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Jersey City History - Addition History of Jersey City  - Early History of Jersey City New Jersey

By: J. Owen Grundy, Historian and Louis P. Caroselli, Corporation Counsel 1970

The territory comprising what is now known as Jersey City was a wilderness, occupied by the Lenni Lenape or Delawares, and governed by their tribal laws, until Henry Hudson, an English navigator, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, seeking another route that would not require the passing of the Spanish coast to the East Indies, and failing in his mission, found these shores. His little vessel about sixty tons, with a crew of twenty men, anchored inside Sandy Hook on September 3, 1609. He remained there nine days and made the acquaintance of the Indians, whom he found "civil and kind", made a survey of the area, including Newark Bay. On September 12th he sailed up to Communipaw, where Robert Juet, his mate, wrote in the log that was "...a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see."

After his return to Holland, the Dutch organized the United New Netherlands Company to manage this territory and gave it the name New Netherlands. The government of the company was vested in five chambers, nineteen delegates from these chambers, with one delegate chosen by the States General, (the government of Holland) formed an Executive Board, and this Board gave the Amsterdam Chamber the management of affairs in New Netherlands. In June 1623, New Netherlands was established as a province. One of the leading members of the Amsterdam Chamber was Michael Pauw, a burgermeister of Amsterdam and Lord of Achtienhoven, near Utrecht, who received a grant on the condition that he would plant a colony here of not less than fifty persons, within four years. He chose the west bank of the Hudson River, purchased the land from the Indians, and had the Indian chiefs join in the Deed with the Company and the Governor of the Province. This grant bears the date November 22, 1630 and is the earliest known conveyance for what is now Jersey City.

The first settlement was at Communipaw, which stretched roughly from what is now Johnston Avenue on the north to Caven Point on the south, where an indentation of New York Bay called South Cove or Communipaw Bay (now filled in by the railroads) reached up to what became Phillips Street, just east of Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks, along the waterfront. A house was built here in 1633 for Jan Evertsen Bout, superintendent of the colony, then called Pavonia. Shortly after, another house was built at Harsimus (about present Fourth and Henderson Streets) where Harsimus Cove, another indentation of New York Bay (also filled in) reached up to about the present line of Henderson Street. This second house became the home of Cornelius Van Vorst, who succeeded Bout as superintendent. These were the first two houses in Jersey City.

In March 1638, William Kieft arrived here as Director General or governor of the colony. He was a selfish and cruel administrator, whose bad treatment of the Indians resulted in a number of massacres that destroyed the tiny settlements. In May 1647, with the removal of Kieft, a new governor arrived. His name was Peter Stuyvesant.

Profiting from the sad experiences of his predecessor, he ordered that no new settlement could be established unless it was enclosed and fortified. On March 1, 1660, Teilman Van Vleck and others petitioned "to settle on the maize land behind Gemoenepaen," the Indian name from which Communipaw is derived.

This gave birth to the Village of Bergen, which reached from what is now Vroom Street on the south to Newkirk Street on the north and from Tuers Avenue on the east to Van Reypen Street on the west, with a tall log stockade built around it. What is now Bergen Avenue was the road that ran through its center, with gates and block houses at either end. A public square was laid out in its center, now Bergen Square. A well in the middle was the city's first water works. A log structure, which served both church and school, was the first church and school in New Jersey. On September 15, 1661, a court was established here, consisting of "Schepens" or magistrates, who acted as both Justices and Aldermen, or judicial and legislative officers. Tielman Van Vleck was the first "Schout" and Herman Smeeman, Casper Stienmets and Michael Jansen, (ancestor of the numerous and prominent Vreeland family) were the first "Schepens" - the forerunners of all Hudson County's long roll of political leaders and public officials.

Soon afterward, another settlement sprang up again at Communipaw, but it came under the government of Bergen. Its inhabitants reached Bergen by Jersey City's first road, which followed the present line of Communipaw Avenue up to what is now Summit Avenue, and up to Academy Street, which led to the school-house at Bergen Square, giving Academy Street its name. From the Communipaw settlement grew Lafayette, which was planned as a "suburban real estate development" by Keeney and Halladay, building contractors in 1856. Lafayette was never a separate municipality, however, but always a part of the Town of Bergen.

On May 25, 1664, an expedition sailed from England to seize New Netherlands, which the English were to claim by virtue of the earlier exploration of the Cabots. They secured the surrender of Stuyvesant and the Dutch on September 8, 1664. The following February, Philip Carteret was named Governor of the colony, which the English renamed New Jersey. He granted a new charter to the Town of Bergen, largely confirming all the rights and privileges the inhabitants had enjoyed under the Dutch. The boundaries in the new charter set forth an area that included all of present Jersey City and Bayonne. In 1672, a war broke out between England and Holland and the following year the Dutch recaptured their lost territory. Peace was established February 9, 1674, and under the terms of the Treaty of Westminister, New Jersey was restored to England. Philip Carteret resumed the governorship and Dutch rules were passed from these shores forever.

From that time to the American Revolution, the Town of Bergen was governed by elected officials, subject first to the Lords Proprietors and subsequent to 1703 to Royal Governors, named by the English sovereign and the Provincial Legislature, composed of the Council, (now State Senate), and the Assembly. Disputes over rights to common lands, (those lying outside the palisaded Village of Bergen) led to a new charter, "Queen Anne's Charter" on January 14, 1714, granting Bergen even greater powers of government. On December 7, 1763, the Legislature passed an Act providing for a survey of the land held under Patents, and an allotment was made of the common lands among the inhabitants. Commissioners were appointed to survey and allot the lands and they prepared a Field Book giving the boundaries and title of tracts. Completed in 1765, this was one of the most important events in the history of the Township of Bergen, under English rule. It ended the land disputes.

In 1693, Bergen County was enlarged and divided into three townships, namely, Township of Bergen, Township of New Barbados, and Township of Hackensack. Bergen being one of the first four counties in the state, having come into existence by an act of the General Assembly in 1682, which divided East Jersey into four original counties: Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth. The old Township of Bergen was constituted in 1658, twenty-four years earlier, and ran from Bergen Point, Bayonne to the northern boundary of present Hudson County. The area extending from the present dividing line between the States of New York and New Jersey was the original Township of Hackensack. The Township of New Barbados was roughly the area west of the Hackensack River, comprising the West Hudson municipalities of today.

All of what is now Jersey City was carved out of what was originally the Township of Bergen in the County of Bergen.

When the Township of Bergen was the only municipality between the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers, its affairs were managed by trustees chosen for life. Later, they were chosen annually by a plurality of voices. At this annual town meeting the freeholders were accustomed to gather and decide questions of general interest which were considered too weighty for the trustees. This meeting was presided over by a moderator chosen for the purpose. The town clerk was clerk of this meeting. The township was divided into road districts for better regulation of the highways and an overseer appointed for each. They were known by the names of Bergen, Gemonepa, Pemerahpogh, Sekakes, Wehauk, Maisland, (now New Durham), Bergen Woods, Bull's Ferry and Bergen Point. The polling place, within the present confines of Jersey City was at the Stuyvesant Tavern sometimes called Eagle Tavern, which was replaced by Tise Tavern located at the southwest corner of Bergen and Glenwood Avenues. Until 1709, Bergen Village, (around Bergen Square, Jersey City) was the county seat and the sessions of the court were held there, but after this date, the village of Hackensack was designated as being more centrally located and more easily reached by the majority of the inhabitants, and hence was chosen as the county seat of Bergen County (which it remains) and the courts were moved there.

The first official division of a part of what is now Jersey City into a separate municipality, with a government distinct and not beholden in any way to the Township of Bergen occurred on February 22, 1838, when the State Legislature adopted an act creating the "Mayor and Common Council of Jersey City," a new municipal corporation. Up to this time, Jersey City had been part of the Township of Bergen. The referendum of the inhabitants approved it. Dudley S. Gregory was elected the first mayor, and the members of the first Common Council were Peter McMartin, James M. Hoyt, Williams Glaze, Henry Southmayd, Isaac Edge, John Dows, John Griffith, Peter Bentley, Jonathan Jenkins and Ebenezer Lewis. The temporary "City Hall" was Buck's Hotel, 68-70 York Street, a large frame building with a team entrance on the eastern end. The Long Room was over the team entrance and here the Mayor and City Councilmen met. Sometime later, the old school house on the north side of Sussex Street, just west of Washington Street, was rebuilt and became a combination City Hall, municipal jail and school house.

This "original" little municipality called Jersey City grew out of the area known as Powles or Paulus Hook, a tract of solid land jutting out into the Hudson River, bounded by Harsimus Cove on the north and south cove or Communipaw Bay on the south, and separated from the marsh land on the west by a creek that had been enlarged about 20 feet in width, large enough for ordinary boats to pass. Warren Street was roughly its western boundary. This area was purchased from the Dutch West India Company by Abraham Planck. In 1698, it was purchased from Planck by Cornelius Van Vorst. In 1804 Anthony Dey, a prominent New York lawyer, acquired it and soon thereafter passed title to Abraham Varick, also a prominent New Yorker, who the following day conveyed the area to Col. Richard Varick (a former Mayor of New York who had been General Washington's aide-de-camp in the American Revolution), Jacob Radcliff (a former Mayor of New York) and Anthony Dey (a wealthy New York lawyer and cousin of Col. Varick). These three were the leaders of The Associates of the Jersey Company, whose charter was drafted by Alexander Hamilton. For fifteen years it possessed the government and shaped the destiny of the infant community.

Feeling the need for a stronger municipal government, the Associates petitioned the Legislature for a municipal charger and one was granted in 1820: "An Act to Incorporate the City of Jersey, in the County of Bergen." In the body of the Act, the name reads "Jersey City". Under this charter the inhabitants annually elected five landowners to the Board of Selectmen. The Act named Dr. John Condit, Samuel Cassedy, Joseph Lyon, John K. Goodman and John Seaman as the first board. On January 23, 1829, the charter was amended and the corporate name changed to "The Board of Selectmen and Inhabitants of Jersey City." However, the old name "City of Jersey" was still retained in the title. On February 22, 1838, the name was changed to the "Mayor and Common Council of Jersey City" and it was separated from the Township of Bergen. On March 8, 1839, its boundaries were extended westerly along the northerly side of First Street to the center of Grove Street, then southerly to South Cove or Communipaw Bay, or the line of South Street extended. The city was enlarged again on March 17, 1851, when a new charter was granted to include the Township of Van Vorst after a majority of voters in both municipalities voted in favor of the merger. Under this charter, the city was divided into four wards, each entitled to four aldermen. On February 28, 1861, the fifth and sixth wards were created, on March 21, 1867, the seventh ward, and on March 17, 1870, the eighth ward. Up to 1838, there was no Mayor, the President of the Common Council being the head of the city.

The Township of Van Vorst which was consolidated with Jersey City in 1851 came into existence March 11, 1841, when it was separated from the Township of Bergen. Its territory included the whole of what was once called Ahasimus or Harsimus. It was bounded on the north by a creek separating it from Hoboken, on the south by Mill Creek and Communipaw Cove, on the east by Grove Street and on the west it extended up to the base of Bergen Hill. When the new township of Van Vorst was separated from Bergen Township, it elected its own Township Committee, consisting of Cornelius Van Vorst, Thomas Kingsford, Matthew Erwin, Jeremiah O'Meara and Elias Whipple. It never had a Town Hall, The Township Committee met first in Bedford's Inn, south side of Newark Avenue, between Grove and Barrow Streets and later in Weaver's Arms, a tavern, on the south side of Newark Avenue near Jersey Street. At the time it merged with Jersey City, Van Vorst had a population of 4,725 persons.

The Town of Hudson was taken from the Township of North Bergen (which originally had been part of the Township of Bergen) and incorporated as a separate municipality on March 4, 1852. Powers were vested in five supervisors. On April 11, 1855, it secured a new charter, incorporating "The City of Hudson." Governmental powers were vested in a Mayor and Common Council.

Its Town Hall was on Oakland Avenue on the side of the old Third Precinct Police Station, which still stands. Its first Mayor was General Edwin R.V. Wright, and its first five Supervisors of Selectmen were Michael Fisher, William H. Danielson, Stephen Terhune, John Tise and Theodore McCabe. The City of Hudson extended from the Pennsylvania Railroad cut (at present Journal Square) to Paterson Plank Road, west of Mill Creek and Hoboken, and eastward to Penhorne Creek and Hackensack River. In 1854, it had a population of 2,633 persons. Its last Township Committee meeting was held April 30, 1870.

The Township of Greenville was created March 18, 1863. In its charter it was described as: "That part of the Township of Bergen, formerly known as Washington School District No. Three, bounded on the east by the New York Harbor, on the south by the Morris Canal, (which separated it from Bayonne) on the west by Newark Bay and on the north by a lane or road known as Myrtle Avenue." The first Township Committee of Greenville was composed of five members, John Wauters, Henry Van Nostrand, Peter Rowe, James Currie and George Vreeland, Sr. It never had a Town Hall. The Township Committee meetings were in various hired halls. The Township of Greenville went out of existence in 1873, when its voters by 261 in favor and 45 against voted to merge with Jersey City.

In the meantime, the old Township of Bergen, much reduced in size, remained. It extended from the Pennsylvania Railroad cut (at present Journal Square) on the north, to Myrtle Avenue on the south, on the east by Mill Creek and New York Bay and on the west by Hackensack River. What is now the Lafayette section, which included the old Dutch village of Communipaw, was included in the Town of Bergen. On March 24, 1855, Bergen obtained a new charter, becoming the Town of Bergen, with a Town Council of five members, with Garret Sip as its first president. Its population at this date was 4,972 persons. In 1866, the Town of Bergen was granted a new charter, providing for a Mayor and Council. Henry Fitch was elected the first Mayor of the Town of Bergen. The Town Hall occupied the upper floor of Smith's of Prospect Hall, which faced the public square, where Jewett, Storms and Fairmount Avenues converge. It burned down June 12, 1867, and the town government moved to the upper floor of Monticello Hall, corner of Monticello and Belmont Avenues, where it remained until Library Hall, which still stands at 704-708 Grand Street, was built on November 15, 1866.

In 1868, a new charter put an end to the old Town of Bergen and created the City of Bergen in its stead. John Hilton was elected first Mayor. Library Hall continued as the seat of the city government until the City of Bergen, through its last Mayor, Stephen D. Harrison, issued a call for a convention to consider consolidation. This was in 1869. Its last Board of Aldermen consisted of William H. Bumsted, David L. Holden, Henry H. Brinkerhoff, Issac Romaine, H. Sigler, J. Soper, James Stevens, M.D. Vreeland, William Van Keuren, Edgar D.B. Wakeman, Marcius H. Washburn and Issac Freese, Jr.

The Legislature passed a bill providing for a referendum on consolidation to be held on October 5, 1869 and on that date Jersey City, Hudson City, Bergen, Town of Union (sometimes called Union Hill which later joined with West Hoboken to form present Union City) and Union Township voted in favor of consolidation. Hoboken, Bayonne, Greenville, Weehawken, West Hoboken and North Bergen voted against it. Although the residents of the Town of Union and Union Township wanted to join the consolidated city, the Act provided that only contiguous municipalities could consolidate and therefore they were excluded. On March 17, 1870, the Legislature granted a new charter for the consolidated City of Jersey City consisting of former Jersey City, Hudson County and the Town of Bergen.

Greenville struggled on for a time, as an independent township, but it was having financial difficulties, mainly over the street improvements, and in 1873, as the result of a referendum (262 for, and 45 against consolidation) merged with the new City of Jersey City and Greenville ceased to exist as a separate identity.

Charles H. O'Neill, who was mayor of Jersey City, at the time of the consolidation, was now mayor of the greater Jersey City. The City government, in addition to the Mayor, consisted of a Board of Aldermen of twelve members, and Boards of Public Works, Police Commissioners, Fire Commissioners, Finance and Taxation, and Board of Education. The Mayor, Aldermen and Board of Education were elected. Members of Boards of Police, Public Works and Finance and Taxation were appointed by joint session of the state Legislature. Three police justices (now magistrates) were also appointed by the joint session. This method of selecting city officials was changed by another charter in 1887, providing for election of members of various municipal boards by the people of Jersey City, rather than the legislature, and thus home rule was restored. In 1894, changes were made in the city government by an act of the Legislature, with the result that many improvements were instituted such as new schools and improved streets. The last mayor under this form of government was H. Otto Wittpenn.

In the early days, the municipal government of Jersey City met in the old Lyceum at 109 Grand Street and, afterward, for a time on the northside of Sussex Street, just west of Washington Street. On April 1, 1961, the new City Hall was opened; it was at the southwest corner of Newark Avenue and Cooper Place. Behind it on Gregory Street, the police headquarters and city jail were located. The present City Hall, occupying the square block bounded by Grove, Montgomery, Henderson and Mercer Streets, was opened January 1, 1896, and continues as the seat of municipal government.

In 1913, the form of government was changed to the Commission form under the "Walsh Act." The commission consisted of five members elected by the people. Each headed a department as director and all executive and legislative powers were vested in them. They chose one among themselves as mayor who merely presided as a Chairman of the Board. The first commissioners elected were Mark M. Fagan, George F. Brensinger, A. Harry Moore, James J. Ferris and Frank Hague and Mr. Fagan, who had been a mayor under the old Aldermanic form, was chosen by his colleagues as the first mayor under this commission form of government. He headed the Department of Public Affairs, Bresinger was assigned to Revenue and Finance, Moore to Parks and Public Property, Ferris to Streets and Public Improvements and Hague to Public Safety, (which consisted of Police and Fire Departments).

In 1961, Jersey City abandoned the Commission form of government and adopted Plan C under the Optional Municipal Charter Law (Chapter 210 of New Jersey Laws 1950). The number of wards were reduced from twelve to six. The Mayor and three Council members are elected by the voters of the entire city and the voters of each ward elect one councilman, making a total of nine councilmen. The nine council members choose one of its members to be Council President. The Mayor is the chief executive of the city and appoints the heads of the various departments in the city and members of the Board of Education, as well as other municipal boards and commissions. This is the form of municipal government which is in existence in Jersey City today.

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