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Local History: A Look at 110 Years Ago

In search of the truth about last weekend's 110-year storm, the writer reports on the news in South Orange in March of 1901.

"It was a hundred-year storm," said a neighbor, as we commiserated after the weekend's Nor'easter. "Maybe even 110 years until the next one."

Let's hope so, I thought, as he and I contemplated a week of disruptions unknown a century ago; we had no phone, Internet or cable in my neighborhood for the next several days. 

With his remarks in mind, I set out to learn what was in the news and on the minds of South Orange residents 110 years ago this month. What follows are a number of concerns that were described and discussed in more than one issue of the South Orange Record in March of 1901. 

  • Leading locals protested "against removal of station." Familiar names such as Walter I. McCoy, and Herman C. Hoskier gathered at the Field Club to protest a plan to close both the Montrose Avenue and Highland Avenue stations. The Lackawanna Railway's alternate plan was to open a new station at Tremont Street in "Orange Valley" to serve both communities. The locals won that battle, and our Mountain Station remains active and busy. 
  • In other transit news, Lackawanna employees were forbidden from smoking and drinking "intoxicating liquors while on duty." The rationale for this was passenger and employee safety, and the railway workers were explicitly cautioned again "frequent[ing] saloons."
  • Every week, the newspaper listed the names and numbers of those who were new to phone service. In March of 1901, Columbia High School officially signed on as number 131.
  • The Orange Society of New England met, and the group of women discussed the life and work of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. The meeting ended with refreshments and singing by local children; apart from the music, this could describe a book group in 2010. 
  • In school news, a lengthy editorial-style letter urged readers to come out and vote in the April elections. Why the urgency? Overcrowding says the writer, noting, "The school facilities are at the present time inadequate." He urges the readership to attend meetings, learn the process and understand how money is spent, especially with a growing demand for services. Does overcrowding at schools sound familiar?
  • While that sounds familiar, it was sobering to read of the "largely attended" services at Hilton M. E. Church in celebration of the congregation's 65th anniversary. While this church still stands across from Seth Boyden School, its membership has declined and the building needs repair. At the celebration, however, the "mortgage was burned and... There were elaborate musical celebrations both day and night.
  • Finally, a headline entitled "Real Estate Boom" caught my eye, and it didn't disappoint. "Real estate is on a boom in the Oranges," begins the story. 1901 sales were "unusually brisk," according to the article, "the best they [real estate agents] have seen in five years."

And what of the weather? Whether sun, rain or storm of the century, it didn't make the news in March of 1901. What I noted, though, is the prominence of several ads throughout the pages. While dyspepsia remedies and dressmaking supplies took the greatest number of column inches, John O' Reilly, Jr., and a number of other plumbers took ads. Reilly, at the corner of Third and Church streets offered "All jobbing promptly attended to" and "Estimates cheerfully furnished." After the weekend South Orange justhad, both offers sound attractive, even 110 years later. 

Kristen Tyler March 19, 2010 at 01:18 PM
I LOVE these articles about local history! I always have such a feeling of awe and wonder when I look at a spot and know a little more about the people who stood in the same place many years ago. Kristen
Marcia Worth March 19, 2010 at 01:32 PM
Thanks very much. I feel the same way about looking at a spot and thinking about its storied past.
NC Janow March 20, 2010 at 11:05 AM
The more things change, Marcia, the more the remain the same!!! Maybe the Library book lcub could institute some singing at the next meeting............

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