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History Corner: Some Things Never Change…

History Corner: Some Things Never Change…

Depending on which side of the conference table you are sitting, a meeting with the Zoning Board of Appeals can be a stressful place to be.  The following is a letter, dated September 6, 1949 where an Orange business was petitioning to the Zoning Board of Appeals mentioning the various businesses in town that were thought to help with the appeal.  As they said in the TV show Dragnet, “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”  In this case the writer and business associated with the letter have been omitted.

Note the salutation.  Also, for ease of understanding the author’s letter and my comments, I will use italics for the content of the letter.


The buildings under petition were built at two different times, the first or rear section a good many years ago; age unknown to us; the second or front section was built about 1915.  Both have been in constant use as such ever since.

In 1938, at the date when the Orange Zoning Code became effective, part of them was under lease to _________ for _________.  During the fall of 1937 and spring of 1938 several tons of commercial product was stored.

The letter goes on to describe an area in town that would most likely be identified but the descriptions of businesses in the town are not associated with the appeal but a general description of others used to make its case.  It would appear that the area’s zoning was changing and the following is the information that was used to persuade the Zoning Appeals to rescind.

Opposite Old Grassy Hill Road was the telephone exchange and south of that is the town’s main grocery store, post office, school, firehouse, poultry and dairy farm of Joseph and Henry Clark.  On the opposite side of Orange Center Road are water-storage tanks, a cemetery, Congregational Church and a two-family house.  All of these were arbitrarily classed as residential zone A in spite of the fact that the geographical, commercial and shopping center of Orange was on Orange Center Road.

The only business zone of Orange was placed 300 feet either side of the Milford Turnpike*.  Near one end were the Wilson H. Lee Printing Plant** and the Oasis restaurant***.  At the other end near Bull Hill Lane were two small stores, in between were numberless garages, gasoline and repair stations, a rustic furniture works, several tourist homes, lunch spots, taverns and a few manufacturing plants.

The letter reminds zoning that Orange Center Road with its water storage tanks, grocery store, school, firehouse, and cemetery, it could hardly be called residential and to quote, “most certainly undesirable and inappropriate for residential purposes.  The last new home was built in the neighborhood in 1917.  There seems to be great rush or demand for the surrounding land for homes.  I believe you will agree that the classification as residential was unwarranted, arbitrary, inappropriate and exactly opposite of its use, nature and adaptability.  Mr. Ransom’s explanations, then and since, cajoled our objections and lulled us into a false idea of Sections 8 & 9 dealing with Existing and Nonconforming Uses.  We have just begun to know the different intents and actual legal interpretation of Sections 8 & 9.

For the past year, I have tried without avail to adapt to the present needs and requests of the townspeople.  I respectfully petition you to set aside the Zoning Board’s Classification as Residential AA as arbitrary, unwarranted, contrary to actual use or fact, public requirements and adaptability.

Phew.  That was certainly a letter of intent to change the opinion of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Some things do change but that is not a bad thing with respect to history.  Not all changes are bad.  Take the first colony of Milford established in 1639 with its leader, Peter Prudden.  Rev. Prudden had lived with the New Haven colony for over a year when he left in the summer of 1638 to be a preacher in Wethersfield.  There he met Thomas Tibbals who had traveled into the area along the Wepawaug River.  It wasn’t long after that the colony of Milford was born.

With the colony came rules, rules that decided who would have the power to elect officers and manage the plantation.  The Bible was the code of laws and only church members were given the right of “free planters.”  So where did the non-church members live?  Changes to this edict came later as more members joined the colony and a 2nd church was established.  This 2nd church met with obstacles from the “First Church” after attempting to obtain an acceptable associate minister to the Rev. Whittelsey who they thought unacceptable.  The Calvinistic group demanded that the church fulfill an agreement and in declining, an open break occurred and the 2nd church was established.

Change appeared to be necessary but ministers who were invited to the 2nd church were either fined, imprisoned or expelled from town.  Rev. Benajah Case from Simsbury attempted to preach in 1742 but found himself in a difficult position.  A writ was issued charging him with violating a law of the colony.  His trial lasted two days and he was imprisoned in the county jail.  A change did come in May of 1747 when Job Prudden, the great-grandson of Rev. Peter Prudden became minister serving the 2nd Church until 1774.

Sometime change comes in the form of ownership as with Charles Island.  When the colony of Milford was established, one George Hubbard was allotted the island with the provision that he only use it for tobacco raising and that he should not sell to the Indians, English or Dutch.  The venture was a failure.  Next came Richard Bryan, one of the original colonists.  In 1657 Charles Deal received permission from the town to purchase Poquehaug or Milford Island for planting.

In 1868, George Miles leased part of the island to set up a plant for the manufacture of fish oil and fertilizer.  This company made a superior product winning many awards for the oil produced.  In 1870 a lightweight contest was scheduled for the island but only one fighter showed up.  When two lightweight fighters were chosen, the Milford streets became alive with fight fans smashing windows and terrifying the little village.

A train arrived with 5 militia companies and twenty-two New Haven policemen to quell the uproar.  After a flurry of combat, the crowd surrendered.  Eighty-eight men were detained and eighty-one were locked up.  Those who could put up the bond were allowed to return home, but those less fortunate remained incarcerated.

Boy, times, they are a changing.

*Milford Turnpike was the name for the Post Road

**Wilson H. Lee was a manufacturing company where Home Depot is today

***Oasis Restaurant was located at the southwest corner of the Post Road at South Orange Center Road (currently where Prime 16 and CT Orthopaedics is located)

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