SOUTH ORANGE VILLAGE
I S T O R Y
A Brief History of South Orange
South Orange is a quaint residential community boasting authentic Tudor,
Colonial, and Victorian homes, streets dotted with gaslights, beautiful
parks, and a bustling Village center. The history of our town dates back
to May 21, 1666, when Connecticut settlers landed on the shores of the
Passaic River. Guided by Captain Robert Treat and Lieutenant Samuel Swaine,
the group purchased land, now known as Newark, from the Lenni Lenape Indians
on July 11, 1666. Those families wishing to farm moved westward into South
Orange and surrounding areas. In 1678, the Lenapes sold the settlers a
second parcel of land running from the East Branch of the Rahway River
to the mountain top.
South Orange Avenue, an Indian trail, served as the main thoroughfare.
But in 1705, road statutes required landowners to maintain the first primitive
highways. These included Main Street and Valley and Ridgewood roads. Washington
and his troops often traversed the latter during the American Revolution.
The mode of transportation graduated from horseback, to ox-cart, to stage
coach. Then in 1836, the Morris and Essex Railroad developed a single
track between the Village and Orange and operated a horse-drawn cart.
A year later the line was extended and two cars were pulled by a wood-burning
steam locomotive. The advent of the railroad established South Orange
as a suburb of Newark and a summer resort. Just after the railroad was
continued through to Hoboken in 1868, the Village began its rapid transformation
from a rude settlement of farms and mills to a polished residential railroad
suburb of New York and Newark.
Swamps were drained, roads were constructed and gas lines were laid in
the 1890s. Sewers and running water were later added. Street lamps in
the town's center burned sperm oil until 1860 when gas service became
available. Electric power was brought into the Village about 1888, although
most of the streets are still lit by gas lamps. The first telephone exchange
was opened in Orange on December 6, 1879. In 1899, a Village central office
The transition of South Orange from vast farm lands to a prestigious
residential community is due in large part to the vision of one man, New
York attorney John Gorham Vose. Taken with the rich mountain scenery,
he purchased a home on Scotland Road in 1858. In 1862, he began to buy
large plots of land to begin his conversion. As building got underway,
Villagers took great interest in the development of each magnificent home.
In just a few years, 175 acres between Scotland Road and Center Street
were complete. Vose christened the area Montrose. Other successful businessmen,
Turrell, Kingman, Connett, Mead, Speir, and Mayhew, also bought farms,
carved out streets, and helped change the face of the community.
The Village Hall, built in 1894, housed the fire department until 1930
when it was moved to Sloan and First Streets. The police department then
moved from its 1872 building just west of the railroad into the newly
vacated space in Village Hall. In March, 1972, a separate police station
and Municipal Court building on South Orange Avenue was completed.
The first U.S. Post Office was opened in 1841 in Freeman's Store at 71
South Orange Avenue but the Postmaster reported "receipts so dreadfully
small" that business was suspended. In 1843, another office was opened
to serve the thirty families nearby. In all, six different sites were
used until 1937 when our present first class Post Office was opened on
Vose Avenue in a new building of its own. Free mail delivery started in
Built about 1680, the Stone House is the oldest in the Village and is
still standing on South Orange Avenue near Grove Road. The colonial house
at 167 North Ridgewood Road was built by Henry Squier in 1774 and acquired
by William Redmond when he bought the Squier farm in 1850. Later the house
was leased to a dairyman named Flood who pastured his cows in what is
now Meadowland Park. Flood's Hill in the park, used for winter coasting,
was named for this family. William Redmond built the brownstone mansion
for his home which is used today by the Orange Lawn Tennis Club. Another
landmark, said to have been built around 1830 and standing until after
1881 when it was destroyed by fire, was The Mountain House, a fashionable
water-cure supervised by two physicians, where spring water piped down
the mountain to it, was thought beneficial. A large wooden structure with
two wings, set in spacious grounds on Ridgewood Road, at the foot of the
present Glenside Road, the hotel accommodated 150 guests. Mr. Lord of
Lord & Taylor owned it in 1850 and leased it to G. Baird. The Eclipse
Stage Line operated in 1830 between the hotel and Newark. Today the sole
reminders of the resort are Mountain Station and Mountain House Road,
both established to accommodate hordes of visitors who once flocked here.
South Orange was part of Newark until 1806, when what is now the Oranges
and Maplewood were set off as "Orange Township." The name Orange
came into use in the second half of the 18th century, and was officially
adopted by a meeting of the inhabitants in 1780. The name South Orange
first appeared in print in a newspaper ad in 1793 in "Wood's Gazette."
It replaced such old names as Chestnut Hill and the Mountain Plantation.
Village government has changed dramatically from theocracy to democracy
since the 1600's. In 1776, there were only a cluster of houses, a grist
mill, a black-smith shop, a store or two and a tavern but South Orange
inhabitants were united in defense of home and country. In 1872, civic
indifference reached a peak when only 235 votes were cast in a presidential
election. Population has steadily increased: 7,200 in 1920, 13,000 in
1928 and over 16,300 in 1995. The creation of the South Orange Township
by an act of the New Jersey Legislature in 1861, led to the granting of
the Village Charter in 1869, but not until 1872 was it given authorization
to levy taxes and borrow money. In 1904, complete separation of Village
and Township was effected by action of the State Legislature, after South
Orange had agreed to remain in the school district. A copy of the 1869
Charter and its amendments, variances and supplements was printed in 1906.
In November, 1977, South Orange voters passed a new Charter for South
Orange and changed its name to The Township of South Orange Village.