Friday, July 30, 2010

Pre-Industrial History of Hoboken

The first Europeans to settle the area now known as Hoboken were the Dutch. In 1630, via a system of "patroonships" that the West India Company employed to settle its territory in New Netherlands, Michael Pauw purchased the land that would later become Hoboken and Jersey City from the Lenni Lenape Indians who inhabited the region. Pauw had been attracted to the area because of its proximity to Manhattan, which had recently been selected as the capital of the province. Pauw's instincts were correct: almost four hundred years later, the area he chose continues to be prized for its location. He named the area Pavonia, the Latinized version of his name, which means "peacock.

According to the patroonship arrangement, Pauw was required to bring 50 colonists to settle his land, but the West India Company grew impatient with the lack of development in the area and the erratic behavior of Cornelis Van Vorst, who Pauw had appointed director of the territory. Within a few years, they bought the land back from Pauw.

The early Dutch inhabitants of the area were mostly farmers, but during this period there was evidence of the ingenuity to come as residents founded America's first brewery in Hoboken. The following description of Hobuk, as it was then known, comes from a letter written in 1685 by a George Scott, of Edinburg:

"[There] is a good plantation in a neck of land almost an Island, called Hobuk. It did belong to a Dutch Merchant who formerly in the Indian War, had his wife, children and servants, murdered by the Indians, and his house, cattle and stock destroyed by them. It is now settled again and a mill erected there, by one dwelling at New York."

The conflict with the local natives referred to in the letter above was quite likely a byproduct of William Kief, governor of New Netherlands, and his Indian policy -- which was not known for its diplomacy, and in fact has been cited as the impetus for a number of violent encounters between European settlers and Native Americans that took place in the region at that time.

Provided by Donna Antonucci
Prudential Castle Point Realty

In 1663, Governor Peter Stuyvesant awarded Hobuk to Nicholas Verlett. His granddaughter married a man named Robert Hickman, who sold the land to Samuel Bayard in 1711. Bayard built a country estate at Castle Point, a high, rocky outcropping that overlooks the Hudson and Manhattan. Decades later, during the American Revolution, his grandson William, a devout Tory, ran into trouble after he joined the British army. The estate was raided several times and set ablaze by a party of foraging Patriots in 1780. After the war, the Bayard property was confiscated and sold by the government for $90,000 to Colonel John Stevens, who had fought in the Revolution on the side of the Americans.

Colonel John Stevens had plans for Hobuck, which he quickly renamed Hoboken. He created a six-mile path along the Hudson, known as the River Walk, and a mineral water spa called Sybil's Cave. He built a tavern and a hotel, and a large stretch of woods and meadows was turned into an expansive garden called the Elysian Fields that became a favorite resort for upper class Manhattanites looking to get out of the city. Years later, in 1846, this was the site of the first organized baseball game, played between the Knickerbocker Club from Manhattan and a local team called the New Yorks. There was a six cent fine for cursing and a two bits charge for questioning an umpire's call. After four innings, the Knickerbockers fell behind 23-1, at which point they abandoned the game in favor of a visit to the nearby tavern.

Knowing that the key to cultivating a successful getaway destination was to make Hoboken accessible, Stevens expended a great deal of effort investigating and developing transportation methods. In 1811, he launched the nation's first regular steam ferry service, between Manhattan and Hoboken. In 1825, he created America's first working locomotive, which ran around in circles on a small, round track. The engine had to be imported from England, but the event was nonetheless indicative of the direction Hoboken was headed.

By the late 1800s, the great Delaware, Lacckawanna & Western Railroad converged with the Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd shipping lines on the Hoboken shoreline, where ferries shuttled passengers back and forth across the Hudson. Since 1908, the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) subway train has provided continuous service between New Jersey and Manhattan.

Colonel Stevens seems to have endowed his progeny with a similar bend for progressive engineering. Robert Livingston Stevens, a gifted engineer and railroad pioneer, created the country's first yacht club in 1844. A spare-time sailing enthusiast, he designed a racing yacht for his brother, John Cox Stevens, called the America. In 1851, John Cox took the ship to victory in a series of races off the coast of the Isle of Wight in England, thus spawning the America's Cup sailing series. In 1870, Edwin Stevens founded Stevens Institute of Technology, the oldest college of mechanical engineering in the country.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Hoboken was the seat of a vast shipping and industrial complex, in no small part thanks to the planning of the Stevens family. After Colonel Stevens' death in 1838, Hoboken property was owned by the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, which was controlled by the Stevens family and ended up constructing many of the houses and buildings that remain in Hoboken today. As the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company began to sell off its land to industries, the character of Hoboken changed from a weekend resort to bustling business center. Between 1900 and World War I, more than 250 manufacturing plants took up residence in Hoboken. In 1889, there were just over three thousand manufacturing employees in Hoboken; by 1909, that number had increased threefold.

The primary industry during Hoboken's days as an industrial capital was shipbuilding, but at various times the city was home to industries that created a litany of products that have since become household names: Lipton Tea; Maxwell House Coffee; Hostess. The Tootsie Roll, slide rule, zipper, and ice cream cone all were born in Hoboken.

Hoboken's harbor was an important dock for German shipping vessels, and, thus, the boats arriving from Germany with immigrants. In 1890, around 40 percent of the city's population was composed of immigrants, over half of them from Germany. Yet when the United States entered World War I on the side of Britain and France, this all changed. The U.S. government seized control of Hoboken's piers and the German ships docked there. Martial law was declared in sections of the city, and many Germans were sent to Ellis Island. Thousands of Germans left Hoboken, and soon the city became known for its large Italian population. Meanwhile, the government made use of the docks, sending some two million U.S. soldiers through Hoboken's piers, to and from the war in Europe, where they were told to hope for "Hell, heaven, or Hoboken" by Christmas.

The city's economy was devastated by the commercial freeze of its piers during World War I. Yet shipbuilding and the waterfront remained important, although increasingly Hoboken's shipyards developed a reputation for corruption. In 1948, Malcolm Johnson, a reporter for the NEW YORK SUN, wrote a series of stories about corruption, crime, and murder along the waterfront. Johnson won a Pulitzer Prize for the articles and six years later they were made into a Hollywood movie. Filmed almost entirely on location in Hoboken, Elia Kazan's ON THE WATERFRONT used actual longshoremen as extras. Hoboken native Frank Sinatra was nearly used for the starring role until Marlon Brando, Kazan's first choice, accepted the part at the last minute. It is said that Kazan hired a bodyguard for the filming and that thousands of dollars were siphoned away to pay off landlords and suspicious dockworkers.

In the 1950s and 60s, the new importance of air travel and the development of containerized cargo, necessitating deep water ports, increasingly undermined the Hoboken waterfront, which fell into a state of disrepair. Many of Hoboken's industries moved away or closed up shop during this time, and the city was considered something of a post-industrial wasteland until the 1970s, when suddenly Manhattan-bound commuters began to take interest in Hoboken's generous stock of affordable brownstones and townhouses. In the 1990s, a major waterfront renovation project turned Pier A into a park, and Manhattan-based companies began to see the city as a viable alternate office location. Today, Hoboken's plethora of bars, restaurants, public transportation, and reasonably priced housing -- not to mention, as always, it's proximity to America's largest city -- render it a charming tassel upon the metropolitan bonnet of greater New York.

Provided by Donna Antonucci
Prudential Castle Point Realty

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