Sunday, October 2, 2011

South Orange Borders


The other day I was looking through one of my favorite books, The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries 1606-1968. Its author, John P Snyder, modestly states in the Foreword, "This is hardly a book to cuddle up with", a statement I cannot agree with. But he adds, "I hope some history fans will enjoy browsing through the first few maps and pages, or tracing out the boundary changes in their own communities."

That's what I am going to do. Using Snyder's written descriptions of changes to the South Orange and Maplewood town boundaries, his small outline maps, and other maps and sources, I will present a series of larger annotated maps showing the changes.

We'll start with the modern era, which I would say starts in 1904 with the separation of the Village of South Orange from the Township of South Orange. The boundaries of the two towns at that date were similar enough to the present day that the subsequent changes can be shown clearly on one map.

The two towns

The village form is rare in New Jersey, and the village is the only one of the five types in New Jersey that can have incomplete powers, in that a village can be within a township, just as villages are always within towns in New York State. South Orange village as created in 1869 was within South Orange township. The school district was one of the functions still performed by the township, both inside and outside the village. In 1904 the village was "separated" from the township as a stand-alone municipality, but it continued to be called a village.

The result was two municipalities both called South Orange, a situation still found around the state (Chatham for example). In the case of South Orange, local sentiment led to the township being renamed in 1922 as the Township of Maplewood, using the name of the railroad station and post office.

In 1972 the United States began offering assistance to local governments under the newly passed Revenue Sharing Act. The formula, in attempting to deal with differences within the states, tended to give more aid to "townships" (and "towns" in New York and New England). The result of a distinction that meant little in New Jersey was that in the early 1980s fifteen cities, towns, boroughs, and villages in Essex County changed their names to contain the word "township" in order to qualify for more aid. The Village of South Orange renamed itself the Township of South Orange Village in 1981, with no practical change to its form of government. The federal program ended in 1986.

The map

Here's the map. Modern boundaries in a heavy line.

Boundary Changes

There were two large additions to the Village of South Orange, to the east in 1891 (strictly speaking, before the time period shown in this map) and to the west in 1925, both from the township. The 1891 addition brought it out to the township boundary north of South Orange Avenue and brought the entire Seton Hall campus within the village. The 1925 addition extended the village to the edge of South Mountain Reservation.

Otherwise there were an unusually large number of small changes mostly on the east side of both towns. In general they were the result of old town lines not respecting earlier farm property lines, which led eventually to subdivisions of those farms with house lots lying across town boundaries. The adjustments made life simpler by shifting the town lines to run along house lot lines, a good goal that was never fully achieved in either town.

Let's look at the changes, clockwise from the top.

Exchanges in 1906 and 1917 adjusted South Orange's borders with East Orange, and similar adjustments with Orange began in 1920, but were never carried further west.

Once the village separated in 1904, the township was left with a triangular northeast corner extending almost to South Orange Avenue, which was removed in three steps. The point of the northeast triangle was added to the village in 1911, followed within months by boundary adjustments between the village and Newark.

A good-sized section, now known as Ivy Hill, was transferred from the township (now Maplewood) to Newark in 1927. Most of the land here had been owned by the City of Newark for over a decade. Probably at the same time, a small section not noted by Synder was transferred from Newark to Maplewood.

The new boundary with Newark again followed property lines, leaving an irregular strip of Maplewood between Newark and South Orange that was finally transferred to South Orange two years later. The effect of the changes in 1911 and 1929 left South Orange with better boundaries along its whole east side, apparently the result of Newark public policy.

The south border of the village runs across many property lines and has been adjusted in only two places, in 1916 near Ridgewood Road and in 1935 near Clinton School. Here's the region around the Clinton School change. Why was only that one block changed?

The Town of Irvington had boundaries diagonal to city blocks on its northwest and northeast sides. The boundaries with the City of Newark were adjusted in 1926 by a commission appointed by the County Court of Common Pleas, creating the stepped lines seen on the base map, following property lines. Irvington's boundary with Maplewood was adjusted in 1931 in a similar fashion. Snyder notes that further adjustments were made in 1965, but he does not show where the changes were made. All the ones I can identify are from 1931.

No change was ever made to the awkward town line between Maplewood and Millburn that splits many house lots. On the ground, this boundary is invisible and arbitrary, since all the streets were laid out at right angles to Wyoming Avenue and Ridgewood Road. Here's part of the boundary. At least 25 lots are in both towns.

Next time, we'll look at earlier boundaries.


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