Life in SOMA in the 1920s -- what do you think it was like? archived

Just wondering really, esp since so many of the houses date from that decade. Were there two towns then? Was there a wide diversity of incomes and backgrounds? did folks trolley into newark to shop?

What do you think??

i bet it was pretty tony here before the boom of 20's housing on the other side of valley st. i envision women in gowns corraling lots of little ones with big bows in their hair and knickers on to the front porches for lunch and then to wait for a mustachioed pop to drive up in his model can just picture it on a street like ridgewood terrace, clinton or mountain avenues.

I have thought about this time in our community's history because I think it must have been amazing. Since so much of the housing was built at that time, and several of the schools were built in that decade, I imagine it was very muddy, with lots of piles of cut down trees everywhere. Did you know there were homes where Memorial Park is now? They were knocked down to build the park. Just think of all the people moving in, all within the same time period. It must have been very exciting.

Since Maplewood is almost 85 years old, it would have been a time of fascinating politics as well. Just imagine the discussions about breaking apart from South Orange to become our own town.

I would love to talk to someone who lived here during this. I also think it would make a good movie, if one could develop a good storyline that would fit in the context of this change.

In case you haven’t noticed the MOL homepage has a drop down menu under the heading of Images of Maplewood that has some photos and postcards, some from the 1920s.

By 1920 or so the development of the former Roosevelt Estate, now called Roosevelt Park, and the streets to the south between Ridgewood and Wyoming was well underway. There are a lot of houses in that area that date to right around 1900. I suspect, but am not sure that there was a trolley line that ran up Ridgewood from Millburn Avenue and dead ended at the Maplewood Line, giving this part of town good access to the trolleys to Newark.

The big action was in “Middle Maplewood” where orchards and stock farms were rapidly being subdivided and people started having the now Maplewood classic “plan book” houses built.

Similar development took place in Hilton with farms being replaced by housing and a trolley line running into Newark.

Hazel, Memorial Park was a mill pond for Pierson's Mill before it was drained and developed.

i thought the pond was on the mill side of baker st. behind the country club. baker st has been there for a long time so i don't see how a pond in memorial park would have served the mill which is further southwest.

In addition to the images online, there are two good books of photos (also mostly from old postcards) which also relate the history of the town.

If you want to read some real source material, go to the library and check out or read a copy of "The Evolution of the School District of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey, 1814-1927". It's a history of the communities, written in 1930, including the separation into two towns.

It was South Orange which wanted to separate, by the way. At the time, I believe the South Orange side was "town", and the Maplewood side was "country" for the most part.

first they want to go their own way, now they want to come back....

Hey there are also "Images of America" books. One for Maplewood and two for South Orange with lots of information about local history.


Although you should probably buy them at one of the many local shops that sell them.

Please stop posting such long links! They screw up the horizontal orientation of the thread :cry:

You can make smaller links by visiting

bets, what browser are you using? The link wraps for me, and I can click anywhere. I'm using Opera on Mac OS.

As a new suburb in the 1920's, I'm sure life was changing fast in these two towns. It was making a conscious change from rural to suburban.

I must say, they did a nice job with the architecture. You could make me believe there was a rule that said houses should not look the same even when they are built the same.

You're right - it's the browser (Firefox Works fine in Internet Exploder 7 but I just can't bring myself to use that for anything but testing purposes.

bets, try Opera! I love it.

There was also olimpic park right in irvington lots of stars visited. Im not sure if it was there in 1920

I wrote an article for Maplewood Matters (coming out this fall), in which I interviewed James Ricalton's grandson, whose is nearly 80. He spent part of his childhood in Maplewood.

Anyway, he told me how his mother, Mary, and her sister had a pony that their father brought back from his travels in Scotland. It was named Tam O’ Shanter and they rode it all around town. That must have been the 1910s or so.

1. I am using Firefox on a Sony Viao desktop and JB's url didn't mess me up. I have been complaining about the long, long, lines on MOL for the last week or so.

2. Phil, part of Olympic Park was in MW. Also it was owned by the predecessor of PSEG, which in addition to supplying electricity ran street cars. The idea was that an amusement park at the end of the line would stimulate business on nights and weekends. This was pretty common.

I have checked out some pix and maps of Maplewood from turn of the century thru 1920's -and it was very different. The Tuscan Dairy spread out over Prospect, Valley and Tuscan Roads with cows grazing and drinking at the river that crossed. (some of the homes are still there by Prospect Pres Church.) There were apple orchards and a mill on Parker and Valley and Elmwood Ave didn't exist between Prospect and Boyden. Pierson's Mill was a hub of activity- one of the grandest homes in town with a 'port cocherier" (sp) where you pulled up in your carriage- got out and your horses went into your stable. Yes- there were still farms and horses in town along with gaslights, trolleys, houses in Maplewood village,chicken coops, stables and a pond plus streams and a coal Lackawanna train that ran directly on the ground.
In South Orange in the 1960's I heard that the Village very quietly removed all the 'carriage stones' along South Orange Ave, Prospect,Montrose, Valley etc.
Most of the older homes had a large stone block in front of their homes in which to alight from any arriving carriages.- without a notice- all were taken--- I have only seen one remaining stone on Academy St in SO that got missed.
A slower simpler life- The 4th of July photos in Maplewood are something out of Norman Rockwell!

When my children were small and I was looking for a babysitter, I actually did speak to an old lady who had lived on my street at right after the first world war. She had been a servant in one of the houses on the street, and she said that " every house had at least one Irish girl working there, and some houses also had a man working, too." She said that they had the most wonderful times, that there were "jolly parties almost every night, and all the Irish girls would come out and go dancing." She told me that my house had been owned by a doctor (which I knew). My neighbor down the street was another elderly lady, who had studied astronomy at Vassar, and raised two sons on the street. She was one of the first women to have her own car. She told me that there were fruit and vegetable vendors who used to drive up the street in their wagons, and that there were coal deliveries for the furnaces in the winter. I found a couple of pieces of coal in my cellar. I also know that not all of the houses on my street had electricity; some of the homeowners opted to stick with gas lighting.

In the mid 40's my mom and dad (then dating, not married) took the trolley from Newark to South Orange and walked to the Reservation. On their way home, they stopped at Grunnings on the Top and had pound cake with Hot Fudge and ice cream.

Grunnings on the Top was a road house during the prohibition.

There was a 4 room house on Church Street that had a little store in the basement (probably late teens, early 20s) that was owned by the mother of an old neighbor of mine (who is now deceased). She was once brought to trial for not selling a full quarter pound of butter. She beat the rap by convincing the judge that she was selling a quarter of the butter brick she had and had no control over whether the full brick was a full pound or not. That house also housed three families and the phone company had it listed as a three family house as late as the 1970's.

There is a stone wall on Ridgewood Road between Third Street and SO Ave that was built by hand. When I was a child, an older neighbor told me that the fellow who built it died on the day he placed the last stone in the wall.

So, I don't know the answer to your question, but hopefully the trivia was worth the read.

An old book was left behind when we moved to Maplewood. It is called Maplewood Past and Present: A Miscellany and was published by Friends of the Maplewood Library in 1948. According to this, there were three mills along the east branch of the Rahway River. The Gutta Percha Mill was just north of Parker Ave. beyond the Gleason Laundry; the Dunnell Mill was near the junction of Dunnell and Oakland Roads; and there was the Pierson Mill. The pond which operated the Pierson Mill occupied a part of the present fairway and the putting greens on hole no. 1 of the Maplewood Country Club(p. 147).

In discussing the planning of the use of the land in the valley, now Memorial Park, John R. Charlton, in the same book, states that there were many loud murmurs at the cost and waste of money to put the park there. He goes on to explain, “Especially when several houses were bought by the town and removed from Baker Street in order to complete the park area” (p. 185).

In the more recent publication, Images in America: Maplewood, put together by the Durand Hedden House and Garden Association in 1998, you can see maps that show these houses on Baker. On page 19, there is a bird’s eye view of Maplewood in 1910 showing about eight buildings on Baker above Valley and below the train tracks. There is an aerial photo on pages 20-21 from 1921 showing the same area. The caption reads, “Note that the houses on Baker Street across from Ricalton School had not yet been moved for Memorial Park.” Finally, on page 126 there is a photograph of the bridge in Memorial Park. The caption reads, “A row of houses and a store/apartment building on Dunnell Road were removed during the 1920’s to complete this restful oasis.”

I bet the discussions on MOL back then were just terrific.

For a good look into Maplewood life way back when, go to the library and pull out the microfiche for the News-record.

I've browsed through hundreds of editions and they are fascinating to say the least. The News-Record back then was a terrific local paper.

When I was a kid our elderly neighbor on Courter Avenue had several photo albums of the area from the early 1920s. Her husband was a local developer and she a was a real estate agent. These books were intended for potential buyers. She lived in the house they built at 67 Courter in 1926 until the mid 80s. Pictured in these albums was the “model” home at 77 Courter with no other houses around it - just fields of tall grass meeting the horizon. They were fascinating to look through – unpaved streets with only the curbing and catch basins installed - old model T style cars and work trucks and some ongoing construction and our street with only a scattering of homes. I’m attempting to contact her daughter in Massachusetts to see the whereabouts of the albums. They would be a great addition to Maplewood history!

Wow, I would LOVE to see those photos and what a resource for the town! I hope you are successful.

i would love to see those, too.

I have a few CHS Mirrors from the 20's if you want any specific information.

My great-grandparents built their house in Maplewood in 1928. It was the country for them (they moved from Newark). When I was a kid my Great Aunt Pauline (who walked everywhere) would point out what farms had been where, etc. Even when my dad was a kid there were still a few farms around.

On a (kind of) side note. My cousin (2nd? 2nd once removed, whatever) Joe went to Seth Boyden the year it opened. He was at the opening and during the govenor's speach, he pulled the plug on the microphone. And we think that kids back then were better behaved than they are now?

Grunings on the Top was not a roadhouse during prohibition.It was built much later,in fact it was the last Gruning's to be built.There was also a store in Montclair and Plainfield.

For me this area is so six degress of separation...

My ex and I moved here in 1997 to a random town we happened to love. There was no reason other than we thought it was beautiful and we could afford it. I have now been here for over 10 years. In that time, I have come to find out...
My stepmom was born and raised in Short Hill (which I knew)...and her aunt owned the house 3 doors down from mine in grandmother (dad's side) was homecoming queen in East Orange...her family moved here for her senior year in HS...and my ex's grandmother grew up in Newark and said South Orange was a society town. Her family always aspired to move there. Somehow my stepmom and ex-grandmother in law have families that knew each other, were possibly related.

And I say this from the prespective that I am not from NJ..I am a transplant from MD...born in MA...weird, huh?

neat story, mamma. things like that really make you wonder sometimes, right? maybe you were drawn here for reasons unknown to you or subconsciously....maybe spirits guided you here. hmmm.

I have similar stories, mammabear. We moved here four years ago. As far as I knew, none of our relatives in the previous generation ever lived in NJ. Turns out, my wife's uncle, BEFORE he immigrated here from Hungary, spent a summer on Prospect St.

bella, your great grandparents built the house next to mine? That's odd, because it's so close to mine. Why would they do that if there was so much space at the time? Hmm, maybe by then, the small lots were already allocated.

no, Tom, the house next to you was the second house my family owned. the first house (and honestly, my favorite) was on Schaefer Rd. Well, I guess I should say is on Schaefer Rd. But I don't go past it often because the people who have owned it since my parents sold it haven't taken care of it the way we would have.

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