The year West Orange was founded
Is the Welcome to West Orange sign incorrect ?
All roads entering West
Orange greet motorists with an attractive sign welcoming them to West Orange. It
has become a familiar part of the landscape informing all that West Orange
established in 1862 is the home of Thomas Edison. This year however is not
historically accurate and requires a more detailed explanation.
First it is important to understand just how Orange
received it's name.The boundaries of today's Essex County were essentially
carved out from the original 1666 Newark settlement and subsequent land
purchases of 1667 and 1678. Until 1782 the settlements surrounding present day
Orange were known as the Mountain Society. It comprised of several small hamlets
mostly designated by the names of the principle families living there such as
Freemantown, Williamstown, and Pecktown. But in order for these areas to
experience prosperity and engage in commerce they needed to be linked together
with a more recognizable town identity. The name of Orangefield was then used to
replace the Mountain Society reportedly taking the name of Orange to honor
English Prince William of Orange. He was an outstanding figure in the day and
was the head of the Reformed Church. His name was familiar in the American
Colonies and was bestowed on many towns and colleges in one form or another.
Most notably was the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
It was soon suggested that since the area terrain was both mountain and valley
that Orangefeild should be changed to Orangedale. That name was first used about
1782 and by 1790 the name of Orangedale was being used in Newark town records.
But by 1796 without any real explanation "dale" had been dropped and the area
was simply referred to only as Orange. That name soon received widespread use
and acceptance. As the population grew it became increasingly necessary to
separate Orange from Newark. On November 27, 1806 an act of the New Jersey
Legislature officially incorporated Orange as a separate township. All the land
of future present day West Orange was part of this original separation of Orange
In 1861 part of Orange was taken to form South Orange
Township which eventually changed it's name to Maplewood. Years latter a part of
Maplewood would break off to form the current day Village of South Orange. It
was also around this time that some sort of dispute arose dividing the citizens
of the western part of Orange which resulted in the first division of Orange.
On March 11,1862 the New Jersey Legislature formed the Township of Fairmount
from existing parts of Orange, Caldwell, and Livingston. The western boundary
between the new Township of Fairmount and Orange was present day Prospect Avenue
in West Orange. But at this time in 1862 West Orange as we know it today did not
It wasn't until April 10, 1863 when the New Jersey Legislature created the
township of West Orange. It was created by taking all of the land of the
existing Fairmount Township formed only a year earlier and combining it with
another section of Orange. It formed West Orange with it's current day
boundaries and shrunk Orange in size. Orange was further divided just a month
later on March 4, 1863 when more land was taken away to form East Orange. In
less then a month Orange had been reduced in size to form both a town to the
west and the east respectively known as West and East Orange.
greeting motorists as they enter West Orange boldly states established in 1862.
But it was Fairmount Township that was created in 1862. West Orange clearly
didn't exist until a year latter in 1863 therefore creating an historically
inaccurate statement for the sign. Since long explanations can't be placed on
the sign 1862 was perhaps considered the best choice to represent the year the
original portion of the town was formed that eventually became all of West
Orange in 1863. It does create a dilemma because although 1862 is incorrect
about the actual year West Orange was founded using 1863 would omit a
significant part of current day West Orange. Accurate but impractical wording on
the sign could read: Welcome to West Orange, first part established in 1862 as
Fairmount Township then with further expansion becoming known as West Orange in
1863. Using 1862 therefore is probably the most practical solution for a sign in
terms of including the entire town but best understood in it's proper historic
The year 1862 was used as the basis for a West Orange 75th Anniversary
Celebration in 1937, a 100th Anniversary Celebration in 1962, and last year in
2012 for a 150th Anniversary Celebration. This proud tradition however will
always be underscored by the enduring legacy of a historically inaccurate
dilemma just needing some proper explanation.