Local History: South Orange Water Drew New Yorkers
In the mid-19th century, luminaries of the day visited Mountain House, a spa on what later became Ridgewood Road.
Water is on our minds, in the forecasts, and -- ugh! -- in some of our basements. That makes it high time for a look back to a past century when out-of-towners came to South Orange for the water.
In 19th century America, water cures were popular treatments. (Think of Bath in Jane Austen’s "Persuasion," from a century earlier, and you’ll picture it precisely.)
For ailments ranging from rheumatism to general fatigue, people both drank and bathed in water they believed to be especially pure and rich in dissolved minerals. Many folks found such water here, at the Orange Springs Water Cure.
Known also as the Orange Springs Mansion and, more commonly, as the Mountain House, South Orange’s own spa was located on what we know as Ridgewood Road near the foot of Glenside Road. These names are more recent than the spa, which was founded some time before 1830; an 1860 map shows a tiny sketch of the resort on what is called “Freemantown Road, adjoining the Luddington property." Travelers reached the spa by stage coach, riding from Barnabas Day’s hostelry on Park Place in Newark, and by train. Mountain House Station was built to serve those passengers, and Mountain House Road led them from train to hotel.
Sketches a photo show an expansive wooden house with a circular drive. The pictures suggest ease and elegance, fitting for a resort that attracted even Daniel Webster, according to one report in the News-Record’s 1969 retrospective on South Orange history. Word has it that he “had heard of the Mountain House with its health-giving springs for when he was old and ill, he wrote from the Astor House in New York in June, 1850, asking how to reach South Orange.”
The two physicians in charge at the resort, Dr. O.W. May and Dr. O. H. Wellington, answered to an owner who understood how to run a business. The hotel changed hands a number of times, but was owned in the 1850s by Samuel Lord. Lord, who lived in Newark at the time, was the co-founder, with his wife’s cousin George Taylor, of the department store Lord & Taylor. Lord rented the hotel to G. Baird, but his name remains on local maps. When Lord died in 1889, the land passed to a son from his first marriage, John T. Lord. John T. Lord’s name remains on the map of South Orange that appears in Atlas of the Oranges, published in 1911.
By then, though, the hotel was long gone. It burned down in 1888, according to several reports, though the fire didn’t make the headlines of the weekly South Orange Bulletin. Water cures had faded in popularity. The Mountain House property was subdivided, sold, and the houses that grace Glenside were built. South Orange was growing and becoming a town in its own right, not simply a refuge from city life.
Even today, water cascades down the hill from Wyoming, alongside Glenside, to where it joins the brook that carries it to our duck pond. The water isn’t for drinking, nor is there a likely spot to bathe in it. Still, standing on Ridgewood Road, watching the stream flow and pool is hypnotic and soothing—all that Mountain House promised without leaving home.
- "John T. Lord" obituary. New York Times. May 25, 1889.
- "South Orange, 1869-1969." A commemorative supplement of the News-Record. Oct. 2, 1969.
- Welk, Naoma. "Images of America: South Orange Revisited." Arcadia Publishing.