The History of the Village of South Orange

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... and the Centennial of the United States of America as Celebrated in the Oranges

By Howard Pincus

          The history of the Village of South Orange did not start in 1869 with the creation of the Village but rather on May 21, 1666. On that day the first settlers sailed to New Jersey from Connecticut and founded Newark. Some of the people who settled Newark later drifted over toward the Orange mountains in search of better farm land. They settled in what later became the Village of South Orange. The paths that the settlers traveled were Indian paths. They all connected with the Minisnk trail, the earliest records of Lenni Lenape paths in this part of the country. By the year 1776 Newark was already a thriving town while South Orange was still a very small town. Newark contained over 500 houses and had many shops, Broad Street and an Academy, while all that South Orange could boast were a few farmhouses, a small stone schoolhouse on the common, a blacksmith's shop, a grist mill, a general store and a public house or tavern. Caleb Johnson had a distillery that was behind John Treat's house was and where the present Village Hall is located. Stage coaches on their way from Newark to Morristown often stopped in South Orange to pick up passengers. Few private coaches stopped there.

          In the early 1800's New York businessmen began to come to South Orange and it was then that the town began to change from an agrarian to a suburban community. By 1869 South Orange had four country stores, a drug store for the sale of periodicals and ice cream and numerous beer taverns and two butchers. Fifteen trains a day passed through the Village on their way to Newark. Because of the convenient train transportation to New York, businessmen came to South Orange to get away from the hectic life of the city. They also came because of the open land and for the clear, clean atmosphere. By 1869 another wave of New York businessmen had come to live in South Orange. This wave of New Yorkers came after the Civil War.

          The Township of South Orange, which included the town of South Orange, Montrose, Jefferson Village (named after Thomas Jefferson), Maplewood, and Middleville, had a total population of 3,500. Some South Orange residents wanted to break away from the Township of South Orange because of certain laws. They thought that it would be to their advantage if they formed their own village. Most of the people in the southern part of the Township were quite content with their pastoral life and the other residents (those in the north part of the Township) thought that if they tried to include these people in the formation of a new village that the motion would be defeated. As a result, that area was not included in the plan to form a new village. Practically no opposition was voiced against the idea but yet a vote on the creation of the village, by the residents, passed by a scant 14 vote majority. This vote was taken by a special election on May 18, 1869 by "the voters of the Village of South Orange (the official name of the voters).1

          The charter was sent to the New Jersey State Legislature where it was officially placed on the statute books on March 25, 1869. The act was officially entitled an "Act to Incorporate the Village of South in the County of Essex." The charter was passed by the Legislature on April 4, 1872. After being passed by the New Jersey State Legislature it went to Governor Parker for approval. The Governor refused to sign the charter because it provided for the Governor to appoint the police justice of the Village. He said that this provision usurped the rights of the people. Parker said that the people had the right to elect their own officials. Despite the refusal of the Governor to sign the charter it became a law anyway.

          The charter provided for ample powers of governing, controlling, and regulating everything connected with the Village. The charter also provided for the President of the Village to be the chief executive and for a Board of Trustees whose functions were to manage the affairs of the Village. L.L. Coudert was chosen as the first President of the Village and the five trustees that were elected were: William J. Beebe, Abijah F. Tillou, Theodore Blume, Thomas Fenner, James W.C. Gardner and William Redmond (note: although there were five trustees, six names were listed in the record). Beebe and Redmond resigned during the year and were replaced by George B. Turrell and Eugene Plummett. The Presidents of the Village until 1877 were: L.L. Coudert 1869-1870 George B. Turrell 1873-1874 (resigned), Thomas Fenner 1870-1873 (he was re-elected in 1871), George B. Turrell 1873-1874, F.L.B. Mayhew 1874-1875 and Daniel T. Clark 1875-1877. Turrell had to resign during his term as president because of ill health.

          In the book Founders and Builders of Orange on page 356 it states that the South Orange Bulletin says that, "Men of well known business ability, honesty, and integrity have been selected to fill the important positions, and all necessary improvements have been made from time to time, and South Orange is one of the best governed villages in the state of New Jersey." Transportation between the Village of South Orange and other parts of New Jersey was greatly improved when Maplewood resident Seth Boyden constructed a locomotive, free hand and without any plans, which was to run on wooden rails, laid by Morris and Essex. The rails were between Newark and "The Summit of Short Hills." The line was opened on October 2, 1837 with the one engine, brightly painted Orange, built by Seth Boyden. The train pulled out of Newark to the music of four brass bands. Starting at Newark it then climbed up the hills to the Oranges.

          This historic event was marred by a tragedy which occurred while the train was on its way back to Newark. The train jumped the tracks and killed two innocent bystanders. The two end terminals were Newark and Morristown. Stations were also located between these two cities in Orange, Millville, Chatham and Madison. The morning trains left Orange at 8:30 A.M. and the afternoon train left at 1:OO P.M. The westbound trains left Newark at 1O:OO A.M. and 5:00 P.M. The two trains operated daily except on Sunday. The fare from Orange to Newark was 12-1/2 cents one way or 25 cents for a round trip. On March 7, 1863 the South Orange Horse car Railway opened on South Orange Avenue. The Horse Car Railway went to where Newark's Penn Station now is located. There were no horses after February 11, 1893 when the lines were electrified.

          The South Orange Police Department was organized in 1872, three years after the Village Charter was passed by the New Jersey State Legislature. The first Police Headquarters was erected in 1873 and was located west of the railroad tracks. The headquarters was made of brick and stucco. The alley where it was built was later named after Henry T. Trenchard, the first Village Marshall (Police Chief). The Police Headquarters contained four cells each with one "window" in it. The "windows" were no larger than a brick. For mobility the Police Department had one bicycle. As the Police Chief, Henry T. Trenchard had very little to do. The job of the chief was mainly to make sure that the policemen got to work on time. Records of policemen being late fill the books. The most common excuses were, "I didn't think it was late," "I took too long a nap," "I didn't wake up" The chief also had to keep the policemen sober. Trenchard retired and was replaced by Thomas J. O'Brien. Trenchard later rejoined the force as chief until his final retirement, which occurred in 1906.

          The South Orange Bulletin began in March of 1870 with J.W. Wildey, then the clerk of the Village of South Orange as the editor and proprietor, Wildey's objective for starting the paper was to further his real estate business. It started out as a fourteen page paper. At the time of its origin there were 1,200 people in the Village. The original paper was 9" x 12" and was published monthly, starting with three columns. In October, 1871 the paper expanded to 12" x 18" with five columns. On May 1, 1872 the newspaper became a semi-monthly and on January 2, 1874 it became a weekly. In 1874 Wildey sold the paper to Charles Lum and O.B. Smith. Lum and Smith had a "power printing press" with George Thompson, a blind, black man supplying the power. After 1874 the paper received the support of the community. It is uncertain how long the South Orange Bulletin lasted.

          Seton Hall University was founded in 1856 by the Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley. The University was originally located in Madison, but the University officials decided that it was overcrowded in Madison and too far from the people. In 1860 Seton Hall moved from Madison to South Orange. In South Orange the school bought 60 acres of land, which included a farmhouse and a villa, for thirty five thousand dollars. The villa alone was built at a cost of forty thousand dollars. The small chapel of the University served seventy five Catholics in South Orange and the surrounding area. The increase of the amount of Catholics in South Orange can be attributed to the moving of Seton Hall University to South Orange. The University students had a rigorous schedule which consisted of two five month sessions. The average day began at four A.M. and the only days off were ten days at Christmas and two days in May. In 1872 the act incorporating the Village of South Orange was found to be deficient. As a result the charter was amended. This amended charter was written by John L. Blake.

          The South Orange Library Association was formed in November of 1864. The Association was suggested by William J. Beebe a New York tea merchant who was, at that time, a resident of the Village of South Orange. Other people who joined the group besides Beebe were: Charles J. Beebe, F.L.B. Mayhew, George Wait, Reverend D.S. Sprague, Reverend J. Alan Maxwell, Lewis B. Henry, Edwin H. Mead, Joseph L. Taintor, Phineas Bartlett, Eugene H. Durant, Joseph H. Taylor and Moses A. Peck. According to the Bulletin of November, 1871: "Seven years ago this November a movement was made by some of the leading citizens of South Orange for the establishment of a reading room and library." When the Library Association met for the first time at the Headquarters of the Republican Club Beebe was chosen President of the Club. The preliminary meetings were attended with great enthusiasm and after a few more meetings a constitution was adopted and a Board of Directors was established. The Library was located at the Republican Club for a while but in 1867 Lane's store was fitted for the library and served as such from 1867-1888. Lane's store was located on South Orange Avenue.

          Stephan Ballard was hired as the first librarian and received 50 dollars a year and with that money was required to pay an assistant. Ballard didn't stay for very long. The library received books and money by donations from the citizens of the community. The first United States Post Office in South Orange was established on October 8, 1841 and located in John Freeman's General Store at 71 South Orange Avenue. Amos W. Bishop was the first postmaster and in the first year of the existence of the post office the receipts were so low that business was suspended until the following year. It began again in 1843 and the post office was located above Marcus Ball's Tavern, later called the South Orange Hotel, at 3 Valley Street. Later it was moved back to Freeman's and Freeman was appointed postmaster by the then President of the United States of America, John Tyler. The post office was then moved to 53 South Orange Avenue, a small wooden building. It then moved to the rear of 16 Sloan Street and later back to 53 South Orange Avenue to a bank building. On July 31, 1937 the Post Office moved to where it is now located, on Vose Avenue.

          In 1873 George B. Turrell was re-elected as Village President. Turrell was very much aware of the needs of the community. On his travels abroad Turrell made a study of road making. When he became President ofthe Village he proposed a method of road-making, which he called "construction by repairs." At first his proposal met with opposition but when he showed how it would save thousands of dollars the opposition was quieted and the proposal was approved. Mr. Turrell also helped the community in many other ways. South Orange undoubtedly had gas service by 1860 but probably just a few years before had primitive street lamps which probably burned on sperm oil. They were attended by a one-armed lamp lighter.

          In 1874 the D,L and W (Lackawana and Western Railroads) issued a 290-page book entitled Pen and Pencil Pictures on the Delaware. The book points out that South Orange has police and that the water comes from wells of excellent quality. The book goes on to state introduced from Newark and that there are streetcars from South Orange to Newark (part way by dummy engines). The book describes three manufacturing establishments, one of hats, another of heavy wrapping paper, and another one of children's toys and building blocks, "of which Mr. Barbell is the proprietor." The book describes the South Orange Bulletin as a "small but lively and interesting sheets." The streets of South Orange, as pointed out in the book, were made of Telford pavements. Telford pavements are round stones 6-12" in diameter laid flat in a round-bed.

          The Centennial of the United States of America was greeted in the Oranges with a boom. The Military Common was the starting point of the celebration. The beginning of the Centennial year was welcomed in with all the noise and excitement of Independence Day. A few minutes before midnight on the New Year's Eve of the Centennial the Orange Valley Congregational Church started playing patriotic tunes. The church was joined by a chorus of steam whistles. When the clock struck 12:00 all the church bells joined in a jubilee. There was a fireworks celebration on January the first.

          On July 4, 1876, a bright and sunny day, a one hundred gun salute was fired at sunrise. Pandemonium broke out at the discharge of firearms and other noises helped to drown out the old brass Revolutionary cannon, which was fired on the common. Church bells helped add to the noise. Precisely at 9:00 A.M. Judge Jesse Williams (he was the grandson of Captain Thomas Williams of the Revolutionary War days) mounted the stand erected at the foot of the Liberty Pole. (Earlier the Common Council had refused to cooperate with the wishes of the community by providing a new Liberty Pole. However, private subscriptions made possible this Liberty Pole.); The Liberty Pole was 142 feet in length and had a clearance of 125 feet. The flag was brought to full mast by George P. Kingsley and William H.V. Reimer. As the flag was unfurled in the breeze there were cheers for several minutes. The cheers for the flag were accompanied by a display of fireworks. Afterwards the people adjourned to the First Presbyterian Church where there was a historical address which was made by Doctor Stephen Wickes. There was also a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Horace Stetson at the church. The Reverends Eldridge Mix, Alfred Yeoman and Herman C. Gruhnert also participated in the celebration.

          At 10:30 East Orange residents gathered at National Hall (at the corner of Grove and Main Street). At National Hall Miss Josie B. Gaston read the Declaration of Independence, and Reverand William D. Hedden read a a poem which he wrote. At Lyric Hall Reverend George S. Bishop talked about the influence of the Dutch Church and Elder John Nicol, 92, of Brick Presbyterian Church also spoke briefly. There were many picnics held on July Fourth. They included those held by the Church of Our Lady of the Valley in Harrison's Wood in West Orange and by st. John's Church, in Park Avenue Wood, east of Day Street. In the afternoon the Good Feeders, a burlesque affair, paraded several miles around the Oranges. There were floats which depicted every conceivable aspect of community life in an endless array.

          "The medley of so-called bands of music was enough to shatter the nerves of even the strongest individual." One citizen made an improvised hand organ out of a tin boiler in the center of which there was a set of sleigh bells suspended from a bar that was turned by means of a crank. The noise of this hand organ drowned out the music and cheers. Many homes and lawns were lit at night with paper lanterns while fireworks were displayed from hundreds of neighborhoods. The ceremonies and celebration continued all through the day and night of July the Fourth.

[Note: the following sources were used for this report: The History of the Oranges," Pierson; South Orange, 1869-1969, News-Record; Founders and Builders of the Oranges, Wickes; Pen and Pencil Pictures on the Delaware]