To understand the culture and dynamics of a city it’s important to look back at its origins and how it evolved to become what it is today.
Map of Jersey City
Jersey City, NJ has a particularly interesting history, one that is apparently playing out again today. Let’s take a look back.
In 1630 Dutch entrepreneurs, farmers, fur trappers and their representatives uprooted their lives in New Amsterdam to conquer the New World on the west bank of what we now call the Hudson River. Unfortunately, the challenges these early settlers faced from the Lanape natives were daunting. The Dutch proved to be no match and the settlements languished for years.
Then in 1660 things took a positive turn when New Netherland’s governor-general Peter Stuyvesant took control. Under his leadership a new settlement was formed at the top of Palisade Hill, in the town of Bergen. From here, farms began to spread out over the entire region. Before long, a school was built, then a religious congregation formed, followed by the beginnings of an official self-government, which quickly evolved.
As the town grew a major road was built in 1764 for stagecoaches, but that wasn’t enough to save Bergen from the dangers of being in a precarious spot during the Revolution with British forces fighting Americans. Despite this, the quiet rural farm town continued to live on until the early 19th Century. In 1804 the Hudson River’s west bank started again attracting attention from investors. A group of them came down from New York and bought a large swath of land along the water’s edge with an eye towards developing it into the Town of Jersey.
An investor and entrepreneur named Robert Fulton saw the potential and decided he could do well with a dry dock in Jersey. He bought the land, built the dry dock and by 1812 was running his steamboats back and forth to Manhattan. The Fulton Ferries were what led to Jersey City becoming a major transportation terminus. They started by linking up with stagecoaches going to Newark and Philadelphia, ultimately becoming the main connection for people and freight on the mainland traveling to and from New York.
The 1830s saw the arrival of the railroad along with the Morris Canal, establishing Jersey City’s role in a booming economy by the mid-1830s. With good transportation and plenty of fuel from Pennsylvania coalmines, industry took notice, which naturally spurred a growth in population. The town was growing strong enough to declare its independence from Bergen and became its own Jersey City municipality in 1838.
When famine and revolution struck Ireland and Germany in the 1880s, Jersey City welcomed another flood of immigrants from Europe. This again boosted the population and economy, a pattern that still exists today. In fact, Jersey City has the distinction of being the first home for many of America’s newest immigrants.
As the railroad lines expanded along the waterfront and industrialization became the name of the game, there were plenty of workers to draw from. Factories and trains continued to run in Jersey City throughout the Civil War. The economy and population were booming and with the town outpacing its neighbors at such an extent, residents in surrounding communities voted to merge, creating one big city. This is how in 1870 Jersey City acquired the town that gave it its start, Bergen, as well as Hudson City. Then, the residents of Greenville voted to join the merger in 1873, giving the city the boundaries it maintains today.
Throughout the 20th Century Jersey City became a transportation hub with all its rail terminals, including the Erie, the Jersey Central, the Lehigh Valley and the Pennsylvania. When you add in all the barges, ferries and lighters crossing the river and New York Bay transporting passengers, as well as food, coal and products to all parts of Greater New York, you can see why.
Here’s the current Journal Square Transportation center located at 1 Path Plaza in Jersey City:
Jersey City also became known for its manufacturing plants and the household brands we’ve all become familiar with: American Can, Colgate, Dixon Ticonderoga, Emerson Radio and Lorillard, making a huge range of products, everything from tin cans, soap and toothpaste, to cigarettes, pencils and electronics. Jersey City became a melting pot of many different nationalities, which has understandably led to a certain amount of ethnic tension. Unfortunately, these have not died down as quickly as many had hoped.
Jersey City also made a name for itself during this time for its politics, namely Frank Hague who dominated the city’s political landscape for more than 30 years. He was legendary in his ability to get people voting his way, giving him tremendous power that stretched beyond the city and state, all the way to Washington. He was a controversial figure, accused by some of being a machine boss, while others lauded his leadership in running a clean city government and for creating The Medical Center, a world-renowned hospital complex.
One of his greatest accomplishment was getting a woman named Mary Norton elected to the House of Representatives. It was in 1926 when he achieved this lifelong goal of his. He was the first Democratic mayor to essentially get a woman elected to Congress. Her constituents loved her, reelecting her to 13 consecutive terms, serving until 1951.
Sadly, Jersey City began to decline after World War II as people were more drawn to the suburbs. Independent railroads collapsed as well as manufacturing, causing the economics of the city to suffer greatly. Things looked very bleak by the early 1970s, so bleak that many just wrote the city off. But, true to its beginnings Jersey City set out to prove its naysayers wrong.
Investors and entrepreneurs began eyeing the west bank of the Hudson again with all those stranded railroad yards. And by the mid-1980s, that long since abandoned waterfront was now considered the Gold Coast. As redevelopment began people started flocking to Jersey City and before long there were new shops springing up everywhere, restaurants galore and plenty of jobs for everyone.
What you’ll now see in Jersey City are companies primarily engaging in commerce and finance. As the shipping industry moved away from the old piers on the Hudson and East Rivers, to Port Elizabeth, Port Jersey, and Port Newark it was replaced by the office buildings of major shipping lines. Today you’ll still see freight trains traveling through Jersey City carrying everything from oranges to the Tropicana juice plant to cars from the Port Authority to the old Pennsylvania Railroad’s Greenville Yards, which is now an auto port.
Here’s how to get to the Greenville Yard in Jersey City from the Journal Square Transportation Center:
Liberty State Park bought the abandoned Jersey Central terminal and plant and turned it into a huge recreational facility for the community. It opened in 1976, just in time for the Bicentennial celebration. Tourists from all over the world come to enjoy the incredible views and the new Liberty Science Center. This is also where they catch the ferries that take them to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, huge tourist attractions.
From the Greenville Yard to our office, follow these directions: