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Orange Center Green

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European settlement of Orange began after 1687, when the area was laid out for farm land by the town of Milford. Orange Center was part of the tract granted to Richard Bryan and known as Bryan's Farms. The rolling land was well-suited for cultivation. By 1791, the small community of widely scattered farmhouses had set aside a green for public use and grazing (part of the present Orange Green) and on it had constructed a meetinghouse for "winter preaching." In 1804, the state legislature granted the area separate religious privileges as the North Milford Ecclesiastical Society. The construction of the present Orange Congregational Church occurred soon thereafter.

During the 19th century, Orange Center became a focus for community life, although it grew slowly. A schoolhouse was built around 1821 near the site of the present Academy building. When the town of Orange was incorporated in 1822, the first town meeting was held here. Small shops and businesses operated out of homes near the Stone-Otis house. Improved turnpikes from New Haven westward ran north and south of the village, however, keeping heavy commercial traffic at a distance. The village of West Haven near Long Island Sound, a part of the town of Orange until 1921, was larger and more commercially active. Agriculture, including raising livestock and dairy farming, remained the chief activity around Orange Center.

Orange Center has changed relatively little in this century despite the town's substantial residential and commercial growth. The green and surroundings assumed much of their present appearance before World War II. Larger buildings for town facilities have risen on Orange Center Road, but their placement has kept the 19th-century ambience of the green intact. While post-war subdivisions have claimed much of the town's farm land, the district includes a large open parcel west of the green that is still agricultural. A local historic district, created in 1978 with boundaries similar to those of the National Register district, has helped to maintain the area's appearance.

Ownership of the green is vague in town records. The green is made up of two plots of land, and the assessor's records lump the two together, noting that one-half belongs to the church and one-half to the town. Several persons at the church and in the assessor's office said that they had always heard that the church owned two-thirds of the green and the town one-third; this more closely matches the division of plats as shown on the assessor's map.

Thus there seem to be two stages to the development of Orange Center Green: First, the early meeting house was built on a parcel of land belonging to the society or the parish and used as a green. Meeting House Lane ran across the southern side of this parcel. When the second (and present) meeting house was built, it seems to have been built north of the first building, which was then moved. Meeting House Lane stopped being used afterwards. At some point after 1810 a new Meeting House Lane was laid out (or just grew), in its present location; this could have happened before or after 1830. Second, Erastus Scranton gave the parcel that makes up the southern portion of the green to the town in 1830.

In early years, the green was used for grazing and civic gatherings. In the 1890s it was graded and trees planted, but continued to be the site of town carnivals. Further landscaping was undertaken in 1976, after the carnivals had been moved elsewhere.

Orange Center Green is significant as a cohesive grouping of well-preserved buildings that convey a strong sense of its historic appearance and role in town life, as recognized in its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. One of these buildings, the church, is architecturally significant by itself, and the ensemble taken as a whole witnesses vividly to the Colonial Revival aesthetic of the first half of the 20th century.



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