Independent Living Essex County NJ | Winchester Gardens

Historic Jewel of Maplewood, NJ.

Where history and nature merge.

Our rich history includes fascinating facts worth knowing about the grand edifice now called Winchester Gardens, the historic jewel of Maplewood. Did you know? The Ward family was famous in New Jersey during the Civil War years. Marcus Ward Sr. participated in politics and statesmanship as a Presidential elector, as Governor of New Jersey in 1865 and a member of Congress in 1873. The family business was soap and candle manufacturing. A large fortune came to the one family survivor, Marcus Ward Jr., the bachelor son who lived an interesting life of global travel on ocean liners as well as good times on a houseboat in Barnegat Bay.

Marcus Ward Jr. carefully wrote his Will in 1912 and then kept it secret until his death in 1920. His estate would be valued at more than $100 million today. His Will specified that his entire fortune was devoted to the building and maintenance of a home for Aged and Respectable Bachelors and Widowers “who through misfortune have lost the means they once had for their support and have become wholly or partially unable to maintain themselves.” The residents were to be called “guests” and their stay was absolutely free.

His Will established a Board of Trustees with names Pitney, Hardin, Johnson, Duffield and seven others who purchased a 49-acre farm in Maplewood in 1923. Some of the trustees traveled to Europe to study ancient havens for needy men. One place was the Hospital of Saint Cross at Winchester, England founded in 1137. Others were Charter House in London (1612), Sailors Snug Harbor on Staten Island and others.

The trustees hired the famous New York architect John Russell Pope, who designed three interconnected structures built in a rusticated gothic style of stone and slate - Administration, Dormitory and Service - centering in an octagonal rotunda. Erection and furnishing were expected to take two years. Clearing began in spring 1925 and the building was finished in 1927. The original Pope design is still featured today.

The craftsmanship in the structures shows examples of artistic talents no longer available today: the leaded glass windows, the graduated slate roof and eyebrow windows, carved stone sundial and sailing ship exterior wall designs, hand-hewn stone in round pillars, copper awnings, copper eaves troughs and downspouts, multiple and elaborate chimneys. The main dining room and the Westminster room have paneling of quarter-sawn white oak, hand-created stone and brick patterns in the walls, 88-year-old tile floors without cracks or chips, round-topped exterior doors of solid two-inch oak, high ceilings and tall walls that hold storied oil paintings unique to this place. All of the craftmanship within the buildings make The Ward Homestead a truly rare place.

The Olmsted Brothers (John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.) were hired to landscape the scenic 49 acres around the buildings of the Ward Homestead. Following in the footsteps of their famous father (who designed New York's Central Park), these designs, plant lists and project details are archived in the Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Ward Home opened on August 31, 1927. In the 1980s women were finally admitted as residents. In the 1990s a large expansion added 40 villas in eight rows of five each and then two apartment buildings—all in an incongruous style but rather unobtrusive to the existing original architecture. The villas and apartments are designed and furnished with up-to-date equipment in a variety of shapes and sizes. The interior of the old “Dormitory Building” has been carefully reconstructed into large apartments that include original details of fireplaces, windows, exterior doorways and the aura of history. 

Schedule a Visit to see this historic jewel of Maplewood, where history and nature merge!