Local History: The Blue Book of South Orange
Published in 1908, the book contains a century-old social history of South Orange and surrounding towns.
Forget GPS. My constant companion in South Orange is entitled The Blue Book: The Oranges and Suburban Towns, New Jersey, 1908. This small, dark blue hardcover describes itself as “simply a compilation of about two thousand names of the most prominent householders of Orange and suburbs, published in the most convenient form for reference by our lady patrons.” The book includes a club index and listings by both name and street. I can just as easily find out the membership of, say, the Descendants of Colonial Governors club as I can list the prominent families on Montrose Avenue.
It takes no more than a quick skim through the listings to see that the vast majority of the “prominent householders” in our area lived in East Orange. I have traveled along Munn Avenue and Prospect Street lately, book in hand, to look anew at the wide streets and grand old buildings nudged by newer construction. In nearby West Orange, Thomas Edison, his wife and children are listed. South Orange, though, claims many pages in this book, and I have walked around town searching for particular addresses, hoping to people those older homes with names I’ve read.
On Vose Avenue, I’m looking for the Loomis family, members of the Mayflower Club, the Yale Club and the South Orange Field Club. On Hillside, I hope to see ghosts of the L’Hommedieu family with children Sylvester, Natalie and Augusta. I’ve learned that many of our 1908 South Orange residents had Manhattan homes as well, and some local addresses are prefaced by “Sum. Res.” Many listings include a terse “Receives Friday,” or other day of the week, to indicate when the family was “at home” to callers. Miss Anne E. Johnson of Stanley Road, for example, received “1st and 3rd Wednesday.”
For local history purposes, this directory is invaluable, especially since it lists both birth and married names for women. Mrs. Randolph Rodman of Hamilton Road, for example, member of the Hampton Club and the Montrose Tennis Club, is listed also as Townsend, which leads me to another set of Townsends, who lived on Ridgewood Road. Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Charles H. Traitteur of Kingman Road, members of the Saturday Night Club, led me, by way of the Mrs. to the Schuhmaker family from down the road, in West Orange. The directory has also led me to marvel at the many families, the Turrells, the Constocks and Miss Vose, for example, who lived on streets that shared their family name. The listings also include the names of children and other family members, who lived at the same address.
The directory reflects a much smaller town—South Orange saw its building boom in the 1920s, after all—with a certain amount of shared knowledge. No addresses are given for the clubs, and a number of houses have names, such as “Woodmansee” on Tillou Road, or are listed by their cross streets instead of by number. An example of this is Mr. Christian Lermann’s address, which is listed as Centre Street and South Orange Avenue.
I wish that I had known a few of these people; Miss Saphronia Demerast Joralemon intrigues me by virtue of her name. Mrs. George M. Philbrick of Hartford Road belonged to both the Orange Political Club and the New Jersey Woman’s Suffrage Association. She received on Mondays, and I wish that I could have stopped by to chat.
Sadly, no one from my humble street is in the book. Of course, I checked; everyone I know who has seen the directory has turned first to his or her own address. The Publisher’s Note mentions that the Blue Book’s title “does not refer to blue blood, as many people suppose.”
“Experienced men, particularly adapted for such work” compiled the information. The publisher notes, “We desire especially to thank our lady patrons for their cordial appreciation of our efforts.” I’d like to scoff, but I can’t: the book has hardly been out of my hands for weeks and it has shown me that fashions stay—the Montrose area is still glorious—and fade, as in some nearby neighborhoods where houses made way for highways. So what can I say to the publisher but this? No, no, thank you.