At one time, according to Mary Woodruff’s History of Orange, every family living near the church and Green kept a flock of geese, using it as a common place and when they met, there was a great bit of squawking and cackling, sometimes drowning out the preacher’s words in the summer, when the windows and doors were open. But that is only part of the story.
The historic district runs from a section of Orange Center Road at Porter Lane down to a section of the cemetery. It is approximately the geographical center of the Town of Orange, dating from the early 19th century with Orange Center Road known as Main Street and Meeting House Lane, Church Street. By now, most of you know the history of the town, its beginnings but did you know that the area was partly commercial? Not the big box store commercial but small businesses held in the homes of the businessmen.
The homes have kept their original look due to the fact that the Historical District guidelines are statewide and any changes must be approved by the Orange Historic District Commission. Surprisingly, the color of the house can be changed but luckily for Orange, our neighbors have not chosen to paint their houses bright pink or other non-historic colors. In fact, the color of the doors of the Stone-Otis House are exact to the original using the staining of the wood on the front door and a color chart provided by the State Historic Commission.
An obvious building, facing Meeting House Lane, is the Orange Congregational Church built in 1810, and designed by the prominent architect, David Hoadley. The oval window, on the front of the steeple is actually not a window but painted to look like one. Mr. Hoadley was known for this detail and if one looks at various pictures of the church over the century, sometimes the “window” is “missing”. Someone forgot to tell the painter to re-paint the outline black. The window on the back of the church, by the parking lot is probably the most beautiful in the state according to Chris Collier, our former State Historian.
Believe it or not, there were once three front doors! It was said, upon completion of the church that, “The people of North Milford, plain as they are, have built one of the handsomest churches in the County of New Haven and have thus shown that they have a taste for the beautiful as well as a proper attachment to the useful.” A humorous yet true story came about when the building committee canvased the town for just the right kind of tree for the ridgepole which stood straight, at least 100 feet or more.
Such a tree was found on the farm of one Isaac Treat (there were at least three Treats) and he was approached as to its availability. Not being of the church group, Mr. Treat balked at the idea and believing himself safe, he told the group that if Col. Potter would cut off his queue, the style of the colonial men, he would agree to the tree. Whether Col. Potter was ready to change his hairstyle or he bought into the dare, the tree is now, all 7 inches square, a ridgepole. Long live the tree.
Looking now to the “business” community, one Ellsworth Foote lived on the corner of Orange Center Road and Porter Lane. He was by trade a shoemaker, yes he was and he also made knives. North Milford was not short on shoemakers and the early house on the corner of Meeting House Lane was just that, owned by William T. Grant. The Orange Historical Society has one of his ledgers and it appears that he was a very busy and successful shoemaker. His home burned in 1909 and the house now standing there was built in 1940.
You know all about the Stone-Otis house from previous History Corner stories but only with a visit to this 1830 house can you feel that history within the walls. Watch for openings on Saturdays in late May or by calling the society for a tour. Next door to the south of the Stone-Otis house is one with a good bit of history starting with a deed from the first pastor of the church Erastus Scranton. Rev. Scranton owned a good deal of the property around the Green to the east. In 1830, he deeded some land to Benjamin Clark who in turn sold it to Dr. Josiah Colburn. In addition to its professional use after 1839, it was used as a corncrib. Continually owned by a member of the Clark family, it appears to have been the home to several citizens including the town’s first rural mail carrier, Albert Clark in 1902.
One of the largest of the homes around the Green is located at the bend on the south side of the Green built circa 1800. This was the home of the Rev. Erastus Scranton who it appears bought land from two different landowners, Jonathan Rogers and Samuel Treat from 1805 to 1812. In 1830, the Reverend deeded a considerable amount of land to the town stating that “ the land be forever used or occupied as a part of a green for the benefit or accommodation of the public in general, no building or any name or kind to be erected or to stand on said ground to the end of time.” Thus the Green. As a note, from 1895 to 1910, Rudolph Carlson, ran his cigar factory in this house.
Just west of the Green near the above home was the recent home of Hannah Clark Russell built in 1876. With its extensive pasture and farmland, this homestead was once used as a dairy farm and potatoes were grown on the property as well. It once contained a carriage house, horse stables and many sheds. Next to this home and a little further east was the general store of John Bryan, the first of its kind. The house now standing, again west of the Green is the Parsonage of the church but the road in front of the house is where Mr. Bryan built his store. You see, there was no road there in 1815. However, Richard Bryan lost the property to the town in 1838 through bankruptcy.
The town hall wasn’t always on the corner of Tyler City Road and Orange Center Road. A wonderful old farmhouse stood there. Dr. Colburn appears to have moved from his previous address and several Clark brothers lived there at one time as well. The last owner was Hannah Russell who deeded the property to the town and the house was taken down. Previously, the town offices were located in what is now known as the Academy Museum.
A house located on the corner of Orange Center and Porter Lane was once used as a post office by Sidney Oviatt with an addition you can see from the road. A hitching post is still standing in front of the fence. The date Mr. Oviatt purchased the home appears to be 1845 and when the New Haven & Derby Railroad opened in 1871, Mr. Oviatt moved the post office to the train station when he became the first station agent. Now if all of this seems confusing, there is a publication which is available, free of charge, by the Orange Historical Society and can be obtained at the Academy on Saturdays from 10-3 or by calling the OHS phone number (203 795-3106) to pick one up at another time.
Just imagine how busy the center of town was in the 19th century.