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History Corner: He Didn’t Have a Clue…

History Corner: He Didn’t Have a Clue…

In 1830, a young Dennis Stone built a home on Orange Center Road which was actually North Main Street.  After all, streets were only dirt roads with names that fit where they were with South Main Street somewhere below High Plains also named for where it was located.  His home, looking small from the outside, is surprisingly very large inside with 4 bedrooms on the second floor, a kitchen, a parlor, a small bedroom and what was, at that time, a general store.

Mr. Stone was well known in town as he wore many hats.  Farmer was obvious as many of the townsfolk were farmers of some, but his hats included Justice of the Peace, selectman, post master, tax collector, and grand juror.  The town had recently been named Orange, a mere eight years prior to having been North Milford.  The citizens in what became Orange had their roots in Milford when it was established in 1639.  Many of the names we know to be Orange were Milfordites and wanting more land they made the trek through the woods to what we have now.

There is a sign at the cemetery stating that you are entering the Historic District.  The 2nd sign has gone missing for a few years, but the placement is just south of Porter Lane.  This is considered by the State of Connecticut to be an area that is to be preserved and with it goes some serious rules for the homes there.  Orange Center was part of the tract granted to Richard Bryan known as Bryan’s farms.  The sachem, Antsanatwae of the Paugusetts deeded various pieces of property from the very beginning of Milford’s history.  By 1791, the citizens set aside a portion of the town for use by the public for grazing of their animals and a small meetinghouse was constructed at the north end.  This is our Green.

So, what’s in the district?  Houses?  Businesses?  No businesses.  Although in the beginning, there were businesses all around the center of North Milford located in homes.  Shoemakers, blacksmiths and, of course, Mr. Stone’s store.  Dennis Stone, building his house in 1830 on the corner of Tyler City tilled the land as a farmer, but it is notable say that he served 5 terms as First Selectman.

Dennis’ son LeGrand had ideas of going west and took 44 families from New Haven with him to Kansas.  At the age of 66, Dennis agreed to accompany his son and the family each homesteading 160 acres complete with Native Americans and buffaloes.  Dennis wrote to his nephews who lived up on Grassy Hill Road that he would soon return to Connecticut for a spell and some bushels of oysters and clams but he wrote, “it will not do for me to change this pure air for your damp, foggy, wet April weather.”  He died in 1877, never to return to his New England home.

The District holds a myriad of stories with many homes up and down Orange Center Road from sign to sign and the Orange Historical Society is ready to share them.  Next year, our town will celebrate its 200th year having become Orange in 1822; no longer known as North Milford.  The town itself encompasses 18 square miles, with the District nearly located at the geographical center.  The Green was a gathering place for people and animals as farmers were allowed to graze them on the Green.  The Meeting House, known today as the Orange Congregational Church, was located at the north end of the Green having been built in 1810.  In fact, in our History of Orange book written by Mary Woodruff, there is reference to geese honking on the Sabbath and with the church windows open, they disrupted the service.  Another anecdote found in her book associated with the raising of the church was how it got its ridge pole.

The building committee canvased the town to find the right kind of tree which stood straight and over a hundred feet tall before it branched out.  One such tree was found on Isaac Treat’s farm and as there were three, Mary Woodruff states he was the one not of the church group.  Ok, so now they find the tree and as Mr. Treat did not owe anything to this group of parishioners said that he would cut it down IF Colonel Potter, a former Revolutionary soldier would cut off the portion of his hair known as a queue, the Colonial style of wearing the hair.  Since he was not enthusiastic about the church, he felt his offer was safe but the Colonel cut his hair and Isaac cut the tree.

At the end of the Green is a white, clapboard colonial house built c. 1805 with two chimneys accommodating 8 fireplaces.  Rev. Erastus Scranton purchased land from both Jonathan Rogers and Samuel Treat building the home and became the first pastor of the of the North Milford Church.  He deeded some of his property to the town stating it was to remain open with no buildings, so a portion of the Green is owned by the town and a portion by the church.  From 1895 to 1910, a portion of the house was used as a cigar factory.

Another house in the Historic District was the home of Ellsworth Foote.  An interesting name as he was a shoemaker, one of several on the Green.  Going down Meeting House Lane, where the big white house stands, stood a small white house, home to William T. Grant, shoemaker.  We have one of his journals at the research center and reading it is fascinating.  We hope to make a copy of his more interesting pages for display at the town’s bicentennial in 2022 at the Academy.  Today, the Academy is a museum and an antique shop, but in 2022 it will be full of displays of the history of Orange with “hands” on items to explore and old documents to read.

Continuing with our Historic district “tour, we can see a large, white Federal style house built in the early 1800s by a prominent family.  As farming was central to North Milford, this too was a farm well worked with plenty of land and down the road is a small side door Federal style home where Sidney Oviatt lived.  One of the town’s post offices was located here.  Go back in my story and you will find another house with a post office.  (Hint:  you can visit this house on Sundays).

Remember Colonel Potter?  Well, his house is at the far end of the District not the same color as mentioned in the Walking Tour we have at the Academy, but a color suited to the time it was built.  It too has several fireplaces on each floor with wide floorboards on the 2nd floor.

Keep in mind that our town began in earnest when the northern part of Milford was sold by the Paugussett sachem Antsantawae to Alexander Bryan, one of Milford’s highly respected citizens.  Due to the fact that so much land was owned by the esteemed Bryan, the area was named Bryan’s Farms.  When Alexander died, in 1679, we know that he passed 300 acres to his son Richard and in 1720, Richard conveyed to his son Richard 208 acres at High Plains.  Woodruff’s book surmises that a house was built in the fall of 1720 at that location.  The 208 acres encompasses, Porter Lane, Lambert Road, Old Tavern Road and what was south Main Street.  There is evidence from a former, well-known builder that his family once owned a house described as a mid-1700s homestead which would fit with the wealth of the Bryan family.  That house was demolished.

As mentioned, 2022 is the year for celebrating the Town of Orange.  On page 35 of Mary Woodruff’s book she writes, “The first town meeting shall be holden at the Meeting House (church) in the Parish of North Milford on the second Monday of June, next at nine o’clock in the forenoon.”  And indeed, it was.

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