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Jersey City

Hudson County, New Jersey

Jersey City municipal offices are located at 280 Grove Street, Jersey City NJ 07302.
Phone: 201‑547‑5000.


Beginnings [1]

The site of Jersey City was first important as a North Jersey gateway for the Dutch traders who settled Manhattan. That relationship was expanded when the settlers began bringing their farm products to New York. Probably the first permanent settlement was made shortly after 1629, when Michael Pauw bought a tract from the Indians. Under the colonization plan of the Dutch West India Company he was required to settle fifty persons on the land. Cornelius Van Vorst, sent by Pauw to establish a plantation named Pavonia, enjoyed civil and judicial power, and enough prosperity to entertain the directors general of New Netherland. The house that he built in 1633 is supposed to have stood near the present corner of Fourth and Henderson Streets. Later Michael Paulez (or Paulusen), the company's overseer of trade with the Indians, occupied a house at Paulus Hook.

Dissatisfied with the feudal patroon system, the company bought out Pauw in 1634 for about $10,000 and built two houses at Pavonia; another was erected at Communipau (Pauw's community). After 1638 the company's officers obtained grants from Director General Kieft. Unscrupulous trade practices against the Indians, plus Kieft's demand for tribute and his subsequent massacre of innocent Raritans, resulted in bloody reprisals by both sides. When peace was declared in 1645 only the Van Vorst manor had escaped destruction. Ten years later the Indians raided the settlement again after another provocative act. Governor Stuyvesant refused to permit settlement until 1660, when he granted a petition on condition that the colonists live in a fortified community. The first court was established in 1661.

The village of Bergen was laid out as an 800-foot square surrounded by a log palisade. Two streets, now Academy Street and Bergen Avenue, intersected to form a public square, today known as Bergen Square. Within a year the settlement was large enough to require regular communication with New Amsterdam, and William Jansen began operating a rowboat ferry three times a week. For cattle and other cargo a flat-bottomed sloop was used. In 1662 the settlement hired a combination voorleser (sermon reader) and schoolmaster, being unable to afford an ordained minister. The transition to English rule in 1664 took place smoothly, with thirty-three Dutch families later signing an oath of allegiance. At about that time a rough log church was built for the Dutch Reformed congregation; it was probably the first church erected in the Province. For many years the Dutch Reformed Church had an important role in the affairs of the growing community, which was chartered as a town in 1668 by Governor Philip Carteret.

During the next century the town was concerned with little besides farming. Establishment of improved ferry service in 1764 was followed several years later by the building of a race track at Paulus Hook. The opening of a new land route to Philadelphia made the Hook a vital link between New York and the south and west; formerly a monopoly had been enjoyed by Elizabethtown and Perth Amboy, which had better water connections with New York.

Close by the ferry was a tavern with stables, all under the same management. Schedules were carefully disarranged so that ferry passengers from New York arrived too late for the southbound stage in the morning, and had to stay overnight at the tavern.

An outpost of the British Army held a fort on Paulus Hook during the occupancy of New York. On the night of August 18, 1779, Major (Light Horse Harry) Lee led 300 men south from the American camp on upper Hudson River in a bold attack on the garrison. Crossing a moat at low tide, Lee's force stormed the fort at 3 o'clock in the morning and captured 159 men, about one-third of the defending force. The Americans lost only two killed and three wounded, and escaped northward before their retreat was cut off by other British detachments.

Speculative New Yorkers cast appraising eyes upon the site of Jersey City in 1804, immediately after Col. John Stevens auction of lots in Hoboken. John B. Coles, a flour merchant, laid out city blocks in the Bergen area. Anthony Dey, a young New York lawyer, acquired land and ferry for a perpetual annuity of 6,000 Spanish milled dollars.

Dey's company was incorporated as the Associates of The Jersey Company under a charter that made the organization, in effect, the civil governing body. The real estate boom, however, was anything but resounding. Although a red brick tavern was built and a few small industries came, the political domination of the Associates hindered growth. Another obstacle was New York's claim to riparian rights up to the low-water line on the Jersey shore, which hindered the building of piers and wharves. The boundary dispute was unsettled for many years.

Steam ferry service began in 1812 with the Jersey, built by Robert Fulton. A passenger reported that the crossing was made in fourteen minutes as thousands watched from both shores, all gratified at finding so large and so safe a machine going so well.

During this period, when the population consisted mainly of boatmen and transients and the town had neither jail nor policemen, the Hook became known for dog fights, bull baits, and drunken brawls. Efforts to obtain an autonomous government were balked by the Associates, who had great influence with the legislature. Finally the citizens succeeded in incorporating the City of Jersey in 1820, but the Associates retained special powers until 1838.

The year 1834 was a turning point in the city's growth. A treaty setting the line between New York and New Jersey in the middle of the Hudson River, while New York got Staten Island, gave the city access to its own water line. Terminals of the New Jersey Railroad (later the Pennsylvania) and the Paterson and Hudson Railroad (later the Erie) were established in Jersey City. Horse-car service to Newark, begun in September 1834, was replaced by steam in 1838. Meanwhile the Morris Canal, with its western terminal on Delaware River, had been extended from Newark to Jersey City in 1836.

Several important industries had already been established. As early as 1760 the Lorillard Tobacco Company had started a snuff factory. In 1884 the firm opened a night school for the 250 children then employed. Dummer's Jersey City Glass Company, later famous for its flint glass, began operations in 1824. The fireworks factory built by Isaac Edge Jr. became a training school for American pyrotechnists. Some of the foremost American potters learned their trade at the plant of the American Pottery Company, which was one of the first factories to compete successfully with leading English producers.

Other industries included Colgate soaps, Dixon pencils, steel, paper, beer and whisky. By 1860 the population was 29,000, an increase of almost 150 percent in nine years. Jersey City opened its first stockyards in 1866, and it was also for a time the western terminal of the Cunard Line, beginning in 1847.

The city was an important station on the Underground Railroad. Slaves were sent North hidden in the dead air space between cabins on Erie Canal boats. During the Civil War thousands of troops passed through the railroad stations and the city contributed full quotas of men.

Railroad and political battles colored the latter part of the nineteenth-century. The monopolistic hold of the United Railroads (later the Pennsylvania) on the Jersey City water front was broken when the Jersey Central dumped New York refuse on tidal flats and built a terminal. Another terminal was established when the Erie Railroad blasted a tunnel through Bergen Hill.

The political struggles supplied such incidents as the Hudson County "Horseshoe," which gerrymandered nearly the whole Democratic vote into one assembly district, and an election in which ballots were printed on tissue paper so that more could be stuffed into each ballot box. Consolidations with neighboring communities were preceded by street and sewer contracts whose addition to the merged public debt caused an intolerable tax burden. The election of Mark Pagan, a New Idea Republican, as mayor in 1901 temporarily halted political scandals.

Construction of a railroad tunnel to Manhattan had been attempted as early as 1874. But it was not until William G. McAdoo, later Secretary of the Treasury, became interested in the project that it was completed (1909-10). The Hudson Tubes brought an increase in the number of factories and in the working population.

The Black Tom explosion on the Communipaw water front during the night of July 30, 1916, has been called the only successful German war plot in the country, although international litigation to fix responsibility and damages has not been concluded. Ammunition-laden railroad cars blew up with such violence that residents of Connecticut and Maryland felt the shock. The damage was estimated at $20,000,000, of which the greater part was in Jersey City. Loss in broken windows in the metropolitan area amounted to more than $1,000,000. Only seven lives were lost, although 75 mm. shells struck Ellis Island and other nearby places. After the United States entered the war, the city's factories were busy supplying materials to the Government.

St. Peter's College, chartered in 1872, closed during the war when more than half of its faculty and students enlisted. The college, conducted by the Society of Jesus, reopened in 1930 and now has more than 400 students

Improvement of transportation facilities continued after the World War. Construction of the Holland Tunnel for vehicular traffic under the Hudson River was begun in 1920 by the Port of New York Authority and completed in 1927 at a cost of $48,400,000. The tunnel, used by an average of 32,500 vehicles daily, has been a money maker from the start. Twin tubes of two lanes each lie 72 feet below water level; the longer measures 8,557 feet (exceeding by 342 feet the length of the new Lincoln Tunnel at Weehawken). They are handsomely finished in white tile. Patrolmen are stationed at close intervals through the tubes. If a motorist has a flat tire, the nearest patrolman presses a button and within five minutes a tractor arrives. The tire is changed free or, if the driver has no spare, his car is towed from the tunnel without charge. Blowing of horns is prohibited because the loud echo might make the nervous driver swing over into the adjoining lane, thus breaking another rule. Air in the tunnel is changed every minute and a half by blower fans.

The city adopted the commission form of government in 1913. In that year Frank Hague, a Democrat who began his political career as a city hall janitor, was elected one of the commissioners. Four years later he became mayor, and he has since been continuously reelected by huge majorities. In addition to the mayoralty, Hague has held a vice chairmanship in the Democratic National Committee since 1924.

  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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