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History Corner: Do You Know Where It Was?...

January 24, 2024
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History Corner: Do You Know Where It Was?...

You might have noticed, over the last several decades of stories I have written, that I like my titles to ask a question.  I do that to entice you to continue to read about the history of Orange.  Well, this is a humdinger.  I have written about the farming in Orange, but the details of the Fairlea Farm, once owned by Wilson H. Lee, is an untold story, in what has been somewhat of a mystery...not a deep mystery, but certain aspects that will keep you reading until the very end.

According to Mary Woodruff’s History of Orange*, Mr. and Mrs.Wilson H. Lee moved to Orange in 1902 buying the Nettleton Farm consisting of one hundred acres.  This was to be their summer home after leaving the hustle bustle of New Haven.  However, after a few years it became their permanent residence.  In contrast to Mr. Lee’s business venture of printing high grade directories and other public service booklets, he bought 300 cows!  Well, he had 100 acres of farmland so Ayrshire and Jersey cattle was a perfect fit.  The milk from the Ayrshire cow is closest to mother’s milk therefore it was best for babies and young children.

Wilson H. Lee

His milk soared into popularity being known through the state as the finest grade of milk.  His production of acidophilus milk made this honor even more significant when a president of the United States travelled abroad citing, in a letter to Lee, that his milk made his voyage and subsequent meetings more tolerable.  Wouldn’t we like to have that letter!  Mr. Lee, a man of many talents, continued his association with the printing firm of Price, Lee and Adkins erecting a building on the Post Road eventually becoming Wilson H. Lee Company.  So, where was this building you say?  Home Depot stands on this iconic land.

You remember I wrote that Mr. Lee bought 100 acres, well he increased his holdings in 1909 in buying the first district school house after the town abolished its five district schools.  It became one of the many homes he purchased to house his employees with each one accommodating both single and married couples.  Without citing where these homes are located, there are more than 4 still standing and occupied.  The Bryan-Andrew house is one of them.   His homestead was on Orange Center Road, a large white home which at one time was twice the size.  Why you say?  Well, his daughter Prudence married John Demarest, the manager of the printing plant and Mr. Lee cut the house in half, moving it up the road.

My title asked if you know where it was.  Well, here is what Fairlea Farm was in 1909 as the Nettleton Farm.  After buying the acreage it encompassed part of Orange Center Road, easterly to Indian River to the Post Road on the south and north to a portion of Old Tavern Road.  This is what Mr. Lee purchased in 1902.  So now, what happened next?  Oh, it came with one cow.  So, why did Wilson buy such a large tract of land for his summer home?  We will never know.  But he increased his holdings by 1923 to 632 acres and by 1942 he had 50 cows, 4 bulls, and 6 horses.

His holdings were not any less opulent than his stock with 1 barn for the Ayrshire, another for the Jerseys, 3 silos, a dairy building, a cow hospital, a calf barn, a windmill with a water tower, an ice house, a horse barn, a mechanical shop, wood sheds and others sheds necessary to prolong the health and safety of this magnificent farm!  Did I forget a blacksmith shop?  And, of course, office buildings.  As I said, Mr. Lee was a man of many talents and so we must add that while milk was always delivered from a dairy, he established a new idea for a retail store for dairy products.  His eye for marketing was keen in that he created and had made, elaborately designed milk bottles and his brochure describe the farm and welcomed visitors to see it and how milk was processed.  His telephone number was listed in the S.N.E.T. office as Liberty 1005 so visitors could call for a ride to the farm from the railroad station...you know the station I have written about several times.

Orange has many stories to tell and just when I’m scratching my head for other one, an idea pops up and to my delight I sit down and write.  We, at the Orange Historical Society, were given a rolled-up photograph which upon close inspection was for Fairlea Farm.  At the very bottom it was dated 1930 and also written were the words Pomona Grange.  Wow, what was that all about?

On December 4, 1867, in the office of William Saunders, superintendent of Propagating Gardens in the Department of Agriculture, a group of seven men planned what was to be a vital force in preserving and expanding American democracy with the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.  More commonly known as the Grange, like a tree, it is made up of branches with the National Grange being the parent.  There are State Branches in 42 states of which Connecticut is one and regional branches called Pomona Granges.  The Orange Grange was once a local chapter.

The Grange originally sought to help southern and northern farmers recover from the Civil War.  Its purpose today, with over 240,000 members nationwide, is to build a program of fellowship, embracing legislative activities, agricultural initiatives, youth projects, family activities and Community Service.  Grange membership is non-exclusive evolving into an organization concerned with the needs of all people.

Fairlea Farm

OK, so what does this have to do with Fairlea Farm?  I quote, “A gracious friend of the Grange, Wilson H. Lee president of the Wilson H. Lee Company has given the use of his private estate, Fairle Farms, Orange for their annul field day gatherings.”  Yes, the photo, which is over 3 feet in length, is one of those gatherings!

Dateline, August 12...New Haven Courant, “Tomorrow Pomona Grange and the New Haven County farm bureau will hold a field day at the Fairlea Farm Orange.  The program will open with an inspection of the farm which is owned by W.H. Lee.  Basket picnic with music will be enjoyed in the grove at noon.”  Dateline, July 15th...National Master L.J. Tabor to speak at the annual field day at Fairlea Farm in Orange at the home of Wilson H. Lee.”  And still another newspaper printing, this time in the form of a flyer is entitled Dairymen at Fairlea - State Association Have a Pleasant Field Meeting – Session Held at Wilson H. Lee’s Big Dairy Farm on Special Invitation – Visitors Shown Over the Interesting Estate – Addresses on Important Topics Relating to Dairying by Experts – Ladies of Orange Grange Act as Hostesses at Lunch.

It goes on to say that one hundred members and their wives of the Connecticut Dairymen’s association journeyed to Orange for a pleasant day’s outing.  The information goes on stating the guests were met at the train station by a number of wagons and driven to the farm where they were shown the big estate of Mr. Lee.  One part of the farm, of great interest, was the 65 acres of corn.  Lunch was served in picnic style in a large grove that formed part of the estate.

So, this story has to come to an end as there is just so much room in each issue.  We have been given the Pomona Grange history with the farm by their public relations co-director and hopefully there will be more to come...stay “tuned” I might have a sequel to this story.

*Mary Woodruff’s History of Orange book is available for sale at the Academy, chock full of history at the time of her writing in 1949.  It will pique your interest and make you look for more.

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