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From The First Meeting House to The First Presbyterian Church

The foundation of East Orange can be traced to a religious group, the Puritans, of Milford, Conn. who, dissatisfied with the union of the New Haven and Connecticut Colonies, came to the Newark area to settle during the 1660s. Church was very much the focus of family life, and schools, businesses and town patterns evolved around the locations of the city's early churches.

30 families, led by Pastor Abraham Pierson, settled in an area which was named Newark, in honor of Mr. Pierson's home town, Newark-ln-Trent, England.

Immigrants arrived from England and Scotland and fanned out to the mountain areas in the west. These people became known as the Mountain Society, although they still belonged to the Newark Town Meeting. It was a long way for the Mountain Society people to travel to mandatory meetings in Newark, and finally, the Society broke from the parent church and formed a congregation near their homes in 1718.

In 1719, the First Meeting House was erected by Samuel Pierson and his five sons, with lumber planed at Samuel Dodd's sawmill on the Second River. Today the church is known as First Presbyterian Church, Orange.

The Orange First Presbyterian Church was formed in 1719 under the name, The Church at Newark Mountains, since Orange was a part of Newark at the time.

The oldest of documents in the strong box of the First Presbyterian Church trustees is the deed given by Thomas Gardner to Samuel Freeman, Samuel Pierson, Matthew Williams and Samuel Wheeler and the Society at the Mountain associated with them, which bears the date of January 13, 1719. The land was needed for the new minister, who was either here or expected very soon. The Puritans provided well, and they left no stone unturned in planning for the comfort of the one chosen as their spiritual leader.

Their very first act was the purchase of a farm for him from Thomas Gardner. It is described as "situate, lying and being in the bounds of Newark aforesaid, on the east side of a brook commonly called and known by the name of Parow's Brook," named in honor of Perro, the minor chief who assisted in negotiating the original purchase, and "beginning at said brook near a bridge by the road that leads to the mountain, thence running easterly as the line runs, so far as that a southwesterly line crosses the said lot (it being twelve chains in breadth) shall include twenty acres of land, English measure; bounded southerly with Joseph Harrison, westerly with said Parow's Brook, northerly with said mountain road and easterly with my own land." A remnant of this tract remains today in the well-ordered Military Common. The farm sloped southerly to a point well beyond the Lackawanna railroad into an almost impenetrable swamp.

While excavation was being made for electric light conduits along the southerly aide of Main street in 1904, a solid wall of masonry was discovered several feet underneath the roadbed, extending along the frontage of the Orange National Bank building. Red sandstone was used in the construction and experts who saw the relic were unanimous in the opinion that it was the work of old-time artisans. It was without doubt either the northerly or southerly foundation of the Meeting House erected in 1720. There was plenty of available land at that time, and it is well within reason to suggest that the edifice was built on the southern side of the road (Main Street).

Samuel Pierson was a carpenter, and his sons Joseph, Samuel, James, Daniel and Caleb, all of them now arrived at manhood, for the father was fifty-six years old, must have had some knowledge of the trade. We surmise that the holy structure went up under his superintendence, though the use of the broad axe, the saw and the auger, may have been left to younger hands. Doubtless there were others of the craft connected with the work.

Samuel Harrison's sawmill, which did good service for the parsonage twenty-eight years later, was not yet in operation, and planing mills, sash and blind factories and the like were institutions still more distant in the future. But our men of the wilderness were men trained to expedients. One by one the straight shafts of the forests fell before the axe and were fitted to their places.

Samuel Dodd, who was operating the sawmill on the Second river, in Doddtown, may have furnished some, if not all, of the material for the Meeting House. Rev. Mr. Hoyt speaks of a beam of the building "being in the frame of Mr. Charles Harrison's barn, in Valley street (now Valley road). It is a heavy crossbeam of white oak, worked down a little from its original size. The beam has answered one inquiry of the writer, viz: that the Meeting House was framed, not a log house." Dodd was a young man about twenty-five years of age in 1720, and was a skilled housewright.

The Meeting House, erected in 1719, being unable to meet the requirements of an increasing congregation, it was resolved in 1750 to build a new Meeting House, which, according to the material and labor worked into it, would last several generations.

Matthew Williams, by trade a mason, superintended the part of the structure requiring his skill, and Moses Baldwin contracted for the carpenter work. In the autumn of 1754 the building was ready for the worshippers. It stood lengthwise with the thoroughfare, the entrance at the center. On each side of the pulpit were two pews, with doors, and elevated above the other seats, for the officials. The pulpit, placed several feet higher, was simply furnished with a desk and bench. On the wall were four wooden pegs to accommodate the clerical hats and cloaks. The arched wall of the room and that part under the galleries, ceiled with white wood boards, were painted a light sky color.

Eventually, this settlement separated from the town of Newark; the new municipality was given the name of Orange. Consequently, the church changed its name in 1811 to the Orange First Presbyterian Church.

The original wooden Church was replaced by a new stone church was built circa 1812.

This church was oldest of all the churches in the Oranges. It was designed in 1812 by Moses Dodd to replace the older 1754 wooden "First Meeting House" at the corner of today's Main and Day (Cone) Streets. This ediface is sometimes referred to as the "third building."

This is the oldest cemetary in the Oranges at the corner of present day Main Street and Scotland Road, where many of the first settlers were buried. The photograph was taken before 1907 because the statue of the Dispatch Rider had not yet been erected on the corner of the site.

The oldest headstone was that of Anthony Olive, who died at 87 years old. He was admitted to the settlement as a planter in 1678 and served as a constable and in other official capacities. He left no descendants. The inscription on his headstone was still clearly decipherable in 1922.

On Friday, June 14, 1907, this statue of a Revolutionary War Dispatch Rider was erected at the time of the Centennial celebrations in Orange. Although it was pouring rain that day, thousands of enthused patriots were assembled at the Dispatch Rider statue when the hands of the town clock pointed to the hour of one. Rev. Dr. Charles Townsend delivered the dedicatory prayer and Mrs. Charles B. Yardley, actively interested in the restoration of the ground and prominent in the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, drew the cord which caused the flag to fall from the statue into hands of waiting attendants.

Instantly the chimes in the steeples of St. John's Roman Catholic Church and the Orange Valley Church, began playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Markwith's Brass Band, stationed at the statue, also started the anthem, and Professor Frederick G. Handel led a large chorus of men and women in its singing. Church bells were ringing, factory whistles blowing, and Battery A was firing a salute. Softly a gleam penetrated the sodden clouds as the bronze figure, in itsbeauty and majesty, was revealed.

Mr. Pierson, president of the Centennial Association, delivered dedicatory address, in which he offered a tribute to the Dispatch Rider, as representative of the forces winning the country's Independence. Mrs.. Donald McLean, president-general of the Daughters of the American Revolution; John Temple Graves, of Atlanta, Georgia; Congressman R.. Wayne Parker, of West Orange; James E. Martine, of Plainfield; Rev. Adolph Roeder, and Francis E. Elwell, sculptor, were the speakers.

On April 5th, 1927, a fire broke out at the Music Hall (called the Royal Theatre at the time) shown in the right corner of this photo. The fire spread across Day Street to the roof of the 1812 First Presbyterian Church. Rain and snow hampered the firemen and the church burned to the ground.

This is the First Presbyterian Church that stands today (2008), built in 1928 in the midst of the Old Burying Ground, surrounded by the remains of the oldest settlers in the Oranges and Newark Society. The photo was taken shortly after 1928 judging by the automobiles.

A complete interactive map to the Old Burying Ground is available HERE.

This is from a 2008 Satellite photo of the corner of Main Street and Scotland Road in Orange, showing the 1928 First Presbyterian Church and graveyard as it looks today. You can find views like this on the Internet at various map sites like:

Yahoo Maps at http://maps.yahoo.com/

Google Earth at http://maps.google.com/

The 1928 First Presbyterian Church in Orange as it exists today (3/18/08), amid the Old Burying Ground and the modern bustle of city life.

IN THE BEGINNING GOD

The God-fearing men of the New Haven Colony, who in 1666 established in Newark a township where religious and civil liberty should be joined and the purity of religion maintained, purchased 1n 1678-70 land extending to the Watchung Mountain. For nearly forty years, the people of this new settlement made their way to worship in the First Church of Newark. The First, Second and Third Meeting Houses of Orange, erected 1719, 1754 and 1813 stood at Main and Day streets. These buildings erected 1927-28, the third edifice having been destroyed by fire, April 5, 1927.

This ground was given to the Mountain Society prior to 1723 by Nathanial Wheeler. British Forces encamped here in 1777. It was enlarged by purchase in 1792. Until 1840, it was the only burial place of the town. Here rests the dust of the men and women who were the settlers of this community.

TILL HE COME

The history in brief is carved into this stone tablet mounted on the west wall of the church. You can see why these grounds, tombs and monuments need our protection from the ravages of time, the elements and vandals.

As residents who belonged to the First Presbyterian Church in Newark moved to the mountains west of the city, it became apparent that another Presbyterian church would need to be built. In 1748, the Church at Newark Mountains became a Presbyterian congregation, and adopted a new name, The Second Presbyterian Church of Newark. We know it today as "Brick Church."

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Further Resources of Interest on this subject:

First Presbyterian Church in Orange - Web site

A complete interactive map to the Old Burying Ground is available HERE.

Credits still need to be assigned. Most of the colorful writing was from From: History of the Oranges to 1921 By David Lawrence Pierson, published by Lewis Historical Publishing Company, NY 1922