The Village of South Orange: A Brief History by Harry Schnell

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The following summary, based in part on data furnished by Mr. Michael A. Fitzsimmons, Village Clerk, gives facts about your community that every citizen should know, and it is suggested that these data be preserved for future reference.

Every citizen of South Orange is invited to take an interest in its government, to personally know its officials, and to feel free to offer suggestion to them with the assurance that they will be gladly received and carefully entertained.

Incorporated as a Village

The Village of South Orange was incorporated March 25th, 1869 and was ratified by a vote at the Special Election held May 4th, 1869. It was later found that the Village needed additional legislation and there was an amended charter granted April 4th, 1872, and a supplement was passed 1873 and two supplements passed in 1875.

A constitutional amendment was adopted in 1875, which prevented Special Legislation and thereafter the charter has only been varied by general laws relating to villages and to those affecting all classes of municipalities

Village Government

The government consists of a Village President and six Trustees who together are known as the Board of Trustees of the Village of South Orange.

The term of office is two years, an annual election is held on the fourth Tuesday of April of each year.

At the Organization Meeting of said Board which is held on the first Monday of May of each year, at which meeting the Board adopts rules, among such rules it is provided that the Village President appoints Standing Committees for the year.

The regular meetings of teh Board are held on the third Monday of each month.

Board of Trustees 1937
E. Morgan Barradale
John H. BellJoseph F. McGinity
Felix ForlenzaCharles R. Piper
Eugene F. KrautterPeter A. Smith

Presidents of the Village 1869-1937
*L. L. Coudert*Philip H. Campbell
*George B. Turrell(Acting)
*Thomas FennerIra A. Kip, Jr.
*F. L. B. Mayhew*Robert S. Sinclair
*Daniel T. ClarkeAlbert C. Wall
*William A. Brewer Jr.*Francis Speir, Jr.
*Edward SelfRoy Clarke
*William L. CortelyouEdward D. Duffield
*Carlisle Norwood, Jr.William S. Hunt
*Edwin H. MeedGeorge H. Becker
*Edward F. ChurchHarry J. Schnell
*Eugene V. ConnettDudley W. Figgis
*Harmon H. HartE. Morgan Barradale

1937 Board of Trustees Standing Committees

The standing committees made up ofmembers of the Board of Trustees as provided for in the rules consists of three members each and are: Building Code; Finance; Fire; Insurance; Lamps; Legislative; Licenses; Ordinance; Parks; Police: Poor and Alms; Printing; Public buildings; Public Utilities; Scavenger; Sewer; Streets; Water; Zoning.

The Committee holds meetings from time to time and make their recommendations to the Board of Trustees and action is taken thereon by said Board

Board or Commissions

Police and Fire Pension Fund (three members); Employees Pension Fund (three members); Employees Pension Fund (three members); The Board of Assessors (three members); The Board of Assessments (five members); Recreation Commission (five members); Sinking Fund Commission (five members); Tree Commission (three members); Board of Health (six members); Library Board (seven members); Planning Commission (six members); Board of Adjustments on Zoning (five members); Board of School Estimate (six members); (two from the Village of South Orange, two from Maplewood and two from the Board of Education.)

The Trustees Also Appoints the Following Officials:

Village Clerk; Treasurer; Collector; Overseer of Poor; Engineer; Police Marshal; Fire Chief; Police Judge; Superintendent of Water; Inspector of Buildings; clerks of the various departments.

Those occupying the indicated positions (1937) are: Michael A. Fitzsimmons, Village Clerk; Howard S. Watkins, Treasurer; Arthur L. Demarest, Engineer; Joseph E. Scott, Water Superintendent; Thomas L. McGuire, Police Marshal; John C. Loughran, Fire Chief; Everett Bird, Building Inspector; John S. Magee, Police Justice; Thomas F. Fitzsimmons, street Foreman; Thomas E. Fitzsimmons, Village Counsel; Dominic Mercadante, Sewer Foreman; Dr. Charles Dane, President, Board of Health; Dr. A. C. Benedict, Registrar, Vital Statistics; Sadie M. Scully, Assistant to Collector of Taxes and Water Rates; Mary S. Hartigan, Assistant to Clerk; Dorothy F. Scully, Assistant to Overseer of Poor.

With the exception of the Police justice, Village Counsel, President of Board of Health, and Registrar of Vital Statistics all of the foregoing officials are under Civil Service. Tenure of office.

Census of Population

  • 1910 -- 6,014
  • 1915 -- 5,866
  • 1920 -- 7,274
  • 1928 -- 13,000
  • 1930 -- 13,739
  • 1937 (April 1 Estimated) -- 14,5000


Two and three-quarter square miles.

Water Plant is Village Owned

The Village owns its water system, which cost about $515,000.00 and has an estimate value of about $3,000,000.00. The plant was built in 1912 and besides the building and equipment is included land and railroad siding. There are thirteen driven wells, with an average depth of approximately 350 feet. To this plant has been added a high leveled storage standpipe and booster pump on the top of the mountain.

The original equipment composed of steam driven reciprocating pumps and steam driven compressors were replaced some time ago with new dual units composed of motor-driven centrifugal pumps and motor-driven compressors. A water softening plant installed later has reduced the hardness of our water from approximately 11 grains to 2 grains of hardness.

It Owns Its Sewer System

A contract providing for the enlargement of the sanitary sewers is now in operation. The Village has appropriated for this purpose the sum of $212,000.00. The total cost of sanitary sewer system of the Village will then be $500,000.00 paid for out of General Bond issues. In addition there will be a further charge to the Village on account of increased capacity desired by the Village so that the Village will have ample facilities for approximately the new twenty-five years. This additional cost will be about $75,000.00. The State Board of Health is demanding that the waters art the outlet of the Joint Sewer at the Kill-Von-Kull between Elizabeth and Staten Island be not further polluted so that the Join Meeting is providing for the treatment of the sewage by septic process in tanks in order to meet the order of the State Board of Health. When this is done the Joint Sewer will then be completed.

It Owns the Public Library

The land, building and books, with the exception of an addition to the building made at the cost to the Village a few years ago was deeded to the Village by a former Library Association, the consideration being one dollar. (See separate Library story elsewhere in this program).


The Public Schools are governed by a Board of Education and consists of a School District comprising the Village of South Orange and the Township of Maplewood. The members of the Board of Education are elected by the voters of the two municipalities.

A Board of School Estimate comprises six members - two from the Village, two from the Township of Maplewood and two from the Board of Education. This Board has the power to arrange appropriations of money for school purposed. The old system required a vote of the people in both municipalities before any money could be expended for school purposes.

The schools in the district are:

  • South Orange-Maplewood Senior High School, Parker Avenue, Maplewood
  • South Orange Junior High School, Academy Street, South Orange
  • Marshall School, Grove Road, South Orange
  • Fielding School, Academy Street, Maplewood
  • Montrose School, Clark Street, South Orange
  • Jefferson School, Ridgewood Road, Maplewood
  • First Street School, First Street, South Orange
  • Maplewood Junior High School, Baker Street, Maplewood
  • Tuscan School, Tuscan Road, Maplewood
  • Seth Boyden School, Boyden Avenue, Maplewood, (Hilton Section)
  • Parish House School, Clinton, Avenue, Maplewood
  • South Mountain School, South Orange and Wyoming Avenues.

In addition to the foregoing, Seton Hall College and a Parochial School, important institutions of learning, are also located in the Village.
Parks and Playgrounds

Cameron Field Playground comprises eight acres. It is governed by a Board of Recreation Commissioners consisting of five members.

Meadowland Park is under the control of the Board of Trustees and consists of forty acres.

Grove Park consists of seven and one-half acres


There are approximately forty-two miles of streets in the Village, of which approximately twenty-one and one-half miles are permanent type pavement of which four miles are county roads; all other roads are either macadam or telfard bound and surfaced with some bituminous material, either tar of asphalt.

Registered Voters Number of registered voters in the Village as of November, 1936:

First Election District653
Second Election District627
Third Election District844
Fourth Election District647
Fifth Election District794
Sixth Election District954
Seventh Election District713
Eighth Election District587
Ninth Election District679
Tenth Election District679
Eleventh Election District668
Twelfth Election District642
Thirteenth Election District975

Public Library

The first meeting of citizens for the establishment of a Public Library in South Orange was on November 14, 1864, at the home of Mr. William J. Beebe. Among the leading spirits were Rev. J. Allen Maxwell, Mr. William J. Beebe, Mr. George Wait, and Mr. Francis Le Baron Mayhew, all now deceased. They were men of character, intelligence and standing in the community; unselfish to a degree, and believers in the dissemination of knowledge.

The idea of a free circulating library with a reading room for the Village of South Orange was conceived in the summer of 1886.

The new Association, incorporated October 25, 1886, took over as a loan, the books and other property of the existing South Orange Library Association together with its one second-story room.

The old library room was given up on May 1, 1889 and a new room rented on the ground floor of the Freeman Building on South Orange Avenue. The yearly cost of maintaining the library was estimated to be $700.

In 1893 Mr. Eugene V. Connett offered a plot of land on the north corner of Scotland Road and Taylor Place with a frontage of fifty feet on the road and a depth of one hundred and six feet, on condition that the sum of $7,500 be subscribed for the construction of a Library building on or before May 1, 1895, and such building to be used only for Library purposes.

In 1916, the growing influence of the Library was evidenced by the fact that the annual circulation had increased to 37,977 and then came the years of participation in the war. The Library carried on despite the many calls for other service upon its active members.

For forty years the Library was supported by the voluntary contributions of interested citizens. Its property, land, building, books, etc., being owned by the South Orange Free Circulating Library, an incorporated body.

Annual payments were made in varying amounts; ten dollars, five dollars and two dollars respectively, according to the class of membership.

The growth of the Village and the ever increasing demand for books, plus the need for increased facilities all called for more and more revenue. The matter was discussed at meetings of the Library directors and the conclusion arrived at that the approximately five hundred supporting members of the Library should not be expected to continue to bear the entire expense of its maintenance.

The then president of the Library board was authorized to confer with the governing body of the Village with a view to having the Library taken over and supported as a public institution, and as a result a contract was entered into between the directors of the Library Association and the Village whereby the former agreed in consideration of one dollar to transfer to the municipality its land, building, books, and other equipment subject to the result of a referendum which the latter agreed to provide for.

The annual circulation had grown to 55,776. the nee for expanded quarters became more pressing.

To meet the needs of fulfilling this service required increased space. In February, 1929, the Village Trustees passed an ordinance providing funds for the construction of an addition. With the completion of the addition and the rehabilitation of the older part of the building, the Library, as its stands today, represents fifty years progress in a growing community. An annual circulation of 128,584 for the present year, shows a marked increase over the 7,078 of its first twelve months.

Presidents of Library Board
C. Edward Billquist1896-1897
James McC. Morrow1897-1905
T. O'Conor Sloane1905-1915
Rev. Alvin Magary1915-1916
Edward D. Duffield1916-1918
Edwin S. Allen1918-1920
Harry J. Schnell1920-1929
Arthur L. Brainerd1929-1937

1937 Library Trustees

  • Arthur L. Brainerd, President
  • Eugene C. Connett, 3d, Secretary
  • Carleton B. Riker, Treasurer
  • John R. Salisbury
  • Harry J. Schnell
  • E. Morgan Barradale, ex-officio
  • Mrs. Hellen Hill Harris, Librarian

No record of the South Orange Library would be complete if it failed to pay tribute to the more than twenty-five years of faithful and self-sacrificing service rendered by Miss Julia Schneider as librarian. It was largely due to Miss Schneider's devotion to the work that our Library is what it is today. When the enlarged building was completed and opened to the public Miss Schneider tendered her resignation because she stated she felt her work had been completed and her dream had come true. Not long after Miss Schneider died a memorial tablet was placed in the children's room with appropriate ceremony.