Sarah Jordan Boarding House

This house, built in 1870, originally stood near the laboratory where Thomas Edison and his men toiled in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Widowed in 1877, "Aunt Sally," as Sarah was known, lived in Newark, and was sent for in 1878 by her distant relative, Thomas Edison, to run a place for his workers to eat and sleep. With little employment opportunities for women, Mrs. Jordan accepted the offer and opened the home as a boarding house that same year.
Several of Edison's single employees lived here and would sleep two to three to a bed in the six rooms on the second floor. In fact, at the height of the laboratory's activities in 1880, sixteen boarders called this structure 'home.'
Edison's house, a good-sized residence, was down the road a short ways. Daily, the 'Wizard of Menlo Park' passed the Jordan Boarding House to and from his laboratory, walking atop the wood-plank walk, wearing a skull cap or a farmer's wide-brimmed straw hat, both hands shoved in his front pockets "as was the style at that time" - Francis Jehl.

Some of the rooms could get pretty messy!

I'd like to take a little time here to give a first-hand account direct from one of Edison's workers, Mr. Francis Jehl, on what it was like to stay at the Jordan Boarding House:

I turned in the far gate and set foot for the first time on the porch of the Jordan Boarding House which was to become my home for more than a year and which during that period was to achieve fame as the first dwelling house ever lighted by electricity.
In a few moments I was introducing myself to a slight, frail little woman who was the proprietress. Business was not yet brisk and she was glad to see a new lodger. She escorted me up the narrow winding stairs and into a large room at the front of the home. Although I did not know it at the time, I came later to the conclusion that the room she gave me was the best she had. It looked over the porch and had an additional window on the far side, making three windows in all. The furnishings were plain but ample - large clean bed, commode with wash bowl and water pitcher, bureau and a few chairs. Board and room, I learned, were to cost five or six dollars a week.
I believe this was the room in which Mr. Jehl had while as a boarder here

I accepted the room at once and after unpacking my satchel by candle light and hanging up my clothes, went downstairs and took a seat in the dining room where two or three men were already at the table. By that time darkness had fallen and a coal oil lamp furnished the light for our supper.
Perhaps a brief explanation about the plan of Mrs. Jordan's boarding house might not be out of place here. It comprised two separate apartments, each unit in itself. One was shut apart from the other and the communicating doors were usually kept locked. In one half lived Mrs. Jordan and her daughter, and the other was given over to the boarders. 
"Aunt Sally's" family sitting room
This is where the boarders gathered for relaxation

Occasionally the door between the two front rooms downstairs was unlocked and that on the family side was made available to lodgers or visitors as a sitting room. The influx of lodgers taxed the capacity of the little dwelling and it was necessary to use the original sitting room as an overflow dining room to make possible a second dining table at meal time.

Sarah's Room
While her boarders slept upstairs, Sarah, her daughter, Ida, and a domestic servant named Kate Williams slept in bedrooms on the main floor. There was, as stated in the above reminisce, a sitting room for the men as well, separate from the women, where they could play cards, smoke, maybe have a drink, and enjoy conversation that sometimes could've been objectionable for feminine ears.

Reasons why boarders rarely were allowed in the woman's part of the house was due to the differences between the two lifestyles of the boarders and the owners, which was striking.

~Part of the electrically-lighted kitchen~

Mrs. Jordan also made extra money by opening up a portion of this house as a lunch room, feeding hungry travelers who happened by. Of course, they would eat on the boarder side of the house, except when there were a great many that showed.

The dining area

From Mr. Jehl: The whistle, calling the mechanics and workmen to their tasks in the machine shop, blew at seven o'clock in the morning. Those working in the laboratory with Mr. Edison did not follow its summons for they were likely to remain long after hours; but no matter how late they worked the night before, they usually rose early in the morning to be on hand for breakfast. The first who got to the table had the choice helpings and sometimes could squeeze in a second helping before the late comers arrived.
Supper was a bountiful meal with meat, vegetables, and fruit framing the main dishes. The big meal of the day - dinner - was at noon when soup, potatoes, and the pies, for which Mrs. Jordan was noted, were served.
After the meal we sat for a time in the living room While Mrs. Jordan and her little ten-year-old daughter did the dishes in the kitchen just beyond.

One can just imagine the bustling of activity that took place here; cooking, cleaning, washing, and mending endlessly, for Mrs. Jordan cleaned up after these Edison workers besides cooking their meals.
I'm sure, however, that it was in the evenings that Sarah, Ida, and Kate enjoyed the most...

~The above photo shows the family sitting area from a different angle~

This house has the distinction of being one of the first (if not the first) home in the world to be lighted by Edison's newly perfected electrical system and incandescent light bulb. This took place on December 31st, 1879; after years of work and thousands of experiments, Edison finally was able to give the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb. An incandescent light has a thread-like object, or filament, that gives off light when heated to incandescence (hot enough to emit light) by an electric current. A steam engine in the machine shop (see link at the bottom of this posting) was used to drive three direct current dynamos which provided the electricity needed to light the bulbs.

At this very same Boarding House an electrified kerosene chandelier was attached to exposed wiring in the dining room.

When it was brought to Greenfield Village with the other Edison buildings in 1929. Mrs. Jordan's boarding house was placed in the Village in the same proximity as to where it originally stood with the buildings in which Edison worked. Sarah's daughter, Ida Jordan Day, donated (or sold to Mr. Ford) many original furnishings and pieces that belonged to the Jordan family. She also arranged the pieces in the way she remembered them as a teenager back in Menlo Park.
It is a true historical piece of late Victorian Americana at its finest.

(A fun-fact-from-Ken: an aide of Mr. Ford, Jimmy Humberstone - considered to be Greenfield Village's first curator - was asked by Ford to live on site. Jimmy and his new bride lived at Mrs. Jordan's Boarding House once it was re-erected in the Village, and on May 26, 1929, they had a child and named him James Jordan Humberstone!)

For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:
Edison Fort Meyers Laboratory
Edison Homestead
Edison Illuminating Company
Edison Menlo Park Laboratory
Edison Menlo Park Glass House
Edison Menlo Park Machine Shop
Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop
Edison Menlo Park Office and Library



Anonymous said…
How interesting about Mr. Ford's aide and wife living there and naming the baby that! Your photos are wonderful. I'm enjoying savoring my way through your site ...
Historical Ken said…
Thank you - I certainly appreciate your kind comments.
And, as I find more information, I will add accordingly, so you may want to check back here and there to some of the older blogs.

I love taking pictures at the Village! I visit several times a month and never fail to come home with at least a dozen or so photos.

Once again, I thank you.
Unknown said…
My husband and I received a light fixture and a newspaper article about a guide at the Sarah Jordan Boarding house. It states that the house was electrically lighted by Thomas Edison and that the Edison complex was moved in time for the 50th anniversary of light on Oct. 21, 1929. Do you know anyting about this? Thank you!
Historical Ken said…
Elaine -
Here is a link to info about the Menlo Park laboratory and it's reconstruction at Greenfield Village.
I hope it helps.

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