Newark City

Essex County, New Jersey

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Newark City Hall is located at 920 Broad Street, Newark NJ 07102.
Phone: 973‑733‑6400.


Beginnings [1]

Newark was settled in 1666 by Captain Robert Treat and 30 families from New Haven and the vicinity. The village on the Passaic was the result of five years search for a site where these former Connecticut citizens could obtain self-government and religious freedom.

In his haste to develop the territory, Governor Philip Carteret had promised to eliminate the Indian title to the settlement. His neglect in this detail brought the colonists face to face with angry Hackensack Indians almost as soon as they had disembarked. Complete peace was established in 1667 when the settlers purchased a tract extending from the Passaic River westward to the Watchung Mountains.

The source of the name Newark remains buried with the original settlers. It has recently been disproved that the inspiration came from Newark-on-Trent, the supposed English home of the Reverend Abraham Pierson, pastor of the first church. Scholars have therefore returned to the older interpretation that the name was originally the Biblical New Ark or New Work, meaning a new project.

Whatever the origin of its name, Newark was unmistakably founded as a theocracy with the Puritan Congregational Church securely in control of village affairs. The church quickly erected a barrier around the religious freedom won by emigrating from New Haven. Church membership was a prerequisite to owning land, holding public office and voting. The church maintained such strict supervision over personal and public life that early Newark was more Puritan than much of New England itself.

The severity of ecclesiastical rule discouraged new settlers. Like many other religious communities, Newark grew slowly within a narrow arc prescribed by its Puritan leaders. They established a school in 1676, laid out military training grounds and encouraged gristmills, tanneries and small shops which made the little community self-sustaining. The Puritan hegemony was first openly challenged in 1687. The Rev. Abraham Pierson Jr., who succeeded his father as the town pastor, clashed with the conservatives. Five years later they coldly permitted him to retire and return to Connecticut, where he became the first president of Yale College.

It took another generation, however, in which more liberal Englishmen settled in Newark, to break the religious monopoly of Old First Church. About 1733 Colonel Josiah Ogden, a pillar of this organization, which had become Presbyterian in 1719, gathered in his wheat on the Sabbath rather than let it be ruined by the rain. He stoutly defended himself before the outraged membership and finally withdrew from the church. Ogden then joined with the local Church of England missionaries and founded Trinity Church.

Despite this rupture, Newark moved through the eighteenth century as a Puritan town, with a Puritan interest in education and commerce and a Puritan horror of secular art and pleasure. In 1748 the College of New Jersey, afterward Princeton University, moved from Elizabethtown to Newark with the Rev. Aaron Burr Sr., pastor of Old First Church, as president. The college remained until 1756, when it was transferred to Princeton. In the same period forges and foundries began to work the products of nearby iron mines. Before the time of the Revolution, Newark was of sufficient commercial importance to warrant the building of roads connecting with ferries to New York.

The war itself divided Newark into Tories who gave ample aid to Lord Cornwallis and other British commanders who encamped here, and Revolutionaries whose cooperation won the praise of Colonial generals. Washington used Newark as a supply base on his retreat across the State in 1776. In addition to a number of raids and skirmishes in the center of the village, two battles and a skirmish were fought at Springfield, part of which was then Newark.

The value of trade and manufacture was one of the lessons learned by the city from the Revolution. Factories increased. In about 1790 Moses Combs founded the shoe industry and a few years later one-third of Newark's working population was engaged in some form of the leather trade. The impetus came from an abundant stand of hemlock trees on the nearby Orange Mountains, which provided bark for tanning. Hand-in-hand with prosperity went an escape from religious scrutiny, and the town supported three of the finest taverns in the country. Possibly attracted by a carefree society group, the exiled Frenchman, Talleyrand, visited Newark in 1794 and stayed at what was later the David Ailing House on the corner of Broad and Fair Streets. The length of his stay is uncertain but it is likely that while in Newark he devoted much time to study and writing. In the next decade Tom Moore, the Irish poet, was entertained by the Ogden family, and Washington Irving was inspired to write the Salmagundi papers by many gay evenings at old Cockloft Hall, the Kemble Mansion, which stood on the corner of Mt. Pleasant Avenue and Gouverneur Street.

Finance, commerce and industry quickened the conversion of Newark from a sprawling agricultural village into an important business center. The first bank, the Newark Banking and Insurance Company, was organized in 1804, and six years later the Newark Fire Insurance Company wrote the first of millions of Newark policies. One of the Newark companies established in this period has preserved from its earliest days a yarn to the effect that when an Elizabeth woman, who was insured for $500, fell critically ill, the officers became alarmed lest the company expire with her. Accordingly, the president had the best local doctor attend her and sat at her bedside himself until she recovered.

After the War of 1812, new industries pushed Newark into the position of New Jersey's leading city, which it has held ever since. In two decades the manufacture of jewelry, begun by Epaphras Hinsdale in 1801, had become a leading occupation; Seth Boyden's work in patent leather gave tremendous impetus to the leather trade; and by 1831 hat making, and brewing occupied large numbers of workmen.

Transportation developments began to link the growing city with the rest of the eastern seaboard. One of the State's earliest railroads—the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company— began operation in 1834 from Newark to Jersey City, while the Morris Canal, completed to Phillipsburg three years earlier, provided an outlet for Newark's products in Pennsylvania and the west.

In 1836 Newark was incorporated as a city with William Halsey as its first mayor. The population of nearly 20,000 was no longer exclusively of Puritan gentry; the growth of industry had resulted in the formation of 16 trade societies, chiefly among plasterers, bricklayers, and corset makers. By 1836 they were bidding for political power as labor organizations. For two decades following the panic of 1837 economic progress was slow, but this period witnessed an increased interest in social reform and entertainment. Criminals were better treated and the mentally ill were regarded less as offenders against decent society. In 1848 a theater inaugurated a long history of romantic and tragic drama in Newark. By 1855 Germans had settled Newark in large numbers, and their Saengerfests made the city one of the national centers of German music.

The outbreak of the Civil War seriously threatened a large intersectional trade which Newark had established with the South. As an offset, however, to the manufacturers fears, the war boomed industry; hat and shoe factories operated at full capacity to fill army orders and a general prosperity was enjoyed. A visit from Abraham Lincoln en route to his first Washington inaugural helped to solidify community sentiment. Newark sent 10,000 to the Union armies.

Modern Newark dates from the close of the Civil War. An industrial exposition in 1872 showed that the city was becoming more and more diversified in its manufacturing interests, although brewing, jewelry, and leather still maintained the lead. But while these industries were at their peak, the scientific age was beginning to transform completely the city's industrial character. In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt invented celluloid and laid the basis for the important plastic industry. Eighteen years later the Rev. Hannibal Goodwin developed a process which later turned celluloid into film for photographic negatives. Thomas A. Edison's invention of the electric light bulb in nearby Menlo Park was responsible for the rise of a new industry in Newark. Later Edward Weston carried on the Edison tradition with many important electrical inventions. The post-Civil War period was marked also by the city's finest literary flowering. Stephen Crane (1871-1900), the novelist, was its greatest literary figure. His contemporary, Mary Mapes Dodge (1838-1905), created the children's classic, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, and Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833-1908), banker-poet-editor, conducted literary salons in and around Newark for a decade. Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909), editor of the Century, worked for a time after the Civil War on the old Newark Advertiser and with Newton Crane founded the Newark Morning Register. Noah Brooks (1830-1903), well known at the end of the last century as a journalist and author of books for boys, was editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser in 1884. By the turn of the century the newer, electrified industries were crowding out the old steam crafts and preparing Newark for its future leadership in heavy, mass industrial enterprise.

Municipal government under Mayor Joseph Haynes aided the upswing with improved water facilities, new buildings and sincere efforts to harmonize the interests of industry and the city. Similarly, the once independent unions contributed toward stabilization by consolidation into the American Federation of Labor. The World War heightened Newark's position as an industrial center and laid the foundation for its future as a port. While factories worked on 24-hour schedules, the Federal Government developed struggling Port Newark into an army base and prepared it for major shipping operations. The citizenry invested nearly $200,000,000 in Liberty Bonds and sent more than 20,000 men into the fighting service. Post-war prosperity made Newark more than ever the hub of northern New Jersey. Apartment houses in the residential districts and skyscrapers on Broad Street gave the city a metropolitan appearance. Airplanes replaced the earlier mosquitoes in flights over the old Newark meadows, and in 1929 the airport was designated the eastern air mail terminal. In 1935 a city subway, built in the bed of the Morris Canal, and a new Pennsylvania Railroad station were opened to modernize the city's transport system. By 1938 all trolley cars had been eliminated on downtown surface lines.

In recent years the influence of New York City has strongly colored Newark's social and industrial life. With the development of modern transportation after the Civil War, New York City overflowed into New Jersey. A network of automobile highways followed the railroads across the Hackensack meadows, with the result that Newark began increasingly to share New York City's suburban population with the New Jersey cities along the Hudson, without losing its identity as the market center for the west.

This overflow from New York was a basic cause of the sudden expansion in the 90's, noted above. Factories began crowding out the older residential districts along the river and along the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and New Jersey. The residents began moving to the higher ground farther up the river and along the base of the Watchung Mountains; then the wealthier commuting class from New York saw the advantages of the Watchungs as a residential haven, and soon the old villages which surrounded the city became prosperous some of them very expensive communities that reflect suburban New York life more than they do the quieter tempo of interior New Jersey.

The completion of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad in 1911 between Newark, Jersey City, and New York under the direction of William Gibbs McAdoo greatly accelerated the intermingling of the population and speeded the development of the city. The new rapid transit attracted thousands from Manhattan to Newark and its suburbs, and in turn made "going to New York" for business or pleasure a Newark habit. Today, uncounted thousands commute daily to Manhattan offices and shops on the jerky red trains of the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad known to everyone as "the Tubes." The same trains bring a substantial number of New Yorkers to jobs in Newark. Additional thousands of men and women who work in the banking, insurance and industrial offices of Newark have homes and interests in outlying suburbs. Like the New Yorkers they are only day time Newark residents.

The city's newsstands offer further evidence of Newark's split personality. The logotypes of New York dailies outnumber those of Newark papers by a ratio of almost 3 to 1, and a large display of suburban and foreign language papers rivals the local publications. The patriarchal Newark Evening News is the most influential paper of the city and State. The Sunday Call, published only once a week, is as much a part of most Newark homes as the radio. Nevertheless, thousands of Newarkers daily supplement local papers with New York publications.

The result of these pulls to New York on the east and to suburbs on the west, is that modern Newark is very little a city of common interests. Yet between these sizable commuting groups exists a larger and less well defined mass that may be called the population proper of Newark. These citizens range from descendants of those who sailed from Connecticut in 1666 to those who sailed from Genoa, Odessa or Danzig in 1896. Bankers and machinists, jurists and janitors, teachers and night school pupils they compose the aggregate, dynamic Newark.

Within the lifetime of a middle-aged Newarker, the city has altered its Puritan rhythm and outlook to conform with those of the power age. Its population of 246,000 in 1900 was resigned to a single high school; seven cannot accommodate the present demand. Important department stores have replaced a row of sleepy "emporiums." The century-old evil of pollution in the Passaic River has been largely curtailed by construction of a sewer serving several municipalities. Responsibility for these changes rests not only with the national spirit of progress but also with shrewd and careful planning by Newark leaders.

Notable among these was the late Mayor Thomas L. Raymond, who was responsible for many outstanding improvements, including Newark's deep-water port, airport, water supply system, well-lighted and well-paved streets, and its railroad and other transportation improvements. He had the gift of being able to visualize civic needs two or three decades ahead, and he had the energy to act upon his ideals.

While Mayor Raymond was busy transforming the physical and industrial scene, John Cotton Dana, Newark Librarian for 27 years, was equally active in broadening Newark's cultural life. Mr. Dana's creative energy has made the library and museum dynamic forces in Newark citizenship. In 1931 the city's first liberal arts college was named Dana College in honor of "Newark's first citizen." The city has for the most part genuinely striven to build the economic and cultural life which these two men envisioned. In the mind of the forward-looking Newarker, the preeminence of Newark Airport symbolizes the transformation of Newark into a twentieth century city.

The most impressive picture of Newark's civic growth is the night view of Newark from the Pulaski Skyway. Against the background of the gently sloping Watchung Mountains stands a cluster of modern skyscrapers. Before these towers gleam the red and white signs of nationally known factories. In the foreground an occasional barge or boat appears on the winding Passaic River. To the north, myriad street lamps and house lights dot the vast darkness, and to the south, the beacons of Newark Airport stream toward the stars.

  1. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of New Jersey, New Jersey: A Guide to Its Present and Past, American Guide Series, The Viking Press, 1939, New York

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