It’s hard to imagine a President of the United States being born on Bloomfield Avenue. But as odd as it might sound, it is absolutely true. Drive along this major road through Montclair and into Caldwell, and you’ll find yourself at the quaint birthplace of our 22nd and 24th president: Grover Cleveland. What was once a home typical of the times is now a National Park and a New Jersey State Park that has been preserved to show what life was like during the time of Cleveland’s birth, and to showcase his life’s achievements located at at 207 Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell. Read on to find out more about the only presidential birthplace in the state of New Jersey.
About Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey, to parents Richard and Ann. At the time of his birth, Cleveland’s father was a reverend at the Caldwell Presbyterian Church Manse. The Cleveland family lived in the parsonage house, and Grover was named after the first pastor (Stephen), though he did not use the name as an adult and preferred to go by Grover. Cleveland grew up under modest circumstances as the fifth of nine children. His parents were strict and instilled a moral, religious upbringing in their children.
After a few years in the New Jersey parson house, Grover Cleveland’s father moved the family to Fayetteville, New York, searching for a better parish. The to-be president was just four years old. He remembers the local schools as “chuck full of fun” and spent much of his childhood enjoying the outdoors with a particular love for fishing. At 16, he prepared himself for Hamilton College, but tragedy struck with his father’s death in 1853, and he went to work instead to keep his family afloat.
Later, it became clear that there were more financial opportunities to the west in Buffalo, so he left in 1855 to pursue law. He was a clerk for a local law firm, and he was eventually admitted to the bar in 1859.
He practiced law in Buffalo and held several political positions, including Election Ward Supervisor, Assistant District Attorney, Sheriff of Erie County, and eventually Mayor. As Buffalo Mayor in 1882, he continued to ascend the political ranks and the following year became Governor of New York (1883). Just two years later, Grover Cleveland was President of the United States (1885).
Known for his honesty, fairness, and nonpartisanship, Grover Cleveland made decisions that benefited the people. When he was Mayor, he vetoed a resolution that allowed corrupt awarding of city contracts. As governor, he refused political rewards to the unscrupulous party officers of Tammany Hall.
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As the 22nd president, he was anti-imperialist and anti-fraudulent pension claims. Cleveland’s first presidency took place at the same time as incredible financial growth in the US due to increased industrialization. During his presidency, he signed the Interstate Commerce Act, which was created to govern railroad pricing policies and prevent monopolies. The railroad industry was the first industry to be federally regulated. He also oversaw the creation of the Bureau of Labor, the ancestor of today’s Department of Labor, a cabinet-level agency. The then-Bureau was designed as a mostly statistics and research bureau, whereas the mission of today’s agency is much broader.
Cleveland arrived at the White House in 1885 as a bachelor but made history one year later by becoming the first president to be married within its walls. The ceremony to his beloved, Miss Frances Clara Folsom, was held in the Blue Room in June 1886. Folsom was 27 years younger and the daughter of Cleveland’s law firm partner. In 1893, the family made history again when their second child, Esther, was the first child born inside the White House. The couple had five children together and spent summers enjoying the outdoors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Also in 1886, Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty. The dedication was a celebration of the friendship between the US and France, and it was the occasion for Manhattan’s first ticker-tape parade. Cleveland must have been bursting with hometown pride as he oversaw the festivities, remarking “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.”
During Cleveland’s 1888 re-election campaign, he won the popular vote in 1888 but lost the electoral vote. Cleveland ran again in 1892 and won, making him the only president in US history to serve two non-consecutive terms. During his second term, he moved the country back to the gold monetary standard, maintained civil order in labor disputes, and kept the peace between foreign adversaries. He was often disliked by political enemies and other special interest groups, but he remained steadfast to his original upbringing in that modest parish house.
By 1897, Grover Cleveland retired to Princeton, NJ, and served as a trustee at Princeton University. He lived in a home he named Westland, which is now privately owned. He passed away on June 24, 1908, and is buried in the Princeton cemetery. He remains the only president buried in the state of New Jersey. Before death, one of his final statements read, “I have tried so hard to do right.”
The Birthplace + Museum
The Grover Cleveland Birthplace is a museum and a historic house. Originally called the Presbyterian Church “Manse,” the structure was built in the early 1800s and is one of the two oldest houses in Caldwell. The church enlarged the house between 1838 and 1870, but interest in the building began to surface when Grover Cleveland became governor of New York.
The house opened to the public for tours in 1913. It is the only house museum in the country dedicated to President Cleveland. The first floor has been restored to the 1837 historical appearance, and the rooms reveal glimpses of Cleveland’s early life. In 1977 the museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It holds the most complete collection of artifacts from President Cleveland’s public and private life.
This lovely, federal and Greek revival building represents the simple, sophisticated style of vernacular buildings in America. The inside reveals the modest way of life that was common at the time for a reverend’s family. The rooms within the house are styled much as they would appear during the time of Grover Cleveland’s youth, except for the small museum of his artifacts.
The kitchen is a simple reminder of how families had work-structured lives — cooking, cleaning, and mending constantly. In the center of the room is a massive tub, a relic of the time, that would have been used by a large family like the Cleveland’s. Household tools, hearth-side pots, and a dry sink (without a drain) reveal the very modest and manual way of life.
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Perhaps the most personal displays are of the types of games that were common during this era, and a beautiful display around the family bible. The family bible was the best way to keep track of births and deaths at the time, and serves to remind us of what life was like without technology and modern filing systems. Seeing the evidence that over 100 years ago families gathered together to play games and celebrate life’s occasions adds a personal touch to this already cozy museum.
The birth room is sparse and straightforward, a giant wall plaque commemorating where President Grover Cleveland was born. A modest quilt rests atop the bed, and a wooden crib sits on the floor.
Many visitors to the museum are history buffs or presidential fanatics, and there are plenty of things to keep them occupied. Cleveland’s artifacts are full of wedding favors, personal effects, tailored clothes, and important documents. His well-loved fishing gear hangs on the wall, as does a display of the political mud-slinging campaigns. There is even a deteriorated piece of his wedding cake on display. The variety of items displayed reminds visitors of the person behind the presidency, someone with a sense of humor, hobbies, and other interests outside the office’s responsibilities.
There are information cards and so many historical descriptions in this museum that you could find yourself falling into a rabbit hole of Grover Cleveland’s life. While he was a president that not many remember, perhaps we can make time to honor his contributions and legacy with a visit to his birthplace.
How To Visit
Due to recent construction for the new visitors center, the Birthplace is open by reservation only. Please call (973) 226-0001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your visit. The grounds are available and open to the public all year from dawn to dusk and are worth stopping by for a spring picnic.
The museum is cared for by the generosity of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association and the caretaker Sharon Farrell, who knows just about every fact about Grover Cleveland. Work is being done to expand the museum by adding a comprehensive visitors center, conference facility, and exhibition gallery, so the house can better serve the Essex County community.