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Thomas Edison's Glenmont Estate


Where Gumbo Was #514

Not far from the site in West Orange, New Jersey where Edison built his 'invention factory,' and manufacturing plants, he and his wife Mina found a ready-furnished home so much to their liking that they barely changed it in over fifty years of living there.

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Today, the house is part of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, and is open to visitors on guided tours. Unlike many mansions that have been restored to 'as-it-was-when-they-lived-here,' this one is full of the furniture and decorations the Edisons lived with, even if little of it was their choice.


There's a back story: a man named Henry Pedder and his wife built the house, in an exclusive enclave called Llewellyn Park, the first planned residential community in America. The Pedders spared no expense. The architect was Henry Hudson Holly, father of Queen Anne style in America. The interiors were done by Pottier & Stymus, who were then flavor of the month. The decorators also did the shopping for objets d'art to grace their masterpiece.


And then, in 1884, Pedder and a number of colleagues working for the department store magnate Arnold Constable were caught embezzling large amounts from their employer—more than enough, in fact, to have paid for the luxurious $400,000 mansion. Constable forced a sale of the house for $1 on condition that Pedder leave the country to avoid a jail sentence that might have embarrassed the company.


That same year, Edison's first wife died, and friends later introduced him to Mina Miller, daughter of an Ohio industrialist. He was 39, Mina was 19, and the oldest of Edison's three children was 13. And they needed a home, preferably near the growing laboratories. And Arnold Constable needed to get rid of the house. The Edisons bought it at about half what it had cost to build it.

Gleenmont Edison DeskEdison's desk, where he often escaped from formal entertaining to continue working, a habit that caused friction with his six children

Glenmont Living RoomThe large family living room where the family often spent time together and apart as they pursued their various interests

While Mina's records over the 60-plus years she lived there are full of detail of household management and what products the family used, they made little change in furniture, and kept the art, taxidermy and library shelves as they were in the 'public' rooms. The two biggest changes the Edisons made were to add six bathrooms and, of course, to wire the house for electricity.


While Edison bought the house, for most of the time Mina was the sole owner: He sold it to her for $1 so that any lawsuits against his companies could not reach the family's living space.


When Edison died in 1931, he was buried in a family plot on the estate, where Mina joined him in 1947. For several years, under her will, the house was maintained by the Edison companies, and then passed on to the National Park Service as part of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park.


The National Park Service doesn't allow photography in the house, so I've had to rely on NPS images for the interior. Outside, there are several other buildings on the estate, two of them with particular Edison significance—the garage and the potting shed.


Both were built around 1908, when Edison was experimenting with poured concrete using steel forms; both of the buildings, therefore, are relatively successful experiments. The potting shed houses a small gift shop and visitor restrooms; the garage displays (through dusty windows) a number of the cars the Edisons owned, including a 1922 Model T that was a gift from his friend Henry Ford.


The collection includes several Detroit Electrics used by Mrs. Edison, as well as a Locomobile that Edison converted to run on batteries supplied by, no surprise, another of Edison's companies.


Congratulations, again, to George G, who identified our mystery location!


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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