The Orange Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Orange Center Historic District lies near the geographical center of Orange, Connecticut, approximately one mile south of Route 34, the historic turnpike connecting New Haven and Derby. The historic and architectural resources, dating from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, are clustered in a village around the town green (1791) at the top of a small hill in an area of gently rolling land. The Orange Center Historic District extends several hundred feet north and south of the green on Orange Center Road, a main thoroughfare. To the east and the west, it includes large farms whose pastures and cultivated fields, demarcated in part by stone walls and rows of trees, recall the predominant historic use of the land in Orange. Much of the town has been subdivided for residential use in this century. Most district buildings are residential, although Orange Center's historic role in town commerce (Stone-Otis House), education (Academy and Mary L. Tracy School) and religious life (Orange Congregational Church) is also well represented.
58 major structures, buildings and sites are in the Orange Center Historic District, of which 42 (72%) contribute to its significance. These include two sites, the town green and Orange Cemetery (1804), and three barns. The contributing buildings and structures range widely in age from c.1800 to 1937. Many of the resources are stylistically ambiguous, although there are examples of several formal architectural styles, including the Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. Among the otherwise plain and functional outbuildings is a mid-19th century barn embellished with Stick style gable braces and shed window hoods. Alterations and additions are common, investing some buildings with features of more than one style and masking original construction dates of others. In one instance, 590 Orange Center Road, built in 1876, later changes transformed an Italianate house into an example of the Colonial Revival. The non-contributing principal buildings are less than 50 years old and, with one exception, are modern interpretations of the Colonial Revival style.
Most of the contributing buildings are wood-framed, and the prevalent exterior wall cladding is clapboards. Wood shingles and modern applications of synthetic sidings are present to a lesser degree. Among the institutional buildings, those dating from this century are brick. Two stories is the prevalent building height throughout the Orange Center Historic District. Uniform building setbacks and wide well-tended lawns with mature trees are also the rule.
The houses at 586 and 603 Orange Center Road, which both appear to date from c.1800, may well be the oldest buildings in the Orange Center Historic District. Their 5-bay facades with central entrances and gable roofs with two chimneys are similar, and each in different ways illustrates the influence of the Federal style. The roofline frieze at 586 is embellished with a delicate swag and triglyph motif, while the highlight of 603 is its front entrance, an elaborate composition of a leaded fanlight and pilasters supporting a shallow gabled hood. Like most buildings in the Orange Center Historic District, these have received additions, which include a late 19th-century, two-story side bay at 586 and an elaborate Italianate side porch at 603.
David Hoadley, the builder of the Congregational Church (1810), is often credited with its design. Rising from the center of the gable-front facade is a tall square tower surmounted by an arcaded octagonal belfry. Typical Federal style embellishments of the time include the Palladian window over the entrance and the Ionic pilasters in the belfry. The church is a prominent landmark at the north end of the green, and its 20th-century additions to the rear and west are sympathetic in design and materials.
The c.1830 Stone-Otis House, the headquarters of the Orange Historical Society, reflects the transition from the Federal to the Greek Revival style. The Federal-style raking cornice with small block modillions in the gable-front facade and the tripartite window, similarly detailed, in the gable peak are juxtaposed with an entrance porch displaying Greek Revival-style columns, pilasters, and pediment. A large front display window was added c.1840 for a store.
Of the several houses built in the Greek Revival style, only 562 Orange Center Road (c.1825) remains largely unaltered. Its Greek Revival features include the pedimented front gable and front entrance surround characteristically articulated with pilasters and a wide molded entablature. While basically similar to 562, 607 (1838) and 630 (c.1840) Orange Center Road, in contrast, each has acquired wood shingle siding and later, stylistically different front porches (Colonial Revival at 607, late 19th-century Victorian at 630).
Most of the 19th-century buildings from after 1850 are stylistically ambiguous, the notable exception being 584 Orange Center Road (1900). Its cross-gabled plan, multiple sheathing materials and irregular massing are Queen Anne in style. Complex detailing characterizes several buildings from the period. Heavy sawn brackets and elaborate pierced gable screens are Stick-style elements of the Academy (1879), but its wood-shingled gables suggest the influence of the oncoming Queen Anne style. The front gable of 643 Orange Center Road (c.1875) has board-and-batten sheathing above a sawtooth band and a pierced gable screen.
Among the largest buildings in the Orange Center Historic District are four in the Colonial Revival or Neo-Colonial style, all built after 1900, on the east side of Orange Center Road: the Mary L. Tracy School (1910), the Orange Volunteer Fire House (1935), the Orange Town Hall (1967), and the Orange Public Library (1961). The school, fire house and town hall occupy a block together just off the town green. The Tracy School has heavy, classically-inspired embellishments while the adjoining fire house is more restrained. The most elaborate of the three is the Neo-Colonial town hall, with its 2-story portico, front entrance under a swan's neck pediment, and cupola. The library and two residences of 1940 and 1953 (602 Orange Center Road), all Neo-Colonial, are the only non-contributing buildings facing the green.
Two small early 20th-century cottages, flanking a house of similar age that was extensively altered in 1983, mark the southern boundary of the Orange Center Historic District. Relatively plain with the suggestion of a Bungalow influence in their plans and exposed roof rafters, the houses terminate the continuous row of district buildings.
The Orange Cemetery, at the Orange Center Historic District's northern border, was founded in 1804 and is still in use. Lining its roadways, oriented east to west forming long rectangular blocks, are grave markers in a variety of shapes and materials. Most are in good repair. Segmental-headed marble slabs from the early 19th century are common, as are tall, multistage granite monuments with the incised foliated detailing typical of the late 19th century. Three of the most ornate from this period are manufactured monuments made of stamped zinc plates.
The Orange Center Historic District is architecturally significant because it is a cohesive village of well-preserved buildings and their surroundings that convey a strong sense of the area's historic appearance and role in town life. Present are fine examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival architectural styles, together with vernacular buildings typical of small New England villages. The Orange Congregational Church is notable as an early example of the work of David Hoadley, an influential builder of 19th-century Connecticut meetinghouses.
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 Bryans' 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 residential subdivisions have claimed much of the town's farm land, the Orange Center Historic 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.
The Orange Center Historic District's strong sense, of time and place is a product of many factors, both built and natural. Most of the architectural resources date from the village's long period of significance. Their diversity in age and style is evidence of the community's gradual development. Non-contributing principal buildings fit well into this historic fabric because they are few in number (6) and tend to imitate the older styles (e.g., the Congregational Church Parsonage, 1953). The Orange Center Historic District is also physically cohesive. Its street pattern, established by the mid-19th century, is little changed. The age and concentration of the buildings and the district's organization around a central green set the area apart from the more recent residential neighborhoods outside the district.
The cultivated fields and pastures along the Orange Center Historic District's western border and the well-preserved farm-related buildings on at least two properties (590 and 603 Orange Center Road) maintain a significant link to the agricultural pursuits that were historically central to Orange Center's economic life. The rows of trees and old stone walls lining Meetinghouse Lane and delineating the fields typify the historic appearance of rural New England farms.
Architecturally, the Orange Center Historic District displays the stylistic diversity and range in quality that characterizes small, largely rural Connecticut communities of its age. The houses at 603, 562 and 584 Orange Center Road are fine examples of the Federal, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne styles, respectively, each illustrating the defining features of its style. Other buildings incorporate certain high-style elements into overall vernacular designs. The Stick-style gable bracing and gable screens of the Academy are an example, as are the front gable sheathing and ornamentation at 643 Orange Center Road. Many buildings, not surprisingly, were altered over time and acquired features of later styles, such as the Italianate side porch on the Federal style house at 603 Orange Center Road. These changes have acquired value in their own right, and inappropriate alterations have not compromised the integrity of the district.
Key aspects of Orange Center's historic civic and cultural role in town life are embodied in the district buildings. The evolution of the community from theocracy to democracy is represented by the Orange Congregational Church (1810). The Academy building (1879) and the Mary L. Tracy School (1909) are evidence of the Orange Center Historic District's important place in town education. Orange Center's continuing role as town center is demonstrated by the Academy building (1879), where town meetings were held during the 19th century and which served as town hall during part of the 20th, and by the construction here of the Volunteer Fire House (1935), the town library (1961) and the present town hall (1967).
The Congregational Church (1810) is of high architectural importance because it is a well-executed Federal style example of an early 19th-century New England meetinghouse. Its position as one of the first religious buildings associated with David Hoadley (1774-c.1840), a master builder of Connecticut churches, adds to its interest. Hoadley was involved in the construction of some of Connecticut's finest churches during the first quarter of the 19th century. His most important commission as builder was the United Church (1813-1815) on the Green in New Haven. The Orange church is less imposing and sophisticated than the later works associated with him, but its fine construction, proportions and detailing help trace the development of Hoadley's career.
Atlas of New Haven, County, Connecticut. New York: F.W. Beers, A.D. Ellis & G.G. Soule, 1869.
Kelly, John Frederick. Early Connecticut Meetinghouses — Being An Account of the Church Edifices Built before 1830. Based Chiefly upon Town and Parish Records. New York: Columbia University, 1948.
Orange Historic District Study Committee. Final Report of the Historic District Study Committee of the Town of Orange. Orange, CT: September 1976 (unpublished).
Orange Sesquicentennial Commission Book Committee. Orange 150 — Sesquicentennial 1822-1972. (Undated).
Orange, Town of. Records of Assessor and Town Clerk.
Placzek, Adolf K., ed. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, vol.2 ("David Hoadley," p.396, by Elizabeth Mills Brown). New York: The Free Press, 1982.
Rockey, J.L., ed. History of New Haven County. New York: W.W. Preston & Company, 1892.
Sinnott, Edmund W. Meetinghouse and Church in Early New England. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963.
‡ Gregory E. Andrews and David F. Ransom, consultants, and John Herzan, Connecticut Historical Commission, Orange Center Historic District, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Meetinghouse Lane • Orange Center Road • Route 152 • Schoolhouse Lane • Tyler City Road