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Mayor Adoniram Judson Harlow


Better known as “A.J.” or “Preacher” Harlow, Adoniram Judson Harlow was one of Orange’s most successful entrepreneurs of the early 20th century and a pioneering industrialist. Preacher Harlow was born in 1870 and came to Orange in 1893 after having been newly ordained as a Baptist minister. He apparently enjoyed great success and served a number of local Baptist congregations around Orange. However about 1900, Harlow began the Orange Lumber Company. In 1902, he established a steam driven, electrical power plant equipped with an 80 HP Dynamo generator just south of downtown near his home and wired the principal portion of the downtown for electrical lighting and limited service soon thereafter. In 1907, he constructed an ice plant adjacent to his electrical facility to provide ice to local customers and Orange’s booming business district.

Harlow Light Plant 1909

A.J. Harlow also operated a real estate and land office on Railroad Avenue that was destroyed during the 1908 Orange fire and owned an undertaking business located in the Thompson Building on the north side of East Main Street that was also consumed in this fire. Harlow was successful in re-establishing his undertaking business at some point after the fire. In 1915, he opened the Wilbur Theatre, Orange’s first movie theatre, on the site of his former undertaking business on East Main Street. The facility was equipped with a soda fountain and ice cream parlor and was very popular amongst the town’s younger residents. In 1929, he upgraded his projection equipment to be able to show “talking” movies.

In 1917, A.J. Harlow defeated long-time mayor, Frank Perry, who had filled the office since 1895. He served as mayor at least until 1922. In 1921, Mayor Harlow was instrumental in organizing the Orange Volunteer Fire Company with its first chief, E.H. Rouse. In 1931, Harlow sold his movie theatre and became manager of the Pitts-Madison Theatre, which was located in the Masonic Lodge building on West Main Street. Mayor Harlow died in 1945 in Staunton, Virginia.


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