West Orange was initially a part of Newark township and remained so until November 27, 1806, when the territory now encompassing all of The Oranges was detached to form Orange Township. On April 13, 1807, the first government was elected. On January 31, 1860, Orange was incorporated as a town, and on April 3, 1872, it was reincorporated as a city. Almost immediately, Orange began fragmenting into smaller communities, primarily because of local disputes about the costs of establishing paid police, fire and street departments. South Orange was organized on April 1, 1861, Fairmount (an independent municipality for less than one year that was later to become part of West Orange) on March 11, 1862, and East Orange on March 4, 1863. West Orange (including what had been the briefly independent municipality of Fairmount) was incorporated as a township on April 10, 1863, and was reformed as a town on February 28, 1900. In 1980, West Orange again became a township to take advantage of federal revenue sharing policies that allocated a greater share of government aid to municipalities classified as townships.
Llewellyn Park, the first planned community in America, is located within West Orange, and was designed by entrepreneur Llewellyn Haskell and architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1857. Llewellyn Park is considered among the best examples of the “Romantic Landscape” movement of that period. Thomas Edison was one of the many residents.
The township is marked by an eclectic mix of neighborhoods and housing types, which roughly correspond to the township’s geographic features. Generally, the township has four distinct neighborhoods:
- Downtown West Orange and The Valley
The oldest and most densely populated part of the township is Downtown West Orange, which lies in the low basin along the township’s eastern border with the city of Orange and Montclair. Main Street, in this section, is home to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, as well as the municipal building, police headquarters, and a branch post office. The West Orange Public Library is located on Mount Pleasant Avenue in this section, just west of Main Street. Downtown West Orange is laid out in the pattern of a traditional town and is formed around the western termini of two major east-west arteries of the Newark street grid: Central Avenue and Park Avenue. Downtown West Orange has the most urban character of the township’s neighborhoods, while the Valley is home to a growing arts district and a significant African American community.
- The First Mountain
West of Downtown, the neighborhoods of West Orange become increasingly suburban as one ascends the steep hill of the First Watchung Mountain along Northfield, Mount Pleasant, or Eagle Rock Avenue. The housing stock in the neighborhoods of Hutton Park and Gregory is a mixture of Victorian, Jazz Age, and Tudor-style houses; large estates; garden apartments; and post-World War II modern houses. The Victorian enclave of Llewellyn Park, one of America’s first planned residential communities, is also located on the First Mountain, having been created in 1853 as a site for country homes for the wealthy from New York City. Many blocks on the First Mountain have sweeping views of the Newark and New York City skylines.
- Pleasant Valley and Pleasantdale
Beyond the high ridge traced by Prospect Avenue, West Orange becomes a patchwork of post-World War II suburban neighborhoods, interspersed with pockets of older Victorian homes, as well as golf courses, professional campuses, and shopping centers. Pleasantdale, a walkable business district in this part of the township, includes a number of restaurants, office buildings, and houses of worship. Pleasantdale is also home to a significant Orthodox Jewish community.
- The Second Mountain
Finally, the westernmost section of West Orange lies along the eastern face of the Second Watchung Mountain, and includes large portions of the South Mountain Reservation. The housing stock in this neighborhood resembles that of Pleasantdale, as well as those of the adjacent suburban townships of Millburn and Livingston.
Parks & Recreation
The township is set off by two large parks: the South Mountain Reservation along its southwestern borders with Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange, and the Eagle Rock Reservation along its northeastern borders with Montclair and Verona. The township straddles the transition between the low-lying Newark Bay basin and the high terrain of the Watchung Mountains.
Fishing and kayaking is available on the Rahway River.