How do I research the history of my house?
A good place to start is South Orange Village Hall, 101 South Orange Avenue at the corner of Scotland Road (temporarily housed at 76 South Orange Avenue). Check to see if the Tax Office and the Planning Board have any documents on file pertaining to your property. Any changes to your property which would have required a building permit or variance would be on file with the Planning Board. Permits and variances were not required until the mid to late 1900’s to present; any additions or changes early than that would probably not be on file at Village Hall. Many of the older records for South Orange no longer exist, victims of a past flood.
The South Orange Public Library, Scotland Road, 973-762-0230, www.sopl.org maintains an informal archive of maps, tax maps, local atlases, and old phone directories dating back to the late 1800’s. The old phone directories are a great source of information. Most provide a list of phone numbers not only by name of property owner, but also by address (reverse listing). You can look up your address and then turn to the page with the former owner’s name and phone number. The older directories often list the owner’s profession.
A title search of your property, searching back from current deed to previous deeds, can provide you with a list of the names of all previous owners to your property. You can complete this title search on your own, or pay a Title Company to complete it for you. All of Essex County’s titles are recorded at the Essex County Hall of Records in Newark. For information, call 973-621-4960 or visit their website. The Hall of Records also has a map archive.
The Seton Hall University Library Archives maintains historic archives, including old maps, atlases, vintage postcards, and photographs. It was popular, years ago, to photograph homes to be used as postcards.
There are also archives available at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark http://www.jerseyhistory.org/, and the New Jersey State archives are located in Trenton. Contact the NJ State Historic Preservation office to find out the location of the state archives in Trenton http://www.nj.gov/dep/hpo/. The State Historic Preservation office publishes a booklet with further information which pertains to researching the history of your property. In addition, the South Orange Historical & Preservation Society, a village-wide preservation group, also publishes a similar pamphlet.
What is the definition of a Historic District?
A Historic District is one or more historic sites and intervening or surrounding property significantly affecting or affected by the quality and character of the historic site or sites. This area shall have a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures and/or objects which, viewed collectively:
- Represent a significant period(s) in the development of the town
- Or have a distinctive character resulting from their architectural style.
What is a Historic Site?
A site is defined as real property, whether public or private, with or without improvements, which is the location of a significant event or series of events, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building, structure, or object, or any configuration, portion, or group of the foregoing which has been designated by the Commission as having historical, archeological, cultural, scenic, or architectural significance.
The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office defines an historic site as houses, structures or objects which possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and association and which have been determined, pursuant to the terms of the ordinance to be any of the following:
- Of particular historic significance to the Village of South Orange by reflecting or exemplifying the broad cultural, political, economic or social history of the nation, state or community;
- Associated with the historic personages important in national, state or local history;
- The site of an historic event which had a significant effect on the development of the nation, state or community;
- An embodiment of the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of architecture or engineering;
- Representative of the work or works of a locally, regionally or nationally important or recognized builder, designer, artist or architect;
- Significant for containing elements of design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant innovation;
- Able or likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.
What is a Local Landmark?
A landmark is a building, structure, site, or object which has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the township, state or nation, and which has been designated as a landmark pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance.
Is my house within the Montrose Park Historic District of South Orange?
A map of the historic district with a description of the general boundaries is located here: https://mphda.org/gallery/town-district-maps/
The shaded area indicates the areas of Montrose Park South Orange which are considered to be within the Historic District. Within this shaded area, there are properties which are considered to be “contributing” to the district (the majority of properties), and some which are considered to be “noncontributing.” Some properties are considered to be “key” properties.
Key, Contributing or Noncontributing properties
Resources within an historic district shall be classified as key, contributing, or non-contributing.
Key is defined as any buildings, structures, sites, or objects which, due to their significance, would individually qualify for landmark status.
Contributing is defined as any building/s, structure/s, site/s, or object/s that are integral components of the historic district either because they date from a time period for which the district is significant, or because they represent an architectural type, period, or method for which the defined historic district is significant.
Non-Contributing is defined as any building/s, structure/s, site/s, or object/s that are not integral components of a defined historic district because they neither date from a time period for which the district is significant nor represent an architectural type, period, or method of construction for which the district is significant.
(An object is defined as a material thing of functional, aesthetic, cultural, historic, scenic, or scientific value.)
How do I determine whether my home/property is a “contributing,” “noncontributing,” or “key” property to a historic district in South Orange?
Local Landmarks and Potential Local Landmarks are noted in the Historic Preservation Plan Element of the South Orange Village Master Plan
Montrose Park Historic District:
- An Architectural Survey of properties within the Montrose Park Historic District was completed as a part of the District’s application and nomination for historic status. A copy of this application including the survey and inventory of properties within the historic district is located at the South Orange Public Library and at the Village Administrator’s office located at South Orange Village Hall.
- Visit the Montrose Park Historic District’s website to find a digital inventory.
- Click here for a scanned copy of the complete Intensive Level Survey and Inventory of properties within the Montrose Park Historic District of South Orange. (Link to be added)
What is an Architectural Survey?
According to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, an architectural survey is defined as the process of gathering information about historic architectural resources, including all visible aspects of the built environment that combine to form our historic fabric, including houses, churches, schools, municipal buildings, commercial structures, bridges, canals, farm structures, parks, gardens, street furniture, etc. The Architectural Survey of homes within the Montrose Park Historic District was completed as a part of the District’s application and nomination for historic status. A copy of this application including the survey and inventory of properties is located at the South Orange Public Library and at Village Administrator’s office located at Village Hall. In the future, we hope to have the descriptions of properties within the application available on-line.
There are various types of surveys including ‘Windshield Level’, ‘Reconnaissance Level’, and ‘Intensive Level’. For example, the survey of Montrose Park noted above is considered to be an intensive level survey.
Windshield Level Survey – also known as a Reconnaissance Level Survey, includes initial information on local properties including buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts, etc., as well as a preliminary report containing an historic overview of the survey area, survey methodology, and recommendations for further research.
Intensive Level Survey – In depth documentation of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts already identified in a Reconnaissance or Windshield level survey.
What is an Architectural Inventory?
An inventory is a list of historic properties determined to meet specified criteria of significance.
What is a designated property?
A Designated Property is defined as any individual building, structure, site, object, or district, which has been designated as having historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic, or other significance.
What is a designated district or landmark district?
A District (also often referred to as “Landmark District”) – is defined as a geographic area with distinctly definable boundaries composed of several buildings or sites which:
- has acquired a unity of character through the interrelationships of the component buildings and sites; and
- has been designated as having historical, archeological, cultural, scenic, architectural, or other significance.
What is the difference between “historic preservation” and “restoration”?
Historic Preservation is the act or process of applying measures to sustain the existing form, integrity and material of a building or structure, and the existing form and vegetative cover of a site. It may include initial stabilization work, where necessary, as well as ongoing maintenance of the historic building materials.
Restoration is considered to be the historically accurate repair or replacement of architectural features.
Are there any tax incentives for owners of historic properties?
For information on federal tax incentives please visit the NJ State Historic Preservation Office’s website page which discusses this topic at http://www.nj.gov/dep/hpo/3preserve/preserve.htm. In the past, there has also been pending NJ State legislation in under the Historic Property Reinvestment Act. Visit Preservation New Jersey’s “Take Action” webpage for more details, http://www.preservationnj.org/take_action/take_action.asp?ss3id=0.