Unsolved Mysteries of the Wayne Museum
By: Paul Maloney, Museum Attendant of the Wayne Museum and the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs
Halloween will soon be upon us. With the holiday in mind, the staff at the Passaic County Department of Cultural and Historic Affairs feel that the Van Riper Hopper Museum on Berdan Road has a ~mysterious~ side to it. In the last two years, museum staff have been examining its files and running across many “mysteries” regarding the house itself and the history of Wayne. Here are a few of our “unsolved mysteries” which we would like to know more about. We dare you to try to answer them.
“The Mystery of the Other Millionaire Inventor”
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, LeGrand Parish was a railroad inventor, millionaire, and philanthropist living in the Mountain View Section of Wayne. In researching Parish’s life for February’s “National Inventors Day”, we learned that Parish worked for Thomas Edison in
the 1880’s. While browsing a Rutgers University maintained digital Edison Archives, we came upon two letters written by Parish to Edison; in them, Parish uses the salutation, “Dear Cousin”. We began to wonder what, if any, is the family tie between Parish and Edison? The curator of the Edison Archives has no knowledge of whether Parish and Edison are related by blood or a relative’s marriage. It’s a minor piece of information on whether these two inventors are related but it made us curious. Wouldn’t it be cool if inventing ran in the family?
“The Mysteries of the Red Buildings”
In the back of the Van Riper Hopper Museum property, there is a red, barn-like structure which used to house the Wayne Archeology Lab. The lab was run by local Archeologist and Wayne Historical Commission Board Member Ed Lenik during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Next door to the red building is a brick structure which, according to one description, was an “animal slaughter house” when the property was a farm. Where did these buildings come from? Were they here from the time of the Van Ripers and Hoppers (the 1920’s)? Was either building moved from another location like the Van Duyne House was moved to our property from Fairfield Road in the early 1970’s?
Figure 3- The former Archaeology Lab and brick structure on the Wayne Museum property. Photographs taken by Paul Maloney.
“The Case of Life After the Hoppers”
We know that William and Rita Rehers purchased the Van Riper-Hopper House and surrounding property after the Hopper family sold it. The Rehers restored a lot of the house and brought in modern plumbing. However, we don’t know exactly what they used the home for. Was it a seasonal residence? Some newspaper sources suggest that it was once an antique store. Some visitors have told us that it used to be a doctor’s office. We look forward to Wayne residents telling us what they remember.
“The Mystery of the Old Post Office"
Many of our printed secondary sources and old newspaper articles report that the desk on display in our parlor was the same desk from the old DeMott-Ryerson store which was in the Mead’s Basin/Mountain View section of Wayne. It’s reported that the pigeonholes in the desk were used to receive mail for eight local families. Therefore, it has been concluded that the desk is “Wayne’s Oldest Post Office”. However, it looks as though the desk is in too good of shape to be a general store desk. We’re not clear about the sources which say it’s the same desk which was in the store.
“The Case of the Frankenstein House”
We begin our tours at the Van Riper Hopper House describing what we currently interpret to be the oldest wing of the house, the circa 1786 kitchen and living wing. We then take visitors to a wing interpreted as a mid-19th century addition, and then to a room used by the Rehers in the 20th century as a dining room.
At times, we describe the Van Riper-Hopper House as a ~Frankenstein House~ because the house was added onto at various times during its lifetime. However, the northernmost wing- now a ‘behind-the-scenes’ storage and work space- is a mystery to us. We’ve read accounts from former staff members that this room was the original 1780s wing; based on the structure’s shape and the exposed beams. Other secondary sources suggest that it was a summer kitchen, or a quarter for enslaved people, like Annich, who lived and labored onsite.
Therefore, which portion is the oldest part of the house?
Figure 6- Images of the Van Riper-Hopper House’s northern and southern wings. Photographs taken by Paul Maloney.
“The Case of the Aerial Photograph”
Our archival “Point View Reservoir” file has an aerial photo of the farmland and a “straight” Berdan Avenue before it was made into a reservoir in the early 1960’s. The present day Berdan Avenue was actually built around the reservoir. Some handwritten notes suggest that the site of the Van Riper-Hopper House is part of this picture. Our feeling is that the picture is “inconclusive” as far as where the building is. We don’t know when the picture was taken and the color photography is inconsistent with the colors of the Van Riper-Hopper House. It does not “line up” with where we conclude the museum is today. Do you recognize this landscape? Please share your memories with us.
“The Mystery of ‘6 Degrees of Separation”
LeGrand Parish, Albert Payson Terhune, and the Hopper family all lived in Wayne at around the same time. The time period between 1900 to 1930 appears to be a common time where Parish, Terhune, and the Hoppers could have met each other. Is it possible that any of the parties had contact with each other or was each family too geographically spread out? With no family letters in our collection, trying to narrow down an answer to this question has been difficult.
Figure 8- Top: LeGrand Parish, from the Wayne Museum. Middle: Members of the Hopper family with friends, ca. 1900. Bottom: Albert Payson Terhune, from the Wayne Museum.
Today, we’re inviting you to join our history sleuthing! Drop your recollections or thoughts in the comments below or send an email to email@example.com. The museum will soon be celebrating its 60th Anniversary, and we hope to solve these and other mysteries.
Stay tuned for more articles on these and many more mysteries here at the museum! Want to learn about these mysteries in person? Stop by for a tour of the Van Riper-Hopper House, open Wednesday through Sunday. Click here for admission information.