City of Orange Township Historical Overview
The City of Orange Township encompasses approximately 2.2 square miles in Essex County and is surrounded by the municipalities of East Orange, South Orange and West Orange. The City historically contained two marsh land areas bounded by the North side of Main Street, between Day Street and South Harrison Street, stretching to Highland Avenue of both sides of Irvington along South Center Street.
Orange, New Jersey, had its origins in Connecticut's New Haven Colony. The area was situated in the northeast portion of a land grant conveyed by King Charles II of England to his brother James, Duke of York. In 1664, James conveyed the land to two proprietors, Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. Since Carteret had been Royal Governor of the Isle of Jersey, the territory became known as "New Jersey." In 1666, barely three decades after settling there, 30 of New Haven's Puritan Congregationalist families took the perilous journey by water to found "a town on the Passayak" River in order to escape religious persecution. They arrived on territory now encompassing Newark, the four Oranges, and several other municipalities. Previously referred to as the “Mountain Society” area, the name Orange was first used and adopted by the settlers in 1780. It was derived from the name of England’s ruling house, the House of Orange.
Orange was initially the agricultural portion of the City of Newark, and remained such until November 27, 1806, when the territory now encompassing all of the Oranges was detached, thus creating the Township of Orange by an act of the New Jersey State Legislature. On Tuesday, April 7, 1807, the first government was elected at a town meeting. Samuel D. Day was elected as the first Chairman of the Orange Township Committee. On January 26, 1860, Orange was then incorporated as the Town of Orange. As a result of achieving status as a town, Orange was permitted to establish fire, police, street and other town departments. On March 13, 1860, Dr. William Pierson was elected as the first Mayor of the Town of Orange. Almost immediately, the new town began fragmenting into smaller independent communities primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing the new departments. The other areas separated from the Town of Orange on various dates: South Orange was organized on January 26, 1861; Fairmount (later to become part of West Orange) on March 11, 1862; East Orange on March 4, 1863; and West Orange (including Fairmount) on March 14, 1863. April 3, 1872, Orange was officially incorporated as a city by an act of the New Jersey State Legislature. It then became known as the City of Orange Township.
Orange was connected with the metropolitan area markets as early as 1705. Orange lay on the Mt. Pleasant Turnpike, the main road from Newark to Morristown, and ultimately to Easton, Pennsylvania. Therefore, the town became a busy thoroughfare for travelers, and hotels abounded due to the advent of stagecoach travel. Initially, the stagecoach was the primary method of transportation, and then omnibuses of the Eclipse and the Morris & Newark Lines serviced Orange. The Morris & Essex Railroad arrived in Orange in November 1836, its first cars drawn by horses. On October 2, 1837, the first steam locomotive appeared, and the horses were, with minor exception, relegated to pasture. The "M&E" later became a vital part of the Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad (DL&W) and survives today as NJ Transit's busy Morristown Line. Trolley cars appeared much later, with the Orange and Newark Horse Car Railroad Company running its first car up Main Street in May 1862. The Orange Crosstown Line, eventually extending from Morris Street, Orange, to Bloomfield, was started in June 1888. The first electric trolley in the State of New Jersey operated over a section of this line. Eventually all of the trolleys, and the buses that replaced them, became part of the sprawling Public Service Coordinated Transport System.
Due to the proximity to a network of rivers, canals, railroads, and street trolley cars, Orange was an industrial city from the outset. Early settlers found a profuse growth of hemlock trees, an ideal supply of tannic acid for the tanning industry, and boot and shoe-making factories soon flourished. Hat-making was the essential industry, and can be traced to 1792. Hat making had emerged as Orange’s dominant industry by the 1850s. Prominent hatters, including the Stetsons, relied largely on Irish, German, and later Italian workers to staff their factories. Hatting peaked in the 1890s. By 1892, 21 firms were engaged in that trade, employing over 3,700 people in plants valued at nearly $1.1 million. Nearly 4.8 million hats left Orange that year alone, bound for all four comers of the globe.
Beer was also major revenue producer in Orange beginning in the 1890s when the three Winter Brothers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, arrived in the city and built the first brewery. The Orange Brewery was constructed in 1901 at a reported cost of $350,000. The production of beer ceased with prohibition in 1920, and after the repeal of the Holstead Act in 1933, the brewery was sold to John F. Trommers of Philadelphia. Trommers brewed beer under that label until 1950, when the concern was again sold to Liebmann Breweries, Incorporated, which bottled Rheingold. Eventually, after several additional owners, the plant was closed for good in 1977.
With the advent of the profitable shoe and hat-making factories, wealthy industrialists fashioned large airy country homes in sections, North of Main Street, that took advantage of access to the railroads and the mineral springs of West Orange. The city was once known as a health resort, due to its fine climate and the medicinal qualities of the water in this area. In 1850, with the influx of factory workers, housing construction significantly increased the density of housing in the area. By 1900, a thriving immigrant working class culture existed. Factory employees generally resided in multiple-family dwellings surrounding a small business district. The next major residential development occurred during the post-World War I period in the Seven Oaks section. This area is surrounded by the Colgate Estates and in proximity to the Highland Avenue Rail Road Station. Seven Oaks is still noteworthy as having the highest quality of housing and neighborhood amenities in Orange.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, a very active labor movement was evolving which resulted in frequent labor disputes that sometimes had negative impacts on businesses. By 1921, only five hat-making firms were left, and by 1960, all had departed for places such as Norwalk and Danbury, Connecticut. As the hat-making industry declined, Orange’s manufacturing economy shifted toward electrical supplies, pharmaceuticals, calculating machines, boxes, and radium watch dials. Other significant businesses emerged out of this industrial re-structuring. Major firms located in Orange were the Monroe Calculating Company, manufacturers of the patented adding machines of the same name, and the Bates Manufacturing Company, producers of office accessories such as staplers and stampers.
The United States Radium Company was a notorious resident of Orange. This firm refined ore and extracted radium used to make luminous paint for dials and hands of watches and other indicators. Orange became notable for the “Radium Girls” lawsuit brought against the company in 1927. Aided by the New Jersey Consumers League, five women contended that their work conditions and their subsequent failing health were directly linked and requested that each woman receive $25,000 for damages. The case was eventually settled with much publicity with each woman receiving $10,000 and a $600 per year annuity while they lived. Although the women were not awarded the full damage amount, the case brought national attention to worker conditions and public health issues.
Local history has always been very important to the City of Orange Township’s residents. Presidents, presidential candidates, and governors have attended prior anniversary celebrations. Orange threw a big party on its Centennial in 1807, and another when it celebrated it and it’s Sesquicentennial in 1956 with much fanfare. At the Sesquicentennial, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was invited and wrote the following about Orange:
“Living in one or our leading residential areas adjacent to the metropolitan centers of the middle Atlantic seaboard, you provide a splendid example of modern community life. Your public services and neighborly spirit are an example to the Nation” (Clark, Eleanor Sterling. Orange, New Jersey. Orange, NJ: Orange Publishing Company, 1956.).
Between 1950 and the 1990s, as a result of Interstate 280 and urban renewal programs, but primarily due to the major shift in growth from the cities to suburbs, Orange lost population so that 1990 it had declined to 29,000. In 1982, citizens voted overwhelmingly to change the designation of Orange from a city to a township, thereby making it eligible for National Revenue Sharing funds. In 1985, the State of New Jersey named Orange as a State Urban Enterprise Zone, creating tax breaks and investment incentives.
Orange has made great strides with these resources and in the year 2000, for the first time in fifty years, Orange gained almost 3000 in population; reaching almost 33,000. For the next twenty-five years, to 2030, Orange is projected to continue to gain population. The City of Orange Township is supporting these positive forecasts with major planning initiatives to generate new housing and economic growth in the City. As we approach the 21st Century, Orange continues to rely on the strengths that have historically made it great location for residential and commercial development: a small-sized, densely populated, centrally located municipality with a highly efficient transportation network that links train, bus, and regional highway access. Perched on the brink of its brighter future, we hope that a look at Orange’s past can provide some valuable lessons for the present and the future.
Orange has produced such notables as baseball's Monte Irvin and Heavyweight Boxer Tony Galento. Actor William Bendix lived and worked here for a short while. It was once the hat-making capital of the United States, as several brothers founded the "No-Name Hat Company," before one of them moved on to make fedoras in Philadelphia under the family name, "Stetson."
Orange continues to make history with respect to old traditions and with new firsts. In June 2003, the City was once again honored by a Presidential visit, when George W. Bush came to Orange as part of an initiative to highlight the importance of small businesses to community development. In May 2005, the City assigned its first female motorcycle police officer; and in January 2006, the City appointed the first woman judge to sit on the bench of the Orange Municipal Court. In March 2006, the first female and the first Latino police officers in the City of Orange were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
Star-Ledger, May 27, 2001, section 1,1,4
Dorflinger, Don and Marietta. Orange: A Postcard Guide to Its Past. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 1999.
Early Records of the Township of Orange from 1807 to 1845: Chronicle Press, 1897.
Vail, Merit H. Cash. Essex County, NJ, Illustrated. Newark: L.J. Hardham, 1897.
Wickes, Stephen. History of the Oranges, in Essex County, NJ from 1666 to 1806. Bowie: Heritage Books, 1989.
T&M Associates. Historic Preservation Plan for the City of Orange Township, 2006.
City of Orange Township. Draft Orange Master Plan, 2006.