South Orange is a suburban municipality in the New York Metropolitan Area located in Essex County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the village's population was 16,198, reflecting an decline of 766 (-4.5%) from the 16,964 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 574 (+3.5%) from the 16,390 counted in the 1990 Census. Seton Hall University is located in South Orange.
"The time and circumstances under which the name South Orange originated will probably never be known," wrote historian William H. Shaw in 1884, "and we are obliged to fall back on a tradition, that Mr. Nathan Squier first used the name in an advertisement offering wood for sale" in 1795.
South Orange Village dates back to May 4, 1869, when it was formed within South Orange Township (now Maplewood). On March 4, 1904, the Village of South Orange was created by an act of the New Jersey Legislature and separated from South Orange Township. In 1981, the name was changed to "South Orange Village Township" to take advantage of federal revenue sharing policies. The change was intended to allow South Orange to qualify for a pool of federal aid allocated to municipalities that allowed townships to receive as much as double the revenue-sharing aid per capita received by the four other types of New Jersey municipalities — borough, city, town or village.
What is now South Orange was part of a territory purchased from the Lenape Native Americans in 1666 by Robert Treat, who founded Newark that year on the banks of the Passaic River. The unsettled areas north and west of Newark were at first referred to as the uplands. South Orange was called the Chestnut Hills for a time.
There are two claimants to the first English settlement in present-day South Orange. In 1677 brothers Joseph and Thomas Brown began clearing land for a farm in the area northwest of the junction of two old trails that are now South Orange Avenue and Ridgewood Road. A survey made in 1686 states, "note this Land hath a House on it, built by Joseph Brown and Thomas Brown, either of them having an equal share of it" located at the present southwest corner of Tillou Road and Ridgewood Road. Minutes of a Newark town meeting of September 27, 1680, record that "Nathaniel Wheeler, Edward Riggs, and Joseph Riggs, have a Grant to take up Land upon the Chesnut Hill by Raway River near the Stone House". The phrasing shows that a stone house already existed near (not on) the property. Joseph Riggs (seemingly the son of Edward Riggs) had a house just south of the Browns' house, at the northwest corner of South Orange Avenue and Ridgewood Road, according to a road survey of 1705. The same road survey locates Edward Riggs's residence near Millburn and Nathaniel Wheeler's residence in modern West Orange at the corner of Valley Road and Main Street.
Wheeler's property in South Orange extended east of the Rahway River including the site of an old house now known as the "Stone House", standing on the north side of South Orange Avenue just to the west of Grove Park. By 1756 or earlier this property was owned by Samuel Pierson. A survey of adjoining property in 1767 mentions "Pierson's house" forming accidentally the earliest documentation of a house on the property, which may be much older. Bethuel Pierson, son of Samuel, lived in this house and when he inherited it in 1773/74 he was said to live "at the mountain plantation by a certain brook called Stone House Brook." Sometime during his ownership (he died in 1791) "Bethuel Pierson had a stone addition added to his dwelling-house, which he caused to be dedicated by religious ceremonies". This would appear to be the stone-walled portion of the "Stone House". Stone House Brook runs west along the north side of the east-west road, past the "Stone House" and joining the Rahway River at about the location of the Brown and Riggs houses already noted. The oldest parts of the Pierson house are the oldest surviving structure in South Orange.
A country resort called the Orange Mountain House was established in 1847 just north of town. Guests could enjoy the "water cure" from natural spring water and walk in the grounds that extended up the slope of South Mountain. The main house was right on Ridgewood Road. The hotel burned down in 1890. The only remnants today are the names of Mountain Station and the Mountain House Road leading west from it to the site of the hotel.
South Orange could be reached by the Morris and Essex Railroad which opened in 1837 between Newark and Morristown. As of 1869, the M&E became part of the main line of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad which ran from Hoboken to Buffalo with through trains to Chicago.
The Montrose neighborhood was developed after the Civil War. Its large houses on generous lots attracted wealthy families from Newark and New York City during the decades from 1870 to 1900. The Orange Lawn Tennis Club was founded in 1880 at a location in Montrose, and in 1886 it was the location of the first US national tennis championships. The club moved to larger grounds on Ridgewood Road in 1916. Major tournament events were held at the club throughout the grass court era, and even into the mid-1980s professional events would occasionally be held there.
What is now the Baird Community House was up until about 1920 the clubhouse for a golf course that encompassed what is now Meadowlands Park. In fact, until regrading was performed during the 1970s, the outline of one of the course's sandtraps was still visible near the base of Flood's Hill, a spot that has historically been one of the favorite sleigh riding spots in Essex County.
The South Orange Library Association was organized by William Beebe, president of the Republican Club, where on November 14, 1864, a group of men and women met. Books were donated and the library was established in a corner room on the second floor of the Republican Club where it remained until 1867 when it was moved to a second floor room of the building next door on South Orange Avenue, near Sloan Street. It stayed there until 1884, when the building, with the library still on its second floor, was moved by horses up South Orange Avenue to the northwest corner of Scotland Road. Although supported as yet only by members' dues and a few gifts of money which were put into an endowment fund, in 1886 a new association was formed to establish a free circulating library and reading room which took over the loan books and other property of the old association. It was during this period, before Village Hall was built, that Village Trustees met in the Library's room. On May 1, 1889, the library was moved to a ground floor space at 59 South Orange Avenue.
At an annual meeting in 1895, Library Trustees considered the question of obtaining a library building and Eugene V. Connett's offer of a library site on the corner of Scotland Road and Taylor Place, with condition that $7,500 be subscribed, was accepted and the subscription was met. On May 8, 1896, the library was moved into the building on that corner. A referendum held on April 27, 1926, showed that citizens had voted ten to one in favor of the town taking over full support of the library. It thereupon became "The South Orange Public Library." In February, 1929, the Village Trustees passed an ordinance providing funds to construct a rear wing on the library and to provide a Children's Room in the basement, book stacks and a balcony on the floor above, together with rehabilitation work on the older part of the building. In November 1968, the new library building on the corner of Scotland Road and Comstock Place was dedicated.
Good transportation and a booming economy caused South Orange and neighboring towns to begin a major transformation in the 1920s into bedroom communities for Newark and New York City. Large houses were built in the blocks around the Orange Lawn Tennis club, while in other areas, especially south of South Orange Avenue, more modest foursquare houses were put up for the growing American middle class. The only large area not developed by 1930 was the high ground west of Wyoming Avenue.
There were at one time two rock quarries within the village supplying trap rock for construction. Kernan's operated as late as the 1980s at the top of Tillou Road. The town's other larger businesses were lumber and coal yards clustered around the railroad station that supplied them. The town's business district is still located in the blocks just east of the station.
The old Morris and Essex Railroad is operated today by NJ Transit. Midtown Direct, initiated in 1996, offers service directly into Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan, and has since caused a surge in real estate prices as the commute time to midtown dropped from about 50 minutes to 30, as the service eliminated the need for passengers to transfer to PATH trains at Hoboken. As a result, demand for commuter parking permits in lots adjoining the train and bus stations is extremely high.