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Orange History

by Elsie Beard

The charter for the Town of Orange was granted by the State as of the date of August 11, 1781. The original charter is framed under glass, and in safe-keeping at the Orange Town Clerk's office.

According to the account of "Orange" written in 1868 by Carlos Carpenter, a native of Orange but living in Barre at that time, the first settlement in the Town was made by Ensign Joseph Williams in September 1793 on the South line of the Town, a farm owned by Horace P. Gale. Prior to this time only hunters, trappers, soldiers, and captives had passed through this land, which was then a wilderness and uninhabited by permanent settlers. However, following the first settlement, in the next two or three years there were others who arrived, including Major Joseph Thayer, Christopher Carey, Humphrey and Ephraim Hunt, Gould Camp, John and Matthew Sloane, Ezra Paine, Ezra Goodale, Abel Skinner, Jabez Rodgers, and Porter Lord. The Town was organized as of March 9, 1796 at a meeting, warned by Abel Skinner, Justice of the Peace, and "holden at the house of Joseph Williams." The first check list of voters who took the freeman's oath was made on September 2, 1800 and contained 30 names of men living in the Town.

The early records of the Town show that all the governing or overseeing of land grants and changes were decided by the proprietors of the Township evidently before many people had even settled in the area. The first hundred acre divisions for land grants in the Town consisted of 67 original rights and were recorded in the accounts from the proprietors' Records of Orange, found in the first book of the Property Records of Orange. These were all dated at Thetford as of January 5, 1785. Included were grants for College Right, Grammar School Number 1, English School, Minister Right, and Parsonage.

The second hundred acre division included 65 individual rights with five additional for College, Grammar School, English School, Minister, and Parsonage Rights. These rights were all dated at Hartford, Windsor County, as of March 6, 1786. All grants were made for 100 acres of land with five percent allowance for highway. The entire Township was chartered to "Contain (or comprehend) the Contents Six Miles Square (6 Miles Square)."

In the book "Vermont Place Names" by Esther Munroe Swift, she describes Orange as "largely a farming town," that the top population was reached in 1830 with about 1,000 people and over 5,000 sheep grazing on the hillsides. Also, "located almost in the middle of town, the village of Orange had a post office from 1823 until 1921. East Orange, in the extreme southern corner, had a post office from 1850 until 1908." She also states in her book that according to U.S. Coast and Geodetic survey Maps the tallest peaks in town are Knox Mountain and Butterfield Mountain both over 3,000 feet tall.

According to Census Bureau figures, the population in Orange was 348 in 1800, so did have an influx of people up until 1830-1850 when the population dropped more or less continuously until 1960. Then it began to again climb upward, to 752 in 1980 and 915 in 1990.

It seems that one reason for the decline in population was that the western United States was made more accessible by means of rivers, roads and railroads, and with open land available for grazing or farming, many people from the east left the hilly farmland, such as in Vermont, for more prolific opportunities in the west.

In Perry Merrill's book, Vermont Under Four Flags, he states that by 1840 about 4,000,000 acres of land had been cleared for agricultural use in this state. However, from that date until about 1992, the forest area had been increasing, and the picture reversed, as there were about 4,000,000 acres of forest land in Vermont with much less open land for farming purposes. The situation is apparent in the Town of Orange, as there were only a few farms remaining and actively farming in 1992. Much of the land which formerly made up the acreage for operating a farm has been sold off in smaller pieces for building of private homes.

According to Town records, the meetings of the town people took place in private homes or at a school house until 1824 when the meeting was held at "the meeting house in Orange." The records indicate that a meeting house was built by the religious Society sometime between 1800 and 1824, and that it was used as a common town meeting house for public meetings for several years. This was located on the village green which was in the area near where the Orange Center cemetery is situated. It was purchased by the Town in 1861 and moved to the Market Road (now Route 302), where it has been located ever since. It was, however, moved further back from the highway in 1981.

In the early years of the Town, school houses were built in different districts of the town and families could be changed from one district to another in order to keep enrollments at a more comparable level. In 1920 there were seven districts with an enrollment of 312 pupils. The enrollment in 1844 was up to "409 scholars in 13 districts," and the report lists 165 heads of families at that time. In 1905-06, school enrollment is listed as 122 and in 1930-31 the elementary schools (Orange Center and East Orange) consisted of 87 pupils, and there were 20 high school pupils enrolled in five different high schools. In 1948 the consolidation of schools was further approved which left only the central school of Orange Center and the one-room school at East Orange. In 1959 the East Orange school was closed, extending the centralization of all town schools into the Orange Center school. In 1990 the total elementary school enrollment was 125 pupils and the high school enrollment was 54 students, or a total of 179 from the town.

The first meetings for the worship of God were held in the homes of some of the town residents. In March of 1801 "at a Stated Place for holding public meetings" it was "voted to form into a religious Society for the purpose of settling a minister and for supporting the Gospel." The Town Records indicate that a Meeting House had been built prior to 1824, and it seems logical that this is the same one where town meetings were held and eventually purchased by the town, then moved to Market Road.

Records indicate that a union church was organized for East Orange in 1823, the first building being erected in 1825 and occupied alternately by Free Will Baptists and Methodists. This building burned and another church was built on the same ground in 1850. This church building burned in December 1887. Construction began in June 1888 on a new church building, which was completed and dedicated in 1890. Worship services continue to be held here in this church building which is noted for the beauty of its design and appearance.

There are seven cemeteries in the Town, the newest one being "Brook Haven" which is located near the town hall and clerk's office on Route 302 in the center of town.

After the first settlers came to Orange, there were several sawmills and grist mills established where dams were made in the waterways to provide water power. As a result of clearing trees from the land for farming purposes, the industries of making potash, pearl ash, and lye came about. These products were sold or bartered as needed. In the past, lumbering and local sawmills were an important industry in Orange, but this work seems to have declined considerably at the present time.

The raising of the sheep was a flourishing agricultural business from about 1810-1850, but declined rapidly when sheep herding in the western states became too competitive.

From 1850-1900 many dairy farms turned to producing butter, eggs, and cheese. Each family was more or less self supporting with their means of producing dairy foods, vegetables, to last the year round, and poultry to supply further means of food. Later on, the sale of fluid milk and cream became the chief sources of income for the family. With the introduction of motor transportation the Town has gradually become a bedroom town where the majority of workers commute to places of employment outside Town boundaries.

Other industries which were active in the past were a tannery and shoe cobbler, around 1850; a wheelwright shop and shingle mill, around 1900; a cabinet and furniture shop, around 1850-1900, and general stores in Orange Center and East Orange.

Industries listed in 1981 were: a country store, Rt. 302 at junction of Route 25, an auto body shop, insurance and real estate business, an antique shop, a used car sales business, firewood and gas product sales, maple sugar products sales, and about 10 active farms.


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