The Jonathan Dunham House was considered “the finest house in the settlement” of Woodbridge, according to a 1921 history of Middlesex County, New Jersey, where the township is located. Yet the two-story house was relatively modest by today’s standards, at least inside.
Only two rooms, a living room and dining room, were on the first floor. Meals were prepared behind the house in a framed lean-to kitchen. There were two bedrooms on the second floor and an unfinished basement below the house.
On the outside, the house was a product of its time. The exterior walls were made of brick, imported from the Netherlands and used as ships’ ballast. The bricks were arranged in a featured Flemish checker bond pattern, mixing red and black. The west side face featured a double diamond, which may have been a signature of the builder.
Brickwork pattern on the west exterior wall.
The style of brickwork helped researchers who worked on the house’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places estimate the date of construction. While many historians have stated the work was done around 1670, when Jonathan built his grist mill, the researchers concluded that the date was “highly improbable.”
Instead, the house’s form, materials and workmanship suggested that the work was done c. 1717. The nomination also cited a letter written by the Rev. Thomas Halliday, who conducted services in Woodbridge, on Aug. 1, 1718, and referred to in the Rev. Joseph W. Dally’s 1873 history of the township. Halliday wrote about “considerable improvements” in the Kirk Green area, including “new brick buildings.” In Dally’s view, the Jonathan Dunham House was probably among them — and the researchers agreed.
It isn’t clear how long the house stayed in Dunham’s family. During the second half of the 1700s, many family members moved away from Woodbridge. Some ended up in Virginia, while others resettled in Canada.
What is known is that the house eventually belonged to the family of Samuel Barron, another early settler of Woodbridge. His family name lives on today in the Woodbridge school system, whose sports teams are called the Barrons, and at the Barron Arts Center, a cultural institution that previously was the township library.
Barron’s heirs made a deal to sell the house in 1872. The ownership change would give the Jonathan Dunham House a new life, as well as a new look.