Nearly hidden behind the South Orange police station, the Old Stone House is the oldest extant structure in the Township and, possibly New Jersey. The original walls of what residents now call the Old Stone House potentially predate 1680 when the property was named in a land grant made to Edward and Joseph Riggs, and Nathaniel Wheeler. The earliest reference to the Old Stone House dates to September 27, 1680, when it was mentioned in the minutes of a Newark town meeting to discuss and distribute land grants. Historians estimate that Dutch settlers built the farmhouse between 1666 and 1680 when they arrived in Newark. The original house was 1 1/2 stories with a native, rubble stone foundation.
Nathaniel Wheeler, the first fully documented European settler in the area, was the home’s first recorded owner of this home on his 100-acre farm. Dr. Bethuel Pierson bought the property in 1773; and in 1867, William A. Brewer Jr. bought the home and named it “Aldworth.” Brewer was president of Washington Life Insurance Company in New York City and a civic and political leader who lived in the house for 50 years. Renovations in 1877 and 1896 transformed the farmhouse into a Queen Anne, shingle-style mansion.
The Township of South Orange Village has owned the Old Stone House since 1953, when part of its land was taken for the construction of a new police station. The house was then used as the headquarters for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Since 1983 it has stood vacant and suffered significant water damage and deterioration. Despite its significant alterations, the oldest parts of the house can still be traced in the present building. Three of the original walls are visible from on the exterior, while a fourth can be seen from inside.
In 1991, the Old Stone House was inscribed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, for which it was deemed eligible under Criterion B due to its association with William Augustus Brewer, Jr. The nomination also noted two archaeological sites that were identified on the property. The house was awarded grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust in 2001 and 2002, which allowed for its structural stabilization and mitigation of further water damage. A condition of the grants was that their funding would have to be repaid if the Township were to preemptively demolish the building.
Unable to bear the cost to restore the building, the Township has tried to sell the property to no avail. A recent increase in funding to the NJ Historic Trust may provide an opportunity for the Township to apply for funds to both stabilize and create a reuse plan for the structure. The reuse plan could contemplate public uses, and/or provide the vision for a use that could entice a private buyer. Without an intervention soon, one of the oldest structures in the state will be lost forever.
South Orange Historical and Preservation Society
Bryn Douds, President