and men's clothing to meet the needs of the villagers and to trade in the Newark and New York markets. Well-known inventor Seth Boyden retired from Newark to this area in the 1860s. His home on Boyden Avenue, where he hybridized the large "Hilton Strawberry," still exists adjacent to Seth Boyden School.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Township of Maplewood had many changes in name and boundaries. Maplewood retained its rural quality through the early 1900s — there were many farms and woods and only a few main streets. But change was beginning to occur as a few entrepreneurs realized the town's potential as an attractive suburb along the train line. By the mid-1920s, Maplewood was experiencing dramatic, community-wide growth. Local building codes decreed that no neighboring houses should be identical to each other. Therefore, developers working in large areas of town built houses in a wide variety of popular styles, including numerous revival styles, such as Classical, Spanish, and Tudor, as well as bungalows and "colonials." These homes, primarily constructed during the 1920s and 30s, make up the majority of buildings within the township today. As neighborhoods grew, local schools were built to accommodate the growing numbers of children. Three of the four elementary schools, and the high school, were also constructed during the 1920s and display the same Tudor and classical revival styling as seen on many houses.
Shortly after the incorporation of the Township of Maplewood in 1922, the Olmsted Brothers firm was hired to create a plan for a park in the center of town. The plan for Memorial Park included naturalized plantings with open spaces and designated play areas, an amphitheater and a small lake. Maplewood's government buildings, sited around Memorial Park, which continue in their original functions, display a solid, classically oriented design, and are integral to the cohesive, civic beauty of the township.
While most of Maplewood consists of single-family homes, several other institutions contribute to the life of the local residents. In 1927, the Marcus L. Ward Homestead was constructed as a free residence for elderly bachelors and widowers on a large tract in the Hilton area. Prominent architect John Russell Pope designed this impressive structure. In 1966, Maplewood acquired land from the Ward Homestead and constructed the award-winning Olympic size community swimming pool. The Maplewood Free Public library existed in various locations within the Township until the construction of the current Main library building, adjacent to Memorial Park, on Baker Street in 1956. The Hilton Branch of the library, located on Springfield Avenue, was built in 1959. Little building occurred in the years following. Exceptions are the 1970 South Mountain YMCA building and the 1984 Maplewood Community Center in DeHart Park.
"Adaptive re-use" has become a trend of recent decades as historic buildings are renovated to accommodate new uses, such as the Burgdorf Cultural Center, formerly a church, and the 1978 Building, now an art gallery.
In 1978, the historic Durand-Hedden House was purchased with the assistance of State Green Acres funds. Its 2.0 acre grounds were set aside as a passive park, known as "Grasmere Park."