The Merriam Home
Main Street
Henry W. Merriam, a son of Elisha J. and Lucy R. (Lane) Merriam, was born at Merriam Hill in Mason, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire, on June 20, 1828. His ancestors came from Concord, Massachusetts, and the Merriams who are prominently known as publishers of Webster's Dictionary are descendants of the same family. He was educated in the common schools of North Brookfield and Worcester, Massachusetts, and graduated from Appleton Academy, New Ipswich, New Hampshire. When he was sixteen years old, his parents moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts, while he went to Worcester in the same state. On June 16, 1850, he married Frances P. Culliver, daughter of George F. and Mary (Bush) Culliver, of North Brookfield, Massachusetts. Henry and Frances Merriam then moved to New York City where he engaged in the boot and shoe jobbing business with J. T. Patton and John J. Lane. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he commenced the manufacture of shoes for the army, selling large quantities to the government. At the end of the war, he ceased this line of manufacture, changing the product of his factory to ladies', misses' and children's shoes exclusively, producing more than half a million pairs, which were distributed by jobbers in New York and other large cities. It was this business that he relocated to Newton in 1873 to avoid organized urban labor.

The Sussex Register announced on June 27, 1883, that Henry Merriam had purchased the triangular lot in front of Oliver P. Woodford's residence from Joanna Swayze and Mrs. Myron Barret and "will probably erect a dwelling thereon." The lot had a frontage on Main Street of 600 feet and a depth of over 200 feet. Before purchasing this property, Merriam reportedly scouted building sites in Morristown and Madison, but finally concluded to remain in Newton. On June 29, 1883, the Sussex Independent reported that Mr. Merriam "intends to erect a handsome residence, some time this fall, which for beauty of architecture and convenience and location, will not be surpassed by anything in northern New Jersey." On July 18, 1883, workmen were busy blasting out the slate ridge and preparing the lot for construction. The site of Merriam's new residence was staked out about 100 feet back from the street. The footprint of the proposed structure was 50' square with an ell, 28' square. The house thus became the largest private residence in Sussex County, surpassing the Linn-Kanouse House on Liberty Street which had claimed that distinction since its construction in 1850. The Merriam Home was built by Walker Brothers of Newton, a contracting firm owned by George A. Walker and his brother, William H. Walker.

On August 15, 1883, the Register reported that "H. W. Merriam's new residence will be a warm one. The sides of the building, besides being sheathed and papered, will be protected from the weather by clap-boards one inch thick. They will be rabetted so that, from a distance, they will not appear to be much thicker than ordinary boards."

In December 1883, it was also reported that workmen from New York were installing a heating apparatus in Merriam's new home. "It is one of the same pattern," claimed the Register, "as the one in W. H. Vanderbilt's house, and will cost $2,000. That would build quite a house in itself."

On May 5, 1884, the Sussex Register further informed townfolk that: "A light and pretty fence is being erected along the Main Street in front of H. W. Merriam's new residence. It is wrought iron with malleable trimmings and iron bases, five feet apart."

Henry Merriam moved into his new residence in August 1884. The Register praised the costly workmanship: "The interior of the dwelling is finished in the natural wood, black walnut, English oak, California redwood, cherry and butternut being used. The parlor is finished in ebony. The ceilings are frescoed and the conservatory has a tile floor. The house is heated by steam, lighted with gas and contains twenty rooms. It is the most costly residence and stands upon one of the finest sites in the village."

In October 1884, Henry Merriam broke ground for another house on Maple Avenue which became known as the Coachman's Cottage. By January 22, 1885, the newspaper reported that "the new dwelling which Henry W. Merriam began erecting last Fall on Maple street is nearly finished."

In January 1886, just before the onset of cold weather, workmen had completed the outside work on the addition of another conservatory to Henry Merriam's residence. It was located on the southwest side of the house and "its dome shape makes it a pleasing addition." Stone flagging was delivered from Elm Street to Henry Merriam's residence in May 1886. The Sussex Register remarked that: "This has always been considered the best piece of sidewalk in Newton and it is unfortunate that the flagging is not placed in another section of the town, where it is more necessary." In June 1887, the Sussex Register observed that "the coleus beds in Henry W. Merriam's lawn have new designs this year."

In May 1888, a large banana tree in Mr. Merriam's conservatory was laden with twenty-six ripening bananas. Mr. Merriam had purchased the plant three years earlier when it was just a sprout. In July 1888, the splendid horticultural display of Henry Merriam's residence, conservatory and grounds, prompted the editor of the Herald to style the mansion "Floral Point Place."

On August 1, 1888, the Sussex Register noted that the grounds and greenhouses of Henry Merriam "never showed to better advantage. The neatly kept lawn with its fine foliage plants arranged in intricate and beautiful designs is one of the sights of the town. The less hardy plants, among which are many choice varieties, are kept in the green-houses. Mr. M. delights in such displays, and is fortunate in having the services of John Butts, a skilled florist of unusual intelligence and taste, to whose care a great share of the floral beauty and general neatness is justly attributed."

On the evening of August 3, 1888, Mr. Merriam invited several guests, including the editor of the Herald, to view "a large and beautiful night-blooming cereus" in his conservatory. The next week, the Herald announced that ground had already been broken for an addition, 13 feet by 15 feet, to the "already commodious green house of Mr. Merriam." The new part was to be devoted exclusively to the cultivation of roses, while a new heating apparatus was to be placed in the cellar, thereby clearing more room for plants. Mr. Merriam also leased land adjoining his premises from Mrs. Emma Barrett, which was used for storage purposes.

On May 8, 1889, the Sussex Register mentioned that Henry Merriam was again increasing the size of his hothouse and conservatory by 60 feet. William F. Hill built the new greenhouse. In July 1889, Henry Merriam commenced an addition to his barn, 25' by 12', and planned a fifty-foot addition to his green house, part of which was for a grapery where the choicest varities of English grapes were to be cultivated. When completed, the Merriam House "will be in the form of a letter T." In August 1889, Mr. Merriam's premises included a magnolia tree and "a fig tree full of fruit, and many other interesting beauties."

By June 1889, the beautiful grounds surrounding the Merriam residence were attracting the greatest attention from strollers. John Butts, the gardener, assisted by George Hiles, set out a new bed of hens-and-chicks. The lawn had been enlarged by an addition on the south side and the grass was so neatly mown that it appeared as "a carpet of silk." According to eyewitness account, "the grounds are bordered with coleus, dusty millers and other plants, and the body of the lawn is embellished with beds of rare flowers and foliage representing in their arrangement hearts, anchors, moons, stars and othet figures." The conservatory sheltered gloxinias, fuchias, caladiums, cannas, passion flowers, orchids and ferns. In June, twenty or more varieties of gloxinias were blooming in as many colors. On June 6, 1890, the Register noted that Merriam's lawn was ablaze with coleus, daisies and pansies.

In November 1889, Henry Merriam received the mounted heads of an elk and a black-tail deer from his nephews, Carl and Albert Lane, formerly bookkeepers at the Shoe Factory but presently engaged in the lumber business in Oregon. The elk horns were 3'-10" in length and spread 3'-4" from tip to tip.

In May 1891, Francis Graey completed a set of double, gold-mounted, half-coach harness for Henry Merriam. Walter Smith, coachman, handled Merriam's team of black horses. In April 1892, Henry Merriam built an addition to his cottage on Maple Avenue, which was to be occupied by his coachman.

On June 20, 1892, the occasion of Mr. Merriam's sixty- fourth birthday, he divided $10,000 among his 350 employees, each receiving a share according to his or her years of service with the shoe factory. The employees were invited to a surprise reception at Merriam's home, where the Newton Orchestra was performing in the wide hallway. Day, the celebrated Morristown caterer, spread a banquet in the dining room. As each employee passed from the dining room across the hall to the conservatory, they were handed a sealed envelope. As they passed through the conservatory to the lawn, "they bore on their face an expression of surprise and wonderment." In each envelope was found a sum equaling $6 per year of service, thereby ranging in amounts up to $150. On December 24, 1896, he made a Christmas gift of $6,500 to be divided among his 350 employees in amounts ranging from $25 to $100.

Frances Merriam died December 16, 1897. She was an invalid during the last years of her life. Her bearers were John C. Howell, William L. Dutcher, Miles Atwood, David R. Hull, Charles H. Sherwood and John Tozer. Mr. Merriam was then cared for by his sister, Mrs. Huntington. Henry W.Merriam died October 26, 1900, aged 72 years. Upon Henry Merriam's death in 1900, the Sussex Independent noted: "One of his rests from worldly care was the cultivation of his taste and love for flowers. A large conservatory adjoined his dwelling."

An inventory of Henry Merriam's household goods was compiled on November 12, 1900. His Library contained a mahogany writing desk, stocked with 17 books, and leather trimmed chair. A walnut bookcase housed 205 volumes, while a bookcase in the wall held another 89 volumes. Two bronze vases stood atop the bookcase. The Library was also furnished with two andirons, frames and wood holder; a paper receiver; large chair; three cane chairs; a work table and stand; a glass vase; a book holder; another leather-trimmed chair; another desk; a cut-glass bouquet holder; an umbrella holder; an upholstered chair; three shades and window curtains; carpet and wool rug. The Sitting Room was adorned with oil paintings depicting: "Glen Scene," a "View on Passaic River," and "Pond near Milburne." Other artwork included a study of Orchids and a picture of "Faith, Hope and Charity." Four Fancy Chairs and a Settee, a lamp stand, a piano and stool; a stand in the alcove; a rocking chair; carpet, five window shades; three lambrequins, a small mahogany chair, a bronze figure, a carved rosewood desk; two andirons and fixtures; ten books, five vases, a French clock and square table rounded out the furnishings of this room.

The Parlor of the Merriam Home boasted a matching set of furniture consisting of sofa, two arm chairs and a plain chair. Four other assorted chairs were placed around the room. Two ebony stands (one with a cover); a French stand, and ebony stand and lamp, an ebony table and bric-a-brac; an ebony cabinet with ten art books; a hand-painted screen and scarf; an ebony cabinet with bric-a-brac; an ebony hanging cabinet; bric-a-brac on mantle; andirons, fender and grate; five oil paintings; two painted panels and velvet carpet were located in the Parlor.

The Hall was decorated with four oil paintings; a clock and shield; a barometer and thermometer; a deer's head and antlers; a clock and bric-a-brac on the mantle; andirons, fender, shovel and tongs; an ebony armchair; three asorted chairs; a Fancy chair; a hat rack; a settee; a brass table; a mahogany table and bric-a-brac; a music box; a large rug; and four mats. A hat stand stood in the Hall Annex.

Furnishing in the Dining Room consisted of a china closet and cut glass; two sets of china in the closet; glassware; a silver coffee urn, crumb tray and accessories; waiter, vase, boquet holder and a nineteen-piece tea set and waiter; a dozen each of forks and knives, a carver and fork; nine table cloths, four dozen napkins in the side board and buffet; a lot of forks, table spoons and other table ware; three vases on the buffet; an oak extension table; a spread; a rug on the floor; a set of seven dining room chairs and a large chair; six paintings and four small rugs. The Conservatory held eight jardiniers; an aquarium; a table and cover; and a chair. Crockery and glassware were stored in the Butler's Pantry. The Kitchen contained a gas stove; two tables; chair, tinware, towels and kettles. Thirty-five tons of coal were stored in the Cellar, together with a garden vase, refrigerator, three dozen cans of fruit and three dozen jellies.

The Stairs leading up from the Hall was furnished with a pedestal and vase, a piano lamp, three pictures and a rug. The Upper Hall was decorated with six pictures; two chairs; a lamp, vase and jar; two lambrequins; two curtains; a rug and hall carpet.

The Guest Room over the Dining Room was outfitted with a bedstead, bureau, and washstand; four chairs; a toilet set; bric-a-brac, baskets and clock; two walnut brackets, two pictures, a wardrobe; carpet and window curtains. The bed was equipped with springs, hair mattress, two blankets, two pillows, counterpane and sham.

The Girls' Room contained a bedstead, bureau and stand; two cahairs, a toilet set; a lamp and carpet. Girls' Room #2 was furnished with a bedroom set, wardrobe, bedding, and carpet. The Small Hall contained a rug and table.

The Room over Alcove had its own stove; a covered chair; a couch and two pillows; a toilet set; two small chairs; a stand; a bureau; bric-a-brac; bureau and bric-a-brac; and about 35 yards of carpet.

The Bedroom over Parlor was outfitted with a bedstead, bureau and washstand; two chairs; two Fancy chairs; bedding; a table; toilet set; rug; carpet and border; two lace curtains and pole; five Venetian blinds; five-piece bureau set; clock and bric-a-brac on mantle; a mirror and five engravings.

Mr. Merriam's Room contained a curled-maple bedroom set including bedstead, bureau, three chairs and a rocker; a table, a chiffonier; bedding; toilet set; two pictures; three pair of window curtains; andirons and fender; bric-a-brac on mantle; carpet and hassocks.

The Front Bedroom and Alcove was furnished with a bedstead, bureau, washstand and bedding; a toilet set; a folding mirror; three pictures; a lounge in the Alcove; a stand, a chair two curtains and pole; bric-a-brac on the bureau; and carpet.

A couch, a chiffonier, a safe, a case on the safe and carpet were found in the Hall Bedroom. The contents of a bedroom were also inventoried in the attic.

The Barn and Stable housed a gray horse named "Senator Smith," a black horse named "Prince," and another black horse named "Edward." Vehicles included a two-seat carriage with rubber tires, another of the same description but described as "Old Style"; a single buggy; a wheel chair; and a two-seat sleigh. Other accessories were inventoried at this location: a set of double harness, a set of double-harness brass; a set of single harness, a saddle; barn tools and brushes; two lap robes; a ton of hay; three ladders; an iron roller and two iron plant holders.

Mr. Merriam's movable estate was appraised at $291,217.

By his last will and testament, Henry Merriam bequeathed his home and all its furnishings to the Presbyterian Board of Relief for Disabled Ministers and the Widows and Orphans of Deceased Ministers. He also left $30,000 in trust to keep securely invested and to apply the income thereof for the maintenance in good condition of the buildings and real estate devised to the Board. On December 6, 1900, Presbyterians of Newton met and accepted the gift of the Merriam Home, electing trustees under the provisions of the will. A Philadelphian architect named Kellog visited the Merriam Home in July 1902 to finalize plans for improvements. According to his plans, the Presbyterian Board of Ministerial Relief made a large dormitory addition to the rear of the home, adding a large dining room, various house offices and eighteen additional sleeping rooms. A number of plants and palms belonging to the Merriam estate were sold in late August 1902 to Dr. George W. Cummins, of Belvidere, who removed them to his home. The sale was necessary from the fact that the extension to the Merriam Home was to occupy the site of a former conservatory. The Merriam Home abruptly opened on September 8, 1903, with the arrival of sixteen guests from Perth Amboy. Mr. Merriam not only left his home for their occupancy, but also all its furnishings and appurtenances.

In January 1907, extensive alterations were made to the Merriam conservatory, attached to the south side of the residence, which made this part of the home of more practical use to the guests. The central benches were removed and the large water tank filled up and leveled, leaving the large central space for recreational purposes. The side benches were left for starting or growing plants. Contractors O'Donnell and McManiman performed the work.

Mr. Merriam's will was set aside and, on February 4, 1972, the Presbyterian Board of Pensions sold the Merriam Home to the Assembly of God.

Copyright 2000 Kevin W. Wright. All rights reserved.