If the average person were to hear someone talking about “The Oranges,” he might assume the person was speaking of fruit – the bright orange sphere of citrusy goodness favored as a halftime snack by soccer moms everywhere, specifically. But given the context, it probably wouldn’t make sense. Any New Jerseyan, however, would get the reference…or at least, those of us living in North Jersey would. It is for that very reason that The Oranges are the focus of this week’s NJ Vocabulary segment.
The Oranges– Noun. The neighboring towns of Orange, East Orange, West Orange and South Orange in Essex County, New Jersey.
Example: “Jack? He’s originally from The Oranges, but now he lives in Manhattan.”
Funnily enough, I was only familiar with three Orange towns until I started researching this article – East Orange, West Orange and South Orange. I didn’t realize there was also a town called just “Orange.”
According to the history books, Orange was originally a part of the city of Newark, but became its own township in 1806. It was named after the England’s William III, Prince of Orange.
Orange was eventually split into a handful of towns, including East Orange, West Orange and South Orange.
Today, the original member of The Oranges is an urban community made up of around 30,000 residents, mostly working-class. Once upon a time, Orange was the hatmaking capital of the United States and the township also counts Roy Scheider of Jaws fame as one of its most famous residents. The now-deceased actor was born in Orange in 1932.
Although it has a population doubling that of Orange, East Orange has a very similar vibe. It, too, is an urban, working-class society. East Orange earned the nickname “The Crossroads of New Jersey” because it sits on the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and Interstate 280. The town boasts an extensive transit system with easy access to New York City, like all of the Oranges.
Grammy-winner Lauryn Hill was born in East Orange in 1975, but spent most of her life in South Orange, as did actor Zach Braff from the television show Scrubs. Braff later wrote, directed and starred in the critically-acclaimed film Garden State, considered to be a love letter to his home state.
West Orange differs from the towns of Orange and East Orange in that it is a more affluent, white-collar community. It is also the home of famed inventor Thomas Edison. Today, visitors to the town can explore the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and see how Edison’s inventions helped shape modern America.
That’s not the only attraction in West Orange, though. For more than fifty years, the Turtle Back Zoo has been delighting guests from all over the Garden State. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy the 400-acre Eagle Rock Reservation, with abundant wildlife and miles of trails, including the Lenape Trail.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Oranges is South Orange, which is home to Seton Hall University. The college campus, along with leafy neighborhoods filled with large, older homes has attracted a population of around 16,000. Many residents choose South Orange due to its proximity to the city. The ability to work in Manhattan, then hop on a train and return to a large house with a backyard is quite appealing.
It is a liberal-leaning community, with over 50% of its residents registered Democrats. In 2007, South Orange became New Jersey’s first municipality to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples.
In 2012, a film called (you guessed it) The Oranges paid homage to the towns, with a cast including Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. The movie detailed two West Orange families and their drama, specifically when Laurie’s character starts an affair with his best friend’s daughter. Maybe not the best representation of the Oranges’ residents, but certainly not the worst!
So if you ever hear someone referring to “The Oranges,” you’ll now know that they are talking about a cluster of diverse, culturally-rich communities in North Jersey…not a bunch of citrus fruits.
The only question that remains is…why isn’t there a North Orange?