Historical Homes: Thomas Edison's House

If you want to step back in time and explore the home of one of America's most famous inventors, a visit to Thomas Edison's Glenmont Mansion is a must. The Edison estate is located in the picturesque and historic  in West Orange, New Jersey. The park was originally conceived by Llewellyn Haskell in 1850 as a peaceful haven from the rapidly growing populations of New York City and Newark. The park is America's first planned residential community. Featuring the work of renowned land planners and landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame), Llewellyn Park and its design embodies the philosophy and vision of some of the country's most influential thinkers. 

Nestled in the picturesque countryside, Glenmont was designed and built by Henry Hudson Holly (the father of the Queen-Anne style architectural movement) and was built between 1880 and 1882 by its first owner, Henry Pedder. Glenmont was built with painstaking attention to detail. Over 150,000 bricks and 10,000 pounds of iron and steel framing went into its construction. It boasts 91 windows and 7 chimneys, flush toilets, gravity heating, 6 functioning outbuildings, and employs about 40 window awnings. This massive and elegant building took two years to build.

The 29-room Queen Anne style house is built on 13.5 acres and features all sorts of unique architectural details, from porches and balconies to high-pitched roofs and curved bay windows. The rare Pottier and Stymer's Victorian style interior reflects examples of the Eastlake style and the Aesthetic Movement style. It is fully furnished and decorated with over 40,000 items, from Persian rugs to Tiffany & Co. clocks. It's a real stand-out among other homes of its time period, and still garners attention today.

Of course, the estate comes with a bit of a dark history. The Pedders hired architect Henry Hudson Holly to build Glenmont with funds embezzled from their former employer, the Arnold Constable Company, a Manhattan clothing store. As a confidential secretary for the company, Henry Pedder had access to the corporate funds and used them to finance the construction and furnishing of Glenmont without detection. However, several other employees were in on the scheme and helped Pedder siphon off the money. Eventually when this was discovered Constable took possession of the home.

When the massive and ostentatious Pedder estate went up for sale in 1886, famed inventor Thomas Edison saw an opportunity. He managed to snag the property for a fraction of its original cost, and thus began his ownership of one of the most interesting homes in America. 

Tom and Mina Edison were looking for a place to settle down and build their new life together. They found the perfect place, Glenmont, a sprawling estate that came complete with all the amenities they could ever want. Tom knew that he wanted to make this place his own, so he purchased it outright for $125,000. Mina had her choice of living in this estate or a townhouse in New York, but she wisely selected Glenmont as their new home.

Unfortunately, Thomas Edison wasn’t able to spend much time with his wife at his private estate. As one of the most prolific inventors of his time, he spent a great deal of his career in his nearby laboratory. In fact, he had set up a bed in his lab and regularly clocked in for 90 hours a week and sometimes upwards of 120 hours when something required a great deal of his attention. The room he spent most of his time at the lab was known as the Library, where Edison would start his day by reading mail at his private desk, conduct meetings, and demonstrate new inventions. The library, desk, and bed remains today as it did for over 100 years. His staff knew this room well as it housed thousands of books that they could use for research and to spark creative ideas for new inventions. At the time this library was ranked as one of the top 5 libraries in the world and much of it remains as it did when in use.

To get a tour of the house, you must go to the nearby Edison Laboratory Complex Visitor Center and get a ticket. The tour lasts half an hour and is led by a ranger, who is hired to oversee the property as it is now state land. You must be able to climb stairs to take the tour, as there are no accommodations for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. However, everyone is welcome to roam the grounds and see the outside of the house.

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