History of Hudson County and of the Old Village of Bergen/The Nineteenth and Twentieth Century

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The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


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he first important changes in Bergen and its surrounding territory were brought by the development of transportation, and this development was due chiefly to the rapidly growing business between New York and Philadelphia. Stage route terminals on the North River meant short ferriage as against the bay ferriage involved in the alternative New Brunswick-Amboy-Staten Island route. The thoughtful ferrymen of Paulus Hook did not permit the public to remain blind to it. Their advertisements are full of humane warnings against the "Dangers of the Bay." It was not a trifling consideration in the days before steam, when even the river ferriage was an adventure. The first river ferries were rowing skiffs or, more simply, canoes of hollowed soft wood logs. The river was no more tranquil than it is now and its width was far greater, for today there are parts on both shores where more than a thousand feet have been filled in. As late as 1816, the mail was carried across in rowboats, and we have a dramatic narrative of a twenty-four hours' battle to rescue a mail carrier and his negro boatman from the ice-pack. Another narrative, not so well authenticated, but so pleasing that it ought to be true, is that of a Dutch planter and his wife who were in mid-stream when "a large fish leaped into their skiff" and knocked a hole into it. With admirable intelligence the honestly built wife sat on the critical spot and by virtue of
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Bergen in 1841

her many and vast petticoats defeated the river's passionate attempt to sink them.

As traffic increased, rowboats were supplemented, though not driven out, by sailing craft of a type known as periagua—a word presenting such difficulties to the casual spellers of the time that nearly every reference in early print enriches us with a different version from "peraga" to "pettiaugre." They were built of white-wood, modeled largely on the plan of the dugout, and in time were made large enough to carry horses and carriages.

Early in 1800 the ferrymen installed "horse boats" propelled by horse-driven machinery. They held their own for many years after the Albany Gazette announced that "The North River Steam Boat (Robert Fulton's "Clermont") will leave Paulus Hook on the 4th of September (1807), at nine o'clock in the evening. Provisions, good berths, and accomodations are furnished. The charge for each passenger is as follows; Newburgh, fare $3, time 14 hours; Po'keepsie, fare $4, time 17 hours; Esopus, fare $5, time 20 hours; Hudson, fare $5+12, time 30 hours; Albany, fare $7, time 36 hours."

John Stevens who had bought Hoboken in 1804, installed the first steam ferry in the world in 1811. It made its trial trip in September and ran between Hoboken and Barclay Street, New York, but before long the horse boat was reinstated. Similar lack of success attended the installation of the steam ferries "Jersey" and "York" built by Robert Fulton for the York and Jersey Steam Boat Ferry Company and put into operation in 1812. Although an enthusiastic account had it that "we crossed the river in 14 minutes in this safe machine," cynics alleged that the safe machines, more often needed an hour, and that when the "York" and the "Jersey" met in midstream there was time for painfully long contemplation before they succeeded in passing.

These ferries were not small. Their length was 80 feet, only 20 less than that of the "Clermont" which was considered

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One of the Early Steam Ferries

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A Stubborn Competitor of Steam, 1830

a great vessel. There were two hulls braced with the paddle-wheel suspended between, and with a deck over all 30 feet wide. The passengers sat in the open, but there was a hold for refuge in bad weather.

In 1816, the company had succeeded in earning only one dividend (of five per cent), which explains why Philip Howe who leased the West Hoboken or "Weehawk" ferry in 1821 contented himself with two sailboats and a horse boat. John Stevens also adhered to sail and horse after abandoning his first steam ferry, and did not try steam again till 1822. By that time, however,it had become practical. The Canal Street ferryboat "Pioneer," which went into commission in 1823, had a ladies' cabin warmed with open fireplaces and was lavishly decorated.

In land transporation, steam met similar difficulties. In 1830, Peter Cooper's locomotive "Tom Thumb," with Peter
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One of the First Steam Trains, 1831

Cooper himself in charge, was sadly defeated by a stubbornly unprogressive stage proprietor who raced it with a single horse hitched to the same kind of coach that was drawn by the locomotive. All the stage companies in the land spread the glad news. They also told with infinite joy how the foolish and heinously dangerous locomotives showered passengers with flaming wood embers so that they had to protect themselves with hoisted umbrellas which, alas! caught fire themselves. Therefore though optimists went on laying rails, the stage business continued to prosper so healthily that in 1832 at least twenty stage lines were crossing Bergen in all directions.

In that year the Paterson and Hudson Railroad completed its tracks and began operation with a rolling stock of "three splendid and commodious cars each capable of accommodating 30 passengers, drawn by fleet and gentle horses." Locomotives were introduced a little later, but with excellent caution the company announced that "the steam and horse cars are so intermixed that passengers may make their selection & the timid can avail themselves of the latter twice a day." This is the road that was absorbed by the Erie Railroad and served as its route to tide-water till the Erie Tunnel was pierced in 1861.

The main stage route to Philadelphia in early 1800 is supposed to have been about along the present line of Grand, Warren, York and Van Vorst Streets, crossing a marsh at Mill Creek, following a road to old Prior's Mill, and connecting with the Old Mill Road. An old Eighteenth Century plank causeway over the meadows to Newark that "trembled under foot" was replaced about this time by the Newark Turnpike. It had dangers of its own. The records show that the great cedar swamps on both sides had to be burned off to drive out robbers.

By 1813, four stage lines were in hot competition for the New York-Philadelphia business. The title "stage-waggon" became too tame for these fervid rivals, and one of them invented the titleof "machine." Mightily stirred by this poetic imagery, another named his stages "flying machines." From that day so long as a stage survived, every self-respecting stage driver referred to himself as operating a flying machine. The fastest flying machine of 1813 left New York at 1 p. m. and did not fly into Philadelphia till 6 a. m. next day.

In 1820 the disintegration of Bergen Township began with the incorporation of the City of Jersey, re-incorporated in 1829 as Jersey City. Except for a moderate increase in population, the teritory in that period was little different from its aspect and manner in the old days. There were comparatively
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Park's Homestead. (Vroom Street and Bergen Avenue)

few inhabitants not of Dutch descent, and Dutch habit and thought were dominant. There were no buildings except dwellings and farm structures, and practically all the dwellings were of the stoutly typical long, low, comfortable Dutch style. From their ridge the Bergen men, looking down on what is now lower Jersey City with crowded factories and piers, saw a shore-land that still was largely amphibious, and when high tide covered the marshes, they could still distinguish the three "islands" that originally comprised the only solid land in that tract. Paulus Hook was the same pile of sand as in the beginning, with little except fishermen's huts here and there besides the race track and ferries. Northern Jersey City's water-front was practically empty save for a ferry house. Hoboken's Elysian Fields held unmarred the beauty which had won the high-sounding title, and a single little tavern sufficed to entertain holiday makers there. The placid population made barely enough employment for the single Court at Hackensack and for a few local Dutch justices of the peace. It was a happy land that made no history.

Steam was winning, however, and soon its early demands gave a great impetus to the mechanical hand-crafts that it was destined to destroy. Jersey City, which had only about 300 inhabitants at the time of its incorporation in 1820, is credited in a record of 1845 with having 4000 population at that date. Among its larger industries were the works of the American Pottery Company, the Jersey City Glass Company employing about a hundred men, a famous fireworks establishment, a candle factory and many shops owned by individual mechanics. There were two foundries. One was Fulton's at the

The Monitor, 1862

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corner of Morgan and Greene Streets, and it was at this foundry that some of the first ironclads for the Civil War were fabricated later.

Fulton also had a dry dock. It appears to have had ample business, for by 1845 the water-front business had become sufficient to justify the building of a vessel, the "Dudley S. Gregory," constructed at Burlington expressly for Jersey City trade. Two years later, Jersey City celebrated the docking of its first Cunarder, the "Hibernia."

Bergen adhered to its agriculture and other old ways longer than the surrounding communities. Its inhabitants looked serenely down on Jersey City's accumulating factory chimneys and saw its increasing bustle and wealth without apparent desire to emulate it. Years after gas had made the streets below their height look like far-trailed strings of beads, they remained content with candles and sperm whale oil, and as late as 1858 there were only 60 gas consumers on the whole ridge.

Bit by bit its less restful constituent parts broke away, much as the offspring of the good old burghers themselves was breaking away from the good old customs. In 1837, Bergen County's opulent girth was sharply reduced by taking away enough to make Passaic County. In 1840 another legal operation set off the County of Hudson. Bergen Township was like a fine Dutch cheese exposed to busy mice. It was nibbled at from all sides. In 1841, two years after full rail traffic had been opened between New York and Philadelphia by the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company, Van Vorst Township was nibbled off. Another nibble in 1842 bit off the
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Bergen Square, 1812. (From an Old Print)

part north of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and made North Bergen from which Hudson City and Hoboken were set off before 1860. By the time Bayonne and Greenville had been cut out of Bergen, it was in much the same condition as the old families whose ancestral plantations had been reduced by successive street encroachmentsto mere town lots. When, in 1868, a new charter was given to the City of Bergen, its area had decreased in inverse ratio to its wealth and real estate valuations. Finally, on March 17, 1870, popular vote consolidated Bergen, Hudson and Jersey City into the Greater Jersey City.