Historic South Orange, New Jersey College Life, Commuters and Gaslights

It's the hometown of celebrated actors Kevin Spacey, Zach Braff and Andrew Shue. Singer and rapper Lauryn Hill and cartoonist Chris Brown were also born there and South Orange provided the formative years for sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who while born in Hoboken, grew up in this municipality officially known as South Orange Village Township. The village township is also home to Seton Hall University, which has its main campus there.

Early History

What is now South Orange was part of a territory purchased from the Lenape tribe in 1666 by Robert Treat, who founded Newark that year on the banks of the Passaic River. The unsettled areas north and west of Newark were at first referred to as the uplands. South Orange was called Chestnut Hills for a time.

There are two claimants to the first English settlement in present-day South Orange. In 1677, brothers Joseph and Thomas Brown began clearing land for a farm in the area northwest of the junction of two old trails that are now South Orange Avenue and Ridgewood Road. And, minutes of a Newark town meeting of September 27, 1680, record that "Nathaniel Wheeler, Edward Riggs, and Joseph Riggs, have a Grant to take up Land upon the Chesnut Hill by Raway River near the Stone House."

Wheeler's property in South Orange extended east of the Rahway River including the site of an old house now known as the "Stone House," standing on the north side of South Orange Avenue just to the west of Grove Park. By 1756 or earlier, this property was owned by Samuel Pierson. Stone House Brook runs west along the north side of the east-west road, past the Stone House and joining the Rahway River at about the location of the Brown and Riggs houses already noted. The oldest parts of the Pierson house are the oldest surviving structure in South Orange.

A country resort called the Orange Mountain House was established in 1847 just north of town. Guests could enjoy the "water cure" from natural spring water and walk on the grounds that extended up the slope of South Mountain. The main house was right on Ridgewood Road. The hotel burned down in 1890. The only remnants today are the names of Mountain Station and the Mountain House Road leading west from it to the site of the hotel. South Orange could be reached by the Morris and Essex Railroad which opened in 1837 between Newark and Morristown. As of 1869, the M&E became part of the main line of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad which ran from Hoboken to Buffalo with through trains to Chicago.


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