The Thomas Edison National Historical Park is located on Main Street in Downtown West Orange.
Historical walking tour
Historical Walking Tour
Anna “Easter” Brown was the founding member of
the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the
first sorority founded by African-American College
Women in 1908.
Anna was born in West Orange NJ on April 13, 1879.
She graduated from West Orange High School with
Honors (1897) and was well prepared for future
- Educator (1910-1952)
- Historian – African American History Scholar and Teacher
- Civic Leader – Charter member, YWCA (Rocky Mount, NC)
Anna Brown died on March 5, 1957.
Anthony Olef was the first permanent settler who came here in 1678 and lived within the present-day boundaries of West Orange. His home was located just a short distance from this location in current day Llewellyn Park nearly 177 years before the park was founded. At that time the whole mountainside was nothing but a dense forest with rugged Indian trails used as passage through the territory. He passed away in 1723 at age 87 and was the first person interred at the old burying ground in Orange.
Tory Corner Section
Address: 289 Main Street
Dedicated: September 27, 2020
Anthony Thompson was born into slavery in Somerset County, New Jersey in 1798. His great grandmother whom he never met was reported to have been the Queen of an African tribe. His mother was taken away from the tribe at a young age and brought to America by an African slave trader. By 1798 she was enslaved and considered property of the family of Rev. Philip Duryee of the Dutch Reformed Church in Raritan when Anthony was born. By subsequent sales both Thompson and his mother became the property of Samuel M. Ward of Montclair when it was known as Cranetown. When Ward died in 1822, he left it in his will that Thompson should be given his freedom. Ward also left a small amount of money to Thompson referred to as a competence to help him make a better life for himself as a free man.
As a freed man Thompson began working for Benjamin Williams at Tory Corner in what became West Orange. Williams was a prominent man of the Orange area whose family was among the first settlers. Thompson was able to make a living over the years as a freed man by working for five generations of the Williams family. He eventually purchased a small farm near the present- day corner of Main and Washington Streets at Tory Corner in West Orange. It was reported that he obtained a fair education which likely meant he learned to read and write.
Thompson stated in an 1882 interview with the New York Times that he could remember when all the land in West Orange between the first mountain and Newark was a sprawling wilderness. Despite the indignity of once being enslaved West Orange was a community not only where Thompson made his home but a place where he was well received. Thompson passed away peacefully at age 86 on Tuesday September 16, 1884 at his West Orange home leaving behind his second wife. He was married twice but never had any children. Although born into slavery he overcome the many injustices in his day and proudly died a free man and buried in the nearby Rosedale Cemetery. His is fondly remembered as being a respected citizen of the West Orange community who was the last surviving slave of Essex County.
Eagle Rock Section
Address: 1 Eagle Rock Avenue
Dedicated: August 8, 2016
The Eagle Rock Hill Climb was an annual event in West Orange from 1901 to 1904 and played a vital role in the development of the early automobile industry. At the dawn of the 20th century, speed and endurance tests challenged the mechanical capabilities of early automobiles in motoring competitions known as “Hill Climbs”. The Eagle Rock Hill Climb was one of the first in the country and the first ever in New Jersey. The starting line for the Eagle Rock Hill Climb was at the bottom of Eagle Rock Avenue at the location of the roadside marker. The finish line was about one mile up the steep grade of Eagle Rock Avenue. A second historical marker installed in September 2019 by the Essex County Parks Department marking the finish line is located inside the Eagle Rock Reservation.
Eagle Rock Hill Climb by the numbers:
Total distance of the course – 4,962 feet
Total elevation change – 384 feet
Steepest part of the grade – 12.13%
Average grade climb over the course – 7.9%
Tory Corner Section
Address: 276 Main Street
Dedicated: July 28, 2022
This marker is installed at the precise location where the first electric trolley arrived in West Orange on February 1, 1892. Today the spot is the parking lot for Schneider Hardware where ahotel first opened in 1878. It was known as the Llewellyn Park Hotel when Main Street was known as Valley Road and the first proprietor was D. A. Condit.
The name of Valley Road was changed to Main Street in 1925. The trolley line was extended north to Eagle Rock Avenue a few months later. It subsequently ran for 59 years and is the second longest-running trolley line in New Jersey history. The Llewellyn Park Hotel remained standing until it was torn down in the 1970s. It remains unclear how long it actually functioned as a hotel before being razed.
The genesis of the Main Street trolley line began in 1858 when the Morris and Essex Railroad serving Orange was a horse-drawn railroad and raised its fares. The M&E RR eventually became the Delaware and Lackawanna RR and is the NJ Transit commuter rail line through the Oranges today. The 1858 fare hike prompted Orange commuters to organize the Orange and Newark Omnibus line that eventually became the Orange and Newark Horse Car Railway in 1859.
On June 5, 1862, during the American Civil War horse car service from Newark to Orange first began along Orange Street in Newark and ran up Main Street in East Orange and reached Lincoln Street in Orange.
The line eventually became the Newark Passenger Railway and began service on their horse- drawn street railway to Orange and West Orange borderline on September 29, 1891. When the Newark Passenger Railway electrified it extended service into West Orange in 1892. Electrification of street railways had finally come of age as the technology for trolley lines held out promise for the future of local transportation.
In the days before the advent of the automobile, public transportation played a vital role in the growth of many towns. West Orange was no exception and deep excitement was felt by many residents for a new trolley line. It brought added commerce and also allowed townspeople a means by which to seek employment out of town further away from their homes.
Service on the electric trolley line was then extended to the foot of Eagle Rock Avenue on June 19, 1892. In 1927 the line was extended slightly further to Harrison Avenue to form the Mississippi Avenue Loop so trolleys could turn around. Before trolley service was replaced by buses on March 1, 1951, the line had been taken over by Public Service.
The buses of NJ Transit now turn around where the trolleys once did. The route designation of #21 seen on present-day buses is also the same route number once used by the trolleys on Main Street in West Orange that passed this location.
Address: 640 Prospect Avenue
Dedicated: September 21, 2017
George McClellan had been appointed commander of the Union Army of the Potomac shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. By November of 1862 he had been relieved of that command by President Lincoln for his failure to peruse Confederate General Robert E. Lee following the Battle of Antietam. Lincoln felt that had McClellan’s forces taken the offensive a subsequent devesting blow against Lee could have brought a quick resolution to the war. Frustrated by the lack of aggressiveness Lincoln ordered McClellan replaced by General Burnside. McClellan was then officially reassigned to Trenton, NJ with no clear purpose to his future role.
McClellan first arrived in West Orange in 1863 only three short months after the town itself was formed. Circumstances and not personal choice most likely dictated why McClellan decided to come here. By 1863 his father-in-law US Army General Randolph Marcy already had established roots in West Orange. McClellan first met Randolph Marcy when he joined Marcy’s Red River Expedition in Texas in 1852. He soon became aquatinted with Marcy’s daughter Mary Ellen who he eventually married in 1860. When McClellan was appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1861 he insisted that Randolph Marcy, fourteen years his senior, be appointed as his chief of staff. The request was personally approved by President Lincoln.
Randolph Marcy’s older brother Dr. E.E. Marcy a prominent and successful New York doctor who first came to West Orange (then Orange) about 1859. About the same time when Llewellyn Haskell, the founder of Llewellyn Park, was developing the concept of the park Dr. Marcy also had a vision. He had purchased acreage along the mountain ridge on the top of the first mountain. This land is bordered by current day Prospect Avenue and is now owned mostly by Seton Hall Prep. Dr. Marcy began clearing the land to develop exclusive home sites amidst the beauty of the Orange Mountains just as Llewellyn Haskell but on a smaller scale. By 1863 both Dr. Marcy and his brother Randolph Marcy (McClellan’s father-in-law) had homes constructed along the ridge on the first mountain in West Orange.
McClellan quickly appreciated the peaceful surroundings of the mountain ridge in West Orange. He would eventually build his own home here and name it Maywood after his daughter. McClellan unsuccessfully opposed Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1864 and directed his campaign mostly from this spot in West Orange. He would maintain a home in New York City and live abroad but West Orange was his home. In 1877 he was a founding member of the nearby St. Cloud Presbyterian Church and later served as Governor of New Jersey. He died in West Orange at Maywood on October 29, 1885.
Mary Williams Marker
Eagle Rock Section
Address: 105 Harrison Avenue
Dedicated: July 7, 2016
Dedicated to the memory of Mary Pierson Williams (1736-1816).
The Williams Family were one of the first settlers in the area that became West Orange and it
soon took on the name of Williamsville. During the American Revolutionary War the Williams’
brothers remained loyal to the British Crown and were known as Tories. The primary gathering
place of loyalists became known as Tory Corner as it is still called today.
Nathaniel and his wife Mary Williams however were deeply divided over the cause for
American Independence. Nathaniel decided to take his two oldest sons to fight with the British
forces in New York City. He abandoned his farm and wife Mary with their four youngest
children to fend for themselves. Mary expressed open disagreement with her husband’s beliefs
but the farm still legally belonged to him. It was offered at public auction but sympathetic
neighbors had high regard for Mary and her outspoken views against Britain. Out of respect no
opposing bids were placed allowing Mary to win the auction and keep the farm.
Mary maintained confidence in George Washington’s ultimate victory and was hailed as the
heroine of the mountain. She was willing to sacrifice her family in the name of patriotism and
continued to support the cause. Her younger son Zenas fought with the Essex Militia against
the British but it is not known if Zenas ever faced his father or brothers on a battlefield. Mary
never saw Nathaniel again who died of smallpox in New York City in 1782. She passed away in
1816 at age 80 and is interred in the old burying ground in Orange with three of her children.
St. Mark’s Section
Address: 56 Main Street
Dedication: August 22, 2019
On April 30, 1892 a fire destroyed eight row stores in downtown West Orange. These adjoining units began on the corner of Lindsley Avenue and Main Street, then known as Valley Road. It was commonly referred to as Hedges block named for Samuel and Charles Hedges who owned the buildings. Their business a flour, feed, and grain store were also destroyed in the fire. Two tenants also displaced by the fire were the West Orange municipal government and West Orange Police Department.
Following the fire Hedges block was rebuilt and the West Orange Police Department moved back into the store front near the corner of Lindsley Avenue. The feed and grain business was sold to Newell Smith in 1902. He first noted in a journal he kept about town history that writings on the wall inside the cellar door of the police station were still there. The writings at that time were only a few years old and didn’t attract much interest. Smith passed away in 1948 and the building’s ownership eventually passed to Stanley Rickle one of Smith’s descendants through marriage.
In 1978 the proprietors of the liquor store at 56 Main Street rediscovered the same writings on the wall leading to the basement. Rickle had previous knowledge of the writing on the wall but was never able to generate much interest in them. On July 27, 1978 the West Orange Chronicle did a story about the wall writings and revealed that they dated to a time when the same building was used as the West Orange police station. Interest in the writings eventually faded and they were mostly forgotten about with the passage of time.
In 2017 the great granddaughter of Lieutenant John Heslin who worked at this police station was moving out of West Orange and discovered a journal he kept. Heslin served on the WOPD from 1893 to 1913 eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant and would have worked in the old police station where the writings were found. It was discovered in 2018 that the writings on the wall were identical to those found in Heslin’s journal. The same distinct style of doodling was also found in both Heslin’s journal and on the wall. Heslin clearly intended to leave behind snippets with dates from West Orange history by recording in his journal and writing on the wall simultaneously. When the police station marker was dedicated both Heslin’s granddaughter and the granddaughter of owner of the building who found the writings in 1903 were present alongside members of the West Orange Police Department.
St. Mark’s School Marker
St. Mark’s Section
Address: 80 Main Street
Dedication: November 26, 2016
West Orange’s first public school was known as the St. Mark’s School. It was originally
associated with the St. Mark’s Church just a short distance away on Main Street. This plot of
land where the marker sits was purchased in 1860 by the vestry of St. Mark’s Church for a cost
of $ $2000. The stone school building of the St. Mark’s School was subsequently constructed
about 1862 for a cost of $12,000. A two-story brick addition known as Llewellyn Hall was built
behind it about 1865. The school had 9 rooms used for all grades with an auditorium that
seated 470 people.
The newly formed West Orange municipal government first met here on April 18, 1863 and
used this location for many years as their regular meeting place. In 1892 the State of New
Jersey enacted new laws requiring all townships to establish a local board of education. The
first president of the newly formed Board of Education in West Orange was George R. Stagg.
Under his leadership he helped bring the school under the jurisdiction of the new West Orange
Board of Education. Stagg served as the board president from 1892 to 1897 and was also
instrumental to help form and institute West Orange’s first high school program. Stagg is the
older brother of the legendary football Amos Alonzo Stagg also born in West Orange. Largely
due to Stagg’s initiative West Orange proudly graduated its first high school class of 9 students
in 1893 from the St. Mark’s School.
Following the establishment of a high school program at St. Mark’s a new building for a high
school in West Orange opened on Gaston Street in 1898. The high school program established
by Stagg continued there and the St. Mark’s School was used as a grade school until 1912 when
the new Fairmount School opened. In 1914 the St. Mark’s School was converted to use as a
vocational school thanks to the generosity of Llewellyn Park resident Richard M. Colgate. In
1915 the school was taken over by the county and became part of the Essex County Vocational
school system. It was used as industrial training for men and boys with free tuition for Essex
County residents. In 1926 the vocational school building that originally opened as the St. Mark’s
School was destroyed by fire.
Orange Valley Toboggan Slide Marker
Address: 567 Valley Road
Dedicated: July 14, 2021
The Essex County Toboggan Club merged with the Essex County Hunt Club to form the Essex
County Country Club in 1887. The intention was to organize a country club for the purpose of
promoting outdoor sports.
The Orange Valley Toboggan Slide opened in 1886 to provide a means of winter recreation for
its members. The toboggan slide was not located in Orange as often reported in local
newspapers of the day, but was situated on the west side of the first mountain in the Orange
Valley and the former route closely paralleled present-day Hazel Avenue.
The slide was a single chute five feet wide by almost 1200 feet long and protected by 12” high
boards on both sides to help steer the tobogganists. Water or snow would freeze in the slide
making for a very slick surface. The steep grade of the mountainside made it was possible to
reach speeds of 30 miles per hour or greater. The bottom of the slide was slightly elevated
where sawdust was spread to help reduce speed before hitting soft stacks of hay to stop.
In 1892 a second slide was added to accommodate growing membership. The annual fee was
$15. A clubhouse was also built near this location. A large meeting room featured a crackling
fire in a giant hearth. The walls were adorned with animal skins and snow shoes creating an
overall atmosphere usually found at a northern Canadian lodge.
The icy surface was illuminated by a string of flaring electric lights strung from top to bottom. It
was often silhouetted against the backdrop of flickering bonfires on the top of the hill. A path
lined with wooden planks next to the toboggan slide helped those eager to climb quickly to the
top for another run. Operations usually lasted to about 11:00 at night by which time the ice
surface was roughed up from usage and needed to refreeze.
By 1902 the slide was reported to be in a state of disrepair. Newly constructed homes in the
area helped erode the rural character as it slowly emerged into a residential neighborhood.