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History Corner: Something…?

History Corner: Something…?

Several years ago, I wrote a piece on “nothing” which turned out to be something as “nothing IS something, right?  Well, as I write, I see the list I have on my computer says I have written 154 stories for the Orange Town News, but I know there are many that didn’t end up on my desktop but hard copies, in a box, under my desk.

Bouncing around from this and that this morning, I needed to settle down to write something, a wonderful opportunity that has given me pleasure these past 16 years.  I enjoy the comments from my readers as to how appreciative you are to read my stories and the history I am happy to share.  So here goes another one, folks.

I have received several inquiries the past few weeks about a foundation in the center of Route 34, Derby Avenue or by its original name, Derby Turnpike.  Why was it changed to Avenue is beyond me.  An avenue’s definition is a straight path or road, lined with trees, wide and likely to be busy.  Well, I guess the “name changers” looked up that definition and voila, it’s Derby Avenue BUT it was a turnpike in its infancy when it was a toll road between New Haven & Derby in 1798 with “The Derby Turnpike Company.”  Yes, the road was built in response to complaints that what was a road wasn’t, but miles of hills and crooked turns so that carriages and teams had difficulty getting from New Haven to the Derby Landing.  The village of Derby, at that time, experienced extensive export trading with ships coming up the Housatonic River from foreign ports, mostly from the West Indies.

It was to be about 8 miles in length and 18’ wide, however, in the contract, it was “understood that by reason of rocks or other obstructions it shall be extremely difficult to make the road 18’wide.”  The definition of “turnpike” is a toll road and it WAS a toll road.  Going east on the Derby Turnpike, just before the billboards, is a little brown house on the right…toll gate and house.  Page 47 of the History of Orange (North Milford) Connecticut 1639-1949 shows a picture of the toll house.  Mrs. Mary Pardee was the gate-keeper for the first 50 years!  A picture of the toll sign is on page 48 of the History of Orange which leads me into my “real” story…info you wanted to know but never bothered to ask.

Let’s start with the foundations in the middle of the turnpike, ok?  Back in the 1930s, a newspaper article wrote about a raid on an inn near the Maltby Lakes where the then chief of police Carl Peterson, was following up on complaints from the nearby residents of loud talking, laughter and music coming from “The Doll House.”  Indeed, this establishment owned by two women had become not only an inn for fine dining BUT a chance for couples to mix and match.  Oh my.  It was this evidence that caused the business to close with the arrest of the two women who changed their names several times upon interrogation.  Gee…not such a good ending to what probably started out as a nice place to eat, up on the hill like that.  And no, we don’t have any pictures of it.

Mary Woodruff wrote her book from the years 1639 to 1949 but with its sorted past, The Doll House did not make it into print, but she does have many stories to tell.  She tells of Orange having its beginnings in Milford in 1639 with the sale of property by the Paugussett sachem, Ansantawae, headed by none other than Alexander Bryan.  There was much discussion about voting and who should be included or excluded.  After several more sales of property, including Bryan’s Farms, the chief and most of his tribe moved to the ridge above Derby-Milford Road which is now called High Ridge.  Mary Hatchett, the last Paugussett to live there, was a very tall and powerful woman, who like Aunt Icy lived a long life among the white settlers.

As has been told, Alexander Bryan, one of the original Milford Planters, was probably the first to own any considerable amount of land in our town and thus he named it Bryan’s Farms.  A total of 300 acres was listed at his death in 1679 with 208 acres passing to his grandson in 1720.  The Nathan Bryan-William Andrew house has had the date of 1740, but there are still some thoughts out there of its beginnings in 1720.

The town has not always had a smooth sailing.  There was the problem with the distance the settlers had to travel from what became North Milford to the Milford church and the various petitions to have a church built here because “attendance is always accompanied with inconvenience and it is sometimes rendered impossible.”  Once a church was built, on the Green, in 1810, worship began in earnest and the church bell became an important part in the life of the town, a town crier, if you will.  It not only summoned them to church but told its own stories.  It served as a fire alarm, and tolled to announce the death of a citizen.  Nine bells for a man, 7 for a woman, 5 for a boy and 3 for a girl.  The age of the individual was solemnly tolled off.  On the day of the funeral, when the procession approached the cemetery, the bell was slowly tolled until everyone had reached the grave of the deceased.

In 1818, Jonathan Judd was given $20 a year to ring the bell on the Sabbath, lecture days and every night at 9:00 except Saturday.  The next few pages in Mary’s book talks more about church until on page 28, she entitled it Orange Sectional Names.  Yup.  We live in sections.  Here, I will list them:  northwest part into Woodbridge – Oggs Meadow, northeast and east –  Dogburn, southeasterly – Scotland, running south from the Orange Green on the east side of the highway – High Plains, on the west – Town Plain, from Milford to Bethany – Race, between Race and Dogburn – White Plain, southerly from Derby Turnpike – Grassie Hill, west of this, extending to the Housatonic River – Turkey Hill, extreme north west into Derby – Sodom, and lastly, west of the Derby-Milford Road – George’s Cellar Hill.  She does not elaborate on the origin of the names.

With 2022 in the near future, we need to look at Mary’s section entitled Formation of the Town of Orange.  Here she lines out the path to Orange from North Milford of 1804 when the citizens were given permission to locate its church services in the northern part of Milford, building the church in 1810.  There is an amusing story of the ridge-pole on page 24.  New Haven had its own problem with West Farms, a tiny village, constantly trying to move into its future alone, only to be thwarted in the attempt.  Finally, in 1820 West Farms approached North Milford asking to unite with them.  The citizenry was conservative but with public opinion, they agreed to the plan.  There were three conditions:  One, town meetings to be held in North Milford, Two, for the first 10 years after the organization each society pays expenses incurred in its own limits and Three, that the society of North Milford not be held accountable for any expense if the General Assembly should deny the new township.  It was then resolved by the General Assembly that all parts of North Milford and that part of New Haven in question be known as Orange.  Did they name it Orange at that point?  Nope.  The first town meeting was held in June of 1822.  So, what to call this new alliance?  There was a difference of opinion, don’t ya know.  Milford Haven, no Westford, why not keep North Milford, said others.

This part of history I take a personal view.  Early in the 17th, century, Prince William, husband of Queen Mary, was instrumental in helping the Connecticut colony retain its charter.  I have written about that before.  King Charles II realized that the New England colonies were much too independent and sent Sir Edmund Andros to retrieve each charter, but with the story of the charter oak, that did not happen.  So, it seems that our forefathers thought well of Prince William of Orange (Netherlands) so they chose the name in his honor.  Me?  I wanted North Milford.  Orange had some interesting officers listed on page 35 of Mary’s book:  town clerk, selectmen, treasurer, constables, grand jurors, tythingmen, sealers of weights & measures. pound keepers, fence viewers, board of assessors and at the 2nd meeting in October they voted on where to put up official notices:  North Milford, Allingtown and Dogburn, so it seems that the naming of Orange did not take place upon the first town meeting.

Orange had another turnpike, the Milford Turnpike, again a name change, to Boston Post Road or less romantically Route 1.  I know route 1 goes up and down the east coast and as a post road goes to Boston.  It too had a toll house.  In 1802, the New Haven and Milford Turnpike Company was organized with one gate located near the underpass of the New Haven & Derby Railroad.  For those of you who remember Topps, the big box store on Route 1, well, that was the area for the underpass and somewhere in that area was the toll station.  When the railroad from New York to Boston was built in 1848, traffic on the turnpike began to decline so the town purchased the stock of the Turnpike Company exclusive of the toll-gate property.

Well, I have reached the end of my destination, a story for your entertainment and hopefully it has added to your knowledge of history.  My references to Mary Woodruff’s book are intentional as I would like to see those of you who are interested in history purchase our town history book so that in 2022, in addition to all of the fun, you will have a good background into Orange.  The book is available at the Academy on Saturdays from 10 – 3.  Call us at 203 795-3106, and leave a message.

*Photos Courtesy Tom Fatone

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