North Broad Street Historic District
The North Broad Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright ©l 2013, The Gombach Group.
The North Broad Street Historic District, a small group of eight row houses between 136 and 148 Broad Street, is remarkable for its use of limestone in a residential setting. Seven of the eight houses have limestone facades, and they represent the only example of limestone rowhouse construction in the City of Newark, and the only example of a group of rowhouses constructed to represent a unified and symmetrical whole. The Italian-influenced, Renaissance Revival row spans 138-148 Broad Street, and consists of attached, masonry, classicizing rowhouses constructed of limestone, a unique and costly material for residential construction of that period. The row is adjacent to 136 Broad Street, a Queen Anne-influenced brick and brownstone rowhouse on the north side, which is also included in the District. The row was constructed about 1893 by George Brown and Company, the largest stone-cutting firm in the City of Newark at the turn-of-the-century. Primarily known for their elaborate monuments in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, as well as their monumental institutional buildings, such as the General Theological Seminary in New York and the original Prudential building in Newark, the limestone rowhouses on North Broad Street are the only limestone examples of the company's residential work in Newark. The row of houses is a rare example of a type of construction not seen anywhere else in Newark, and possibly not in the State of New Jersey.
In both design and workmanship, the rowhouses of the North Broad Street Historic District, are indicative of the high quality of nineteenth century residential architecture constructed in Newark. During the late nineteenth century, the Mount Pleasant area, of which this street is a part, became a fashionable address. Following the establishment of the horse-drawn streetcar lines to the outlying areas of the city, middle class city dwellers, who could not afford the expensive addresses of High Street and Forest Hill, sought refuge away from the center of the city in Woodside, also called Mt. Pleasant, an area of north Newark along the Passaic River, and annexed to the City in 1871. Mt. Pleasant's favorable location, away from the congestion of the central city, attracted newly prosperous middle mangers and self-employed professionals to build handsome homes for their families.
Earliest Description of the Area
The area now defined as Mt. Pleasant, or Woodside, was a sparsely populated and little traveled agricultural region until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. An 1846 map of Woodside indicates that local farms belonged to the King, Small, Sandford, Munn, Dougherty, Patterson, Stimis, Alexander and Coeyman families. In addition, two small mills and a calico print factory (in existence from 1824-1855) had been established on the Passaic River near the Belleville border, and a white lead factory and a copper works had been in operation further to the west ("From the Forest...," 1936: 19; "North Newark — Its Industrial Past," 1949: 4). The Old Road to Bloomfield (also called Long Hill Road) was one of its only thoroughfares ("From the Forests Emerged North Newark," 1936: 19).
Several pre-Revolutionary War farmhouses and other locally famous buildings ("From the Forests...," 1936: 19) lent the area a romantic aura that was celebrated by at least one author of the period. In Harper's New Monthly Magazine, of October 1876, Martha Lamb told readers, "The shores of the Passaic...northerly from the bridge, are lined with historical mansions and associations." She described a large estate with formal gardens and a deer park, told of "Cockloft Hall" (the residence of Gouverneur Kemble and favorite haunt of Washington Irving), called attention to the old Schuyler mansion as one of the most ancient landmarks of the surrounding area, and completed her picturesque essay with a reminder that "Frank Forester...came to his tragic end" among the gloomy cedars just north of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (Lamb 1876: 676).
Romance aside, local residents looking for residential real estate might have known through personal experience and official reports (Cunningham 1966: 184, 224), that the Passaic River had already been contaminated by sewage and industrial waste dumped by factories in Paterson, Passaic and Newark. Although Woodside continued to be developed as a residential area throughout the nineteenth century, its proximity to the increasingly polluted Passaic River made it less desirable than the high ground that began west of Mt. Prospect Avenue, the area that is now known as Forest Hill [see Forest Hill Historic District].
By 1873, the Eighth Ward (comprising Forest Hill and Woodside) was traversed by the Newark and Bloomfield Horse Railroad which connected to the Newark and Franklin Horse Railroad at Grafton and North Third Streets. Mt. Prospect Avenue seems to have been the only paved street in the ward (all others are indicated by dashed lines). The Morris Canal was still in existence (Hopkins 1873: 72-73).
Changing Residential Patterns Among Newark's Business Elite: 1870-1890
Prior to the early 1870s, Newark's small central business district, established by the founders on the western bank of the river, included the city's most desirable residential property. Businessmen whose establishments were in the center of the city preferred to live near (and sometimes above) the workplace. The convenience of living close to the hub of economical, social and religious activities, the security offered by good police protection, and the inadequate facilities for intra-city travel, combined to keep residential real estate in the inner wards expensive and exclusive. The outer wards, still mostly farm land and hill country, were sparsely populated regions and remained unappealing to the city's elite who preferred the gracious, cultured life of the city to the rough, peasant-like life of the farm. Newly arrived German and Irish immigrant families first began to settle the city's southern and eastern fringe, while the northern and western sections remained virtually unpopulated until the 1870s (Popper 1952: 160-161).
In the 1870s, a shift began to occur in the population distribution of Newark (and of many industrialized cities throughout the United States): high income groups began moving to the outer ward, while lower income groups migrated to the city's center (Popper 1952: 166). The introduction of railroads into the city beginning in the 1850s contributed to the reversal; by the 1870s, much of Newark's economy was dependent on moving freight by one of the five railroad lines that entered the city from the east, west and south. Although the train lines improved the economy of the city by linking Newark with markets throughout the country, they simultaneously degraded the immediate surroundings with noise, dirt, and visual pollution. Terminals, depots, warehouses, and industrial plants were erected near the tracks, resulting in a continuous belt of concentrated industry along the rights-of-way throughout the city (Drummond 1979: 115. 131). By the 1890s, many newly prosperous business executives and self-employed professionals began to flee to the outer fringes, preferring to endure the thirty-minute trip by horse drawn or electrified street car from new middle class enclaves such as Roseville, Woodside, and Forest Hill, to the congestion and pollution of the central city (Drummond 1979: 195). As they fled the city, their former homes were bought or rented by newly arriving eastern and southern European immigrants, who unable to afford the high prices, were forced to tolerate as many as four families, visiting relatives, and boarders in what had been designed as a single family house (Drummond 1979: 146). The unhealthy conditions resulting from overcrowding caused further movement of the affluent to the suburbs.
The introduction of the horse-drawn trolley was an essential factor in the suburban migration. Eventually reaching from the center of the city to within a traveling distance of thirty minutes (at a rate of four to six miles per hour), the horse train gave access to the nearby suburbs. However, because of the relatively high fares in the early years, it was available primarily to the affluent. By 1870, Newark, had seven horse-car routes, (one branch running through the Eighth Ward on Mt. Prospect Avenue) closely paralleled by suburban development. Houses were commonly built within a five-minute walk of the nearest track. By the mid-1880s, the streetcars had changed Newark's residential living pattern drastically, and most places in the thirty-minute radius had been fully developed (Drummond 1979: 184-185).
Along with the increased accessibility of the outer fringes came the increased demand for suburban home sites. Land prices rose and real estate speculators continued to profit. The exodus of the upper-middle class to the northern and western wards occurred so rapidly that on July 27, 1886, the Sentinel of Freedom reported the Eighth (Woodside) and Eleventh Wards...nearly filled (Popper 1952: 167).
Institutional Development in the Area
Although residential development continued in Woodside, large downtown institutions began investing in the area. In 1926, the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance company deserted downtown Newark for a site on Broadway, where it built an imposing home office. The New Jersey Historical Society followed in 1931, leaving a good downtown address in the belief that the city was growing northward. Many institutions had already found a home in Woodside prior to the 1920s. The Newark Normal School was constructed directly across the street from the North Broad Street Historic District. The Protestant Foster Home and Belleville Avenue Congregational Church, were around the corner on Broadway, and the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery was located immediately to the north.
George Brown and Company
One of the speculators to take advantage of the popularity of the area was George Brown, the proprietor of George Brown and Company, a large stone-cutting firm located across the street from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Together with family members Gilbert C. Brown and A. Wallace Brown, around 1890, he purchased, and subsequently developed eight lots on North Broad Street, numbering 138-148. (At the time of his purchase, 132-136 Broad Street, a grouping of three Queen Anne rowhouses, were already standing. They had been constructed c.1890.)
In Peter Leary's 1893 guide to Newark industries, Newark. New Jersey Illustrated (Wm. A. Baker, publ.), the stone-cutting firm is advertised as the "largest and best equipped stone-cutting plant in the city... Built the [original] Prudential building, buildings at Columbia University, the General Theological Seminary in New York City, the William Clark residence on Mt. Prospect Avenue in Newark, among others...Also responsible for the Firemen's Monument, Mr. William Clark's, Hon. F.T. Frelinghuysen's, Hon. T.B. Peddie's, etc."
The limestone rowhouses were most likely designed by A. Wallace Brown, who was listed as an architect. The houses were probably built on speculation, as rental units. Neither A. Wallace Brown, nor any of the other Brown family members resided in the houses. George Brown lived in Forest Hill on Mt. Prospect Avenue. A. Wallace Brown, nearby, on Belleville Avenue, and Gilbert C. Brown at 130 Broad Street. The houses were occupied by a series of tenants. By 1925, all the Brown family members had moved to the developing suburbs of Short Hills and Summit. According to the 1925 City Directory, the limestone row housed a variety of residents, especially women. 138 Broad Street was even listed as "Nurses Home" (Newark City Directories 1891-1925).
The Limestone Rowhouses
Perhaps George Brown and Company built the rowhouses as an advertisement for their firm. Located within the immediate vicinity of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, where the Brown Company had erected many of their famous monuments, and on a historic and prestigious street, the rowhouses would have been seen by many passersby. It is unlikely that the company built any more limestone houses anywhere else in the city, as there are none. The Clark mansion, mentioned in Leary's 1893 advertisement for the company, is of brick construction with elaborate stone trim. Limestone is also used on some of the houses in the Lincoln Park Historic District, however, these are individually designed, single family mansions. 138-148 Broad Street was designed as a group of rowhouses forming a symmetrical and elegant whole, and as such, is the only example of its kind in the City of Newark.
The limestone rowhouses of the North Broad Street Historic District form one of the most unique streetscapes in the City of Newark. Characteristic of the Italian-influenced, Renaissance Revival vocabulary, the houses feature rusticated first floors contrasted with smooth wall finishes on the upper stories, pedimented windows and classical door surrounds. The play of restrained classical ornament against the pale, smooth wall surfaces, the widely spaced window openings, and the strong, although shallowly projecting cornice lines, all work to create a poetic and elegant evocation of Renaissance architecture. Combined with the unusual use of limestone, and the use of multiple rowhouses to create a unified and symmetrical streetscape, the design of the rowhouses creates one of the most distinct architectural vistas in the City of Newark.
Although the buildings have been vandalized and have suffered through fires, their facades have remained intact. The buildings are currently  being rehabilitated according to the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Historic Rehabilitation, and when completed, will be used for multi-family low income housing.
Atlas of the City of Newark, New Jersey. N.P.: Scarlett and Scarlett, 1889.
Atlas of the City of Newark, New Jersey. New York: Robinson Publishing Co., 1901.
Atlas of the City of Newark, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Mueller Publishing Co., 1911-12.
Atlas of the City of Newark, New Jersey. New York, Robinson Publishing Co., 1926-27.
Combined Atlas of the State of New Jersey and the City of Newark. Philadelphia: Hopkins, Griffith and Morgan Company, 1873.
Cunningham, John T. Newark. Newark, New Jersey: The New Jersey Historical Society, 1966.
Drummond, James O. Transportation and the Shaping of the Physical Environment in the Urban Plan: Newark. 1820-1900. Diss. New York University, 1979.
"From the Forests Emerged North Newark," The Sunday Call. 29 March 1936, p.19.
Lamb, Martha B. "Newark," Harper's New Monthly Magazine. October 1876, 661-678.
Leary, Peter. Newark, New Jersey Illustrated. Newark: William A. Baker, 1893.
Newark City Directories, 1891-1925.
"North Newark — Its Industrial Past," Newark: Rutgers University School of Business Administration, July 1949.
Popper, Samuel. Newark, New Jersey. 1870-1910: Chapters in the Evolution of an American Metropolis. Unpub. Ph.D. Diss., New York University, Feb. 1952.
State Atlas of New Jersey-Newark. New York: Beers, Comstock and Cline, 1872.
† Ulana D. Zakalak, Historic Preservation Consultant, Zakalak Associates, North Broad Street Historic District, Newark, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1996, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.