Thomas Dowd Family in Orange, NJ (1864-1874)

In 1864, after fourteen years in Princeton, Thomas Dowd moved his family to Orange, New Jersey eventually settling in a home at #38 White Street. Thomas had come to Orange to work as the superintendent of the gas works. The works had been introduced in Orange five years earlier by John P. Kennedy of Trenton, who financed the construction of the plant on White Street. By September 1859 construction had been completed, pipes laid and new customers were being "treated to illumination of their homes by gas, a decided improvement over camphene and other oil and candles". As the works expanded in Orange, Mr. Kennedy would have needed an experienced, capable man to run the operation. Of course, he would have been acquainted with Thomas Dowd from the Trenton plant, and perhaps hand- picked him to take over the Orange Gas Works. A story survives in the family that our ancestor Thomas "laid the first streets in Orange". This story may have referred to the tearing up of roads and the laying of pipes that Thomas would have been involved in over the next several years.

Moving to Orange, Thomas and Ann entered a growing community of Catholic immigrants. With dozens of manufacturers in its booming hatting industry, Orange was attracting an influx of Germans and Irish workers. St. John's parish, founded in 1851 was now bursting at the seems. Constructed in 1851 at a cost of $3,000 [$60,000] the chapel on the corner of White and Chapel Streets was less than one hundred feet in length and fifty feet wide, much too small to accommodate the expanding congregation.

In 1865 the energetic Rev. E.M. Hickey arrived in Orange to head the parish. He began immediately on the task of finding it a new home. He first collected $10,000 [$200,000] from the parish, "a very large sum in that day for a congregation having no wealthy members". Land was purchased on the corner of Ridge and White Street and ground broken in June 1866. Thomas Dowd would have been among the enthusiastic parishioners who donated money and labor during the construction. His expertise in the gas works and piping would have been especially useful. The beautiful new church was completed and dedicated on October 10, 1869. Built in foliated gothic style, of red sandstone and trap-rock, with a tower at the north is 200 feet high, the chapel was 160 feet deep by 68 feet wide with a capacity of 1,200.

Thomas and Ann first purchased property for themselves in Orange in 1867 on the south side of White Street for $1900 [$38,000] and then a smaller lot there in 1869 for $125 [$2,500]. They must have improved the property and built a nice home there because by 1870, the US Census recorded the value of Thomas Dowd's property as $7,000 [$120,000], a very respectable figure in that year:

1870 US Census - Orange, New Jersey (July 1870)

Name Age Occupation real estate value personal value Birthplace
Thomas Dowd 40 Superintendent -
Gas Works
Ann M Dowd 40 Keeps House Ireland
Rosannah Dowd 20 At Home NJ
Kate Dowd 18 At Home NJ
John Dowd 16 At School NJ
Thomas Dowd 13 At School NJ
Edward Dowd 10 At School NJ
Patrick H. Dowd 7 At School NJ

In 1873 a financial panic hit the United States. So serious was the panic that St. John's parish was unable to pay off its building loans and the parish fell deep in debt. Much like the great stock market crash of 1929, the 1873 panic also gripped private citizens. In April 1874, Thomas deeded his White Street property to his wife Ann. Once in Ann's name, the property was protected from Thomas' creditors. The transfer indicates that, like many others, Thomas may have been affected by the financial crisis. Whatever the crisis, Thomas appears to have recovered. He later purchased two lots each on Elizabeth Street and Watchung Avenue in West Orange. By the time of his death in 1894 Thomas still owned all six lots and had an additional $3,500 [$50,000] cash in bank accounts.

table of property owned by Thomas and Ann Dowd

# Description date grantor paid
1 Lot on the south side of White Street
- #38 White Street
31 May 1867 Charles Lighthipe $1900 [$38,000]
2 Lot on the south side of White St,
227 feet from the corner of
White St. and Jefferson St.
15 Sep 1869 Charles Lighthipe $125 [$2,500]
3 Lot on south side of Elizabeth Street 7 Oct 1881 Singleton T. Stull $1075
4 Lot on Elizabeth St ?
5 Lot at the corner of Watchung Ave.
and Alden - #281 Watchung, West Orange
11Aug 1888 Wm Parkinson $1
6 Lot on Watchung Ave. 86 feet from the corner of Watchung and Alden (next to lot above), - #271 Watchung, West Orange 31 Aug 1888 Wm Parkinson $1

* lots number 5 and 6 were purchased for $1. One dollar signifies some other consideration was made for the exchange of the property - possibly Wm Parkinson's payment of a debt to Thomas or some other barter.




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