Get a Taste of the Beer Baron Lifestyle at the Newark Museum’s Ballantine House

The library. Photo via the Newark Museum


    Brooklyn isn’t the only place with a history steeped in beer: Newark, N.J., has a brewing history going back to the early 19th century. If you want to see how the old-school brewers lived, you are in luck — unlike Brooklyn, Newark actually has an intact late 19th century beer baron’s mansion open to the public.

    The stately 1885 Ballantine House has been preserved by the Newark Museum, complete with lushly furnished interiors overflowing with ornamental objects culled from the rich decorative arts collection of the museum.

    ballantine house newark museum

    The brick and limestone house was built for Jeanette and John Holme Ballantine at the center of what was a fashionable 19th century residential enclave surrounding Washington Park in downtown Newark. Ballantine, a first generation German-American, joined the family business, P. Ballentine Brewery (later P. Ballentine & Sons Brewery), established in 1840 in Newark. By the mid 19th century, others had joined the brewing game and Newark was exporting beer across the U.S. Ballentine’s was considered one of the “Big Five” of Newark’s beer brewers.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    With the growing success of the brewery and his ascension as its president, Ballantine was able to commission in 1883 a suitably grand home from New York architect George Edward Harney. On the exterior, the house is eclectic. It is simple and solid in plan, a square block ornamented with some a mix of Renaissance Revival, Colonial Revival and Gothic mix of details.

    There’s a bull’s-eye window in a center gable, a mansard roof and a portico with a trefoil arch (the latter a nod to Gothic). Look closely and there are mythical creatures, anthemions and faces carved in the limestone.

    ballantine house newark

    The central hall. Photo via the Newark Museum

    On the interior, the three-story mansion Harney planned included 27 rooms around a grand central hall. The hall, and many of the spaces within the house, was designed to be rich with elaborately carved woodwork. Harney added some special touches, including a “B” for Ballentine.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    The Ballantines hired New York decorators D.S. Hess & Co. to furnish their new home. The entertaining spaces of the first floor were decked out with new or reworked furniture, rich textiles and wall coverings, all creating a lush, layered interior.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    While several generations of the family lived in the house, by the early 20th century the neighborhood had become increasingly commercial. In 1919, after both John and Jeannette passed away, the family sold the house to an insurance company.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    The house has been fortunate in its stewards since the Ballantines moved out. Although the insurance company installed more bathrooms and added a wing to the house, they left intact the original ornate woodwork, floorboards and plasterwork.

    ballantine house newark nj library of congress

    The dining room in 1967. Photo by George Eisenman via Library of Congress

    The house was acquired by the Newark Museum in 1937, but used gently as office space and not open to the public until the 1970s. The house was restored then, and again in 1994, faithfully maintaining the elaborate interior decoration.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    For the furnishing of the period rooms, curators have the advantage of being able to plumb the depths of the museum’s rich decorative arts collection. So while some objects would have been owned by the Ballantine family, others are items that speak to Newark’s history and culture or are significant works of art in their own right.

    ballantine house newark museum nj

    Curators also have woven in not just the story of the Ballantine family, but also a rich diversity of tales of Newark residents who made up the community during the Ballantine’s residence.

    ballantine house newark museum

    “Party Time” by Yinka Shonibare. Photo via the Newark Museum

    Visitors who explore the house before November 11, 2018 will be able to experience a site-specific installation on view in the historic dining room. Staged by British-Nigeran artist Yinka Shonbare MBE, “Party Time: Re-imagine America” is an exuberant dinner party set for eight headless diners. The diners are staged as if in animated conversation and are dressed in elaborate costumes of colorful Dutch wax fabric produced for the West African market. The table is overflowing with food and drink and the dinners await their main course, peacock.

    ballantine house newark museum

    The house is part of the museum campus, which includes the 1926 main museum building, the Michael Graves 1980s additions, a schoolhouse and a carriage house. Not just a decorative and fine arts museum, it also has a science wing that includes a planetarium. To learn more about the museum and its many events, click here.

    How to Visit

    Address: 49 Washington Street, Newark, N.J.
    Hours: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m., and the Ballantine House is accessible during those hours.
    Admission: Adults $15, students and seniors $8, members and children under 2 are free. Admission includes the main museum and the Ballantine House. The planetarium has an additional admission fee.
    Directions: Take NJ Transit or the PATH train to Newark Penn Station. Catch the Newark Light Rail to the Broad Street stop and then transfer for the line to the Washington Park Stop. The museum is located just across the park. For a map of the Light Rail system and further directions, click here.

    [Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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