THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF THE ORANGES
By Joseph Fagan
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One hundred and two years ago, from June 9 -14, 1907 West Orange residents
found themselves participating in a spectacular week long celebration. It was known as The Centennial Celebration of the Oranges.
It commemorated the first town meeting of Orange in 1807 after it began as a separate town from Newark. The City of Orange
didn’t actually incorporate to years later in 1860. Shortly after that South Orange was formed in 1861 followed by both
West Orange and East Orange in 1863. All three towns were created as separate divisions of Orange. These municipalities all
could trace their genesis to that first Orange town meeting of 1807 and therefore shared a common thread and a cause to celebrate
in a single venue.
The 100th anniversary of the division of Orange
from Newark actually occurred in 1806 but passed practically unnoticed without fanfare. An Orange historian David L. Pierson
came up with the idea of using the anniversary of the first town council meeting in 1807 as basis for a centennial celebration
including all the Oranges. A schedule of events was planned for the week beginning June 9, 1907. A committee of local dignitaries
lead by Pierson as their president was formed to plan the celebration. This ultimately proved to be one of the grandest patriotic
and civic undertakings of it’s day that has slowly faded from collective memory. It remains as an often overlooked aspect
in the rich history of the Oranges.
The week long celebration included
open houses, carnivals, an athletic competition, and a pyrotechnic display and luncheons. A reception was held in West Orange
on Friday June 14, 1907 at the Essex County Country Club attended by then New Jersey Governor Caspar Stokes. Latter that afternoon
a grand parade took place through the Oranges. It began at Oraton Parkway in East Orange and continued down Main Street to
St. Marks Church in West Orange. The entire parade route was lined with American Flags and the buildings along Main Street
were decorated with patriotic bunting. Scores of commercially produced picture postcards were made to document the event.
A reviewing stand was set up near the end of the parade route at the corner of Main Street and Scotland Road at the old burying
The old burying ground is of particular interest and a key
element in understanding the 1907 Centennial Celebration. It is the current day location of the First Presbyterian Church
of Orange. Even though the graveyard is two centuries old the church was only constructed there in 1928. Before that is was
located on the corner on Main and Day Streets but destroyed by fire on April 5, 1927. Needless to say in 1907 the only occupant
at the corner of Main Street and Scotland Road was the old burying ground. The tract of land where it sits was donated by
Nathaniel Wheeler. He was the original landowner and one of the signers of the Fundamental Agreement of the Newark colony
in 1667. He gave the land to be used as a burial place and many of the early settlers of the Oranges, including himself, are
interned there. When Rosedale Cemetery began around 1840 the old burying ground slowly fell into disrepair and neglect. As
early as 1902 David L. Pierson spearheaded an effort to restore the old burying ground to it’s former place of prominence.
By 1905 the grounds were plowed over, headstones straightened, grass seed sown and years of debris and underbrush removed
and the site restored.
The highlight of the week long celebration
and it’s surviving legacy is the statute of the Dispatch Rider of the American Revolution. This monument was erected
at the old burying ground overlooking the corner of Main Street and Scotland Road. The statue was unveiled for the Centennial
Celebration and dedicated there during a ceremony with thousands in attendance while a light rain fell on Friday June 14,
1907. It remains there to this day standing a vigilant watch over the old burying ground for more then a century now. Guarding
and preserving it’s rightful place in history amidst the daily bustling activity of the 21st Century. Perhaps unappreciated
or unnoticed but it remains nonetheless as a glaring beacon to all who can recognize it’s splendid beauty. The Centennial
Committee of 1907 had a specific vision to the future and an acute awareness of their purpose. They recognized that their
mission in 1907 was not just about 1907. They wanted their voices to be heard to help us today understand their place and
time. The statue is a forgotten but enduring monument to their effort in preserving the history of the Oranges as we cross
the threshold into the next century.