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Bayonne in History

Before the arrival of Europeans, Bayonne was the home to Lenni Lenape Indians. Dutch settlers arrived in the 1600's after the explorer, Henry Hudson, sailed past the future site of Bayonne, and claimed the area for the Netherlands. Bayonne was known originally as Bergen Neck, located south of the Dutch settlement of Bergen, the predecessor of Jersey City. The area came under British rule in 1664 after they defeated the Dutch. During the American revolution, British and American forces clashed at Fort Delancey in what is now Bayonne.

The completion of the Morris Canal in 1836 linked Bergen Neck with the rest of Northern New Jersey. Steamboats connected the peninsula with New York City as early as1846. Railroads came to Bayonne in the 1860's.

Residents of Bergen Township living between the Morris Canal and the Kill Van Kull formed the independent Township of Bayonne with a township council form of government in 1861. The municipal name was taken from Bayonne Avenue, a cross-town road that is today's 33rd Street. Bayonne united the villages of Bergen Point, Constable Hook, Centerville, Pamrapo and Saltersville. The township became the City of Bayonne with a mayor-council form of government in 1869. In that era, New York residents and America's gentry, including presidents and authors flocked to Bayonne to enjoy its resort hotels and beaches. The first mayor was Henry Meigs, Jr., President of the New York Stock Exchange. Bayonne was an early boat-building and yachting center. Its farmers, fishers and oystermen supplied the nearby New York market. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Bayonne urbanized and industrialized rapidly, becoming the home to thousands of European immigrants. The changing character of the community gradually eroded the resorts, farms and fisheries. IN 1877, the standard Oil Company took over a small refinery. By the 1920's, Standard Oil became the city's largest employer with over 6,000 workers. At that time, Bayonne was one of the largest oil refinery centers in the world.

During the progressive era Bayonne abolished the mayor-council form of government, and adopted the commission form in 1915. In 1962, Bayonne returned to a mayor-council form of government.
During World War II, Bayonne became the home of a large shipping terminal, 
built on man-made land jutting from the east side of the city into New York Bay. It was the site of the largest dry-dock on the Eastern seaboard and the location of vast naval supply center. Known as the Military Ocean Terminal (MOT), the facility became a US Army base in 1967. Ships carried goods from World War II to the Persian Gulf War and the Haiti mission in the 1990's. The City of Bayonne is planning the transformation of the base for new uses by early in the next century when the base is scheduled to close.

Bayonne is a community that retains many of the elements of a small town. One and two family homes, small apartment buildings, and small business predominate. There is a population of 62,000 people who take pride in their hometown and its history. Bayonne residents and their ancestors moved to the city from many parts of the world. During colonial times and the first century of the American Republic, the Dutch, British, and Africans were the first groups to arrive after the Indians. Subsequent waves if immigrants came from all over Europe, especially between the 1880's and the 1920's. In recent decades, Latin American, the Middle East, and Asian and Pacific countries have also been sources of immigration to Bayonne. Each group has left its mark on the cultural, religious, and political life of the community.

Bayonne homes are among the best urban housing stock in the state, with residents actively maintaining and improving their homes and property. Our schools, both public and private, are outstanding, and our youngsters achieve some of the highest scores and honors in New Jersey.
In the decades since World War II, oil refining and other traditional industries have declined, and have been replaced by container port operations and the service sector. The city once known as the Peninsula of Industry has restyled itself the Peninsula of Business and Technology. The city administration believes that Bayonne is set to begin a new era of economic development with new technology, new shopping malls and a civilianized ocean terminal.

Preparing to enter the next century, Bayonne is looking forward to the arrival of light rail service at two local stations in 1999, and three other stations after the year 2000. Bayonne has had a colorful history, and can look forward to a bright future with new businesses and infrastructure.


The first reference to Bayonne in history is in 1609 when Henry Hudson stopped there before proceeding on his journey up the river which would later bear his name. He called this tip of the peninsula which jutted out into Newark Bay, "Bird's Point". The Dutch as part of New Amsterdam later claimed this land, along with New York and the rest of New Jersey. In 1646, the land was granted to Jacob Jacobson Roy, a gunner at the fort in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan), and named "Konstapel's Hoeck" (Gunner's Point in Dutch). In 1654, additional grants were given and shelters were built as centers for trading with the Leni-Lennapes. Soon, they became enraged with the Dutch trading tactics, and drove out the settlers. A peace treaty was arranged in 1658, and the Dutch returned.

In 1664, the British gained control of New Amsterdam, and they called the future Bayonne, "Constable Hook", and later "Bergen Neck". It was part of the township of Bergen, which included present day Jersey City and North Bergen. Trading posts and woods gave way to homes and large estates. During the next century the area became the vacation spot for the socialites of the New World. The first industry did not settle there until the War of 1812, when the Hazard Powder House was built to provide gunpowder for the navy and the forts in New York Bay. In 1864, in order to speed the movement of troops and munitions, a railroad trestle was built over the Newark Bay and the railhead (the end of the line) was moved from Elizabethtown (Elizabeth) to the Bayonne area. 1n 1869, the area of Constable Hook, Saltersville, Bergen Point and Centerville were incorporated as the City of Bayonne by the State Legislature.

The founding of the Prentice refinery in 1875 marked the beginning of the city's change from rural to urban. Many corporations and industries became drawn to Bayonne due to the railroads and its proximity to New York City and other urban centers. These included many refineries most notably Standard Oil of New Jersey who laid pipelines to bring crude oil directly from Oklahoma and Illinois. These refineries squeezed out many of the remaining recreational and historic areas along the shoreline. In addition, these refineries polluted the land and surrounding waters with numerous spills, destroying fishing, boating, etc.

As for the name "Bayonne," I had always assumed it was named somehow after the town of Bayonne in France. I had also assumed it would be easy to check. I may be wrong on the first assumption, and definitely wrong on the second. Although I have many references to Bayonne history at my disposal, none mention how it was named. I am indebted to Bob Griffin of Bergen County Historic Books, Inc., for the following choices. Take your pick.

1. "First History of Bayonne, New Jersey," by Royden Page Whitcomb, 1904, pg.61

[quote] There has been some doubt as to the signification [sic] of the word naming the locality. It may have derived its name from Bayonne in France, being pronounced Ba-yon. There is a story that French Huguenots settled there some time before New Amsterdam was settled. They are said to have remained about a year. This, however is probably some old fireside legend, without a particle of truth in it. The author has searched, but can find nothing to give this story foundation. He was also told that when Erastus Randall, E.C. Bramhall and B.F. Woolsey bought the land owned by Jasper and William Cadmus, for real estate speculation, they called it Bayonne by reason of its touching the borders and being on the shores of two bays, Newark and New York - hence Bay-on, or on the bays. This in all probability, is the real origin of the name.[ unquote]

2. "Bayonne - Old and New," by Gladys Mellor Sinclair, 1940, pg. 15.

[quote] Bayonne was named, according to tradition, after Bayonne in France, pronounced Ba yon. It is said that French Huguenots settled here before New Amsterdam was settled. There is a tradition which seems to be without historical foundation that Bayonne got its name from the fact that it is located on the shores of two bays, Newark and New York - Bay-on or on the bays. [unquote]

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