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History Corner: Do You Know What They Did?

History Corner: Do You Know What They Did?


From our local history books, we know that the colony of Milford was founded in 1639 with the arrival of Peter Prudden and a group of followers from the New Haven Colony.  They lived in a separate area known as the Hertfordshire section, clearing the land, building houses and planting crops.  The Milford colony extended to the western portion of Woodbridge, the eastern part of Derby and a part of Stratford known as Huntington.  The majority of the men were farmers with the exception of William Fowler who was granted land on the Wepawaug River to build a gristmill, the first in New Haven Colony.  The fees were to be three quarts of raw grain for every bushel brought to be ground.

North Milford, as Orange was called before 1822, also was primarily a farming town, however it sought other industries such as blacksmiths to tend to the needs of the farmers.  In the early days, the only blacksmith was located in the New Haven Colony.  The earliest in North Milford was maintained by Henry Russell at the corner of Race Brook Road and the Derby Turnpike.  Stephen Russell, also a blacksmith opened his shop east of Race Brook Road on the turnpike.  Samuel Shaw built his shop on the Milford Turnpike which is now Route I.  Yet another blacksmith set up in back of what are now the law offices of Cohen & Wolf.  Each of these shops served the area around them, giving the farmers and ultimately the women of the family the kettles, spiders* and implements used in cooking and for men their farming tools.  One can see a fine collection of ironware at the Bryan-Andrew House where all of the 2nd grade children of Orange had a look at how families lived in 1740.

It’s all well and good to have iron made, but who made what was attached to the iron on the farm? – The carpenters.  Fred Wheeler was one such carpenter and building contractor with Lyman Nettleton living on South Main Street (Orange Center Road) where Wilson H. Lee lived.  That house is pictured on a Scobie Postcard which is still standing on the east side of the road.  Nettleton was considered an eccentric because he said that some day people would fly through the air and make trips to Europe.  Eli Elvington was a mason whose house was located in the area of what is now the Wilbur Cross Parkway.

Shoemakers were in great demand considering that roads were unpaved and although shoes were handed down from child to child, shoe leather wore out.  One of these shoemakers, William Grant, lived at the Green on the west side of the church.  The Orange Historical Society purchased his journal on EBay several years ago just by chance.  In it Mr. Grant wrote down all of his sales and several, yes several were to Dennis Stone for himself and his family just across the street.

Ellsworth Foote also lived on North Main Street (Orange Center Road) on the corner of Porter Lane.  I find his name amusing.  Other men in the shoe business were William Russell on Race Brook Road, Sidney Oviatt, North Main Street and Benjamin Somers.

The ordinary price for handmade shoes was about two dollars.  It is no wonder that shoes were passed from child to child and in those days boys and girls wore the same style.  The adult shoe was made on one last which is the metal form that was used to shape the leather into a shoe and there wasn’t any left or right so it is a wonder that folks feet didn’t hurt with one style fits all, so to speak.  There was a young man, whose father died at sea in 1812 who went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Fowler on South Main Street.  He also learned the shoemaker’s trade, inheriting the house which still stands today.

Derby Turnpike is well known for the tavern at the falls but did you know that near the newly built Town Fair Tire there was a factory that made checkerboards?  William Chauncey Russell sold meat door to door with both wholesale and retail.  He wore two hats because when going into New Haven for his meat, he picked up the mail, delivering it to Sidney Oviatt’s home on North Main Street.  When Mr. Oviatt became station master for the New Haven & Derby Railroad, he moved the post office to the station which is located where the convenience stores are now located.  You can see the station on the front cover of the History of Orange.

So far, we are speaking of the men of North Milford because most of the women were housewives and mothers, not seeking to move out of the realm of the home.  The direct descendent of Peter Prudden was none other than Emily Prudden who, while doing her best to bring up her sister’s children, became involved with the plight of the children in the south, especially the black girls who were denied schooling.

When her sister’s children were grown, she packed her bag, took the money left to her by her father and went down south, establishing 15 schools in North Carolina.  She would build the school, equip it and move on to another area turning the school over to a missionary group.  The American Missionary Association is credited with three success stories and the one that she started in Meisenheimer, NC is Pfeiffer University.

Our men’s story is not finished yet.  Oxen were used in farming and it was Elbee Treat who brought oxen from Guilford and other eastern towns to Orange.  George Hine and his son Walt Hine carried on the business with both oxen and cows.  Mr. Hine bought his stock from Vermont and New York selling them at auction in Orange as well as in Newtown.  One of the most famous companies existing today is ASGROW, the international seed company.  Seeds were grown in Orange by two families, the Clarks and Woodruffs.  A business started in Derby selling seeds but sold out to two brothers in Orange, Enoch and Bryan Clark.  In 1864, Everett took over the business, enlarging it not only growing seeds on his property but also hiring other farmers to do the same.  His business was in Milford where the CT Post Shopping Center is now and where the former Ryder’s Park was located.  At some point in time, Everett’s sons merged with Frank Woodruff, calling themselves the Associated Seed Growers, moving their office to New Haven.  Just imagine, a worldwide company started in somebody’s parlor in Orange!

There had to be a general store eventually and the first one is reported to be on the west side of the Green belonging to John Bryan that went into bankruptcy.  George White opened his store across from the RR station (convenience stores) later selling out to William Scobie and later owned by his son Elbert.  He moved it across the street which is now the newly renovated Cohen and Wolf. It was still a store when this writer moved to Orange in 1961.  The post office moved around a bit ending up next to Scobie’s store in the building occupied by People’s Bank.

We can’t forget the tin peddler who went door to door with household goods, even a tin bathtub.  You can just imagine how he and his horse and wagon sounded as they went up and down the dirt roads.  The ladies would trade their feathers and rags for items they couldn’t afford to buy outright.  Business of all kinds flourished in the little town that started out from its beginnings in 1639 in Milford, to Bryan’s Farms, North Milford and then Orange in 1822.  The New Haven and Derby Railroad saw a brief time with business ventures with its own Post Office, a school, a sewing machine parts factory, a creamery, a tricycle shop that made baby carriages, and a company that made plaster of Paris ceiling decorations.

Have we moved ahead with the Post Road?  Maybe by today’s economy and the need for so much of this and that but I would just love to spend one day in the shops of old North Milford, just one day.

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