History of Hudson County and of the Old Village of Bergen/The Trust Company of New Jersey
The Trust Company of New Jersey
while workmen were excavating at Sip and Bergen Avenues for the foundation of the new eleven-story building of the Trust Company of New Jersey, they unearthed an ancient well. It was 45 feet deep, reaching down to a subterranean stream. The hollow logs that formed it fell apart as soon as they were handled. At such wells the early Van Vorsts, Van Homes, Van Winkles and others drew the water for the houses within the old palisades; and it was such a well, with troughs for cattle around it, that was dug in the center of Bergen Square
Old Dutch Well
If these men of 1660 had returned to Bergen a hundred years later they would have found no marvelous changes. Even in 1860 they would have found much that was unchanged, despite steamships and railroads, streets lit with gas, and busy factories. All local transport still was done with horses, there were enough cattle, sheep, pigs and goats at large to keep a pound-keeper fully occupied, the salt meadows were lively with flights of duck and snipe, and sea fish and sea turtle still were being taken in the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, the Kill von Kull, and in Newark and New York Bays.
It was left for the period within our own generation to change the world so colossally that today those Dutch ancestors would indeed imagine themselves to be among sorcery and witchcraft. Automobiles flash where they plodded behind oxen and fat slow horses. Where the old windmill on Paulus Hook ground corn less than a hundred years ago, there stand and float implements of commerce whose use they could not comprehend. Their descendants are shot in electric trains under that North River which they ferried with labor and fear.
Most amazing of all, however, would be the tall buildings; and it would be almost impossible for them to believe that the vastly reared piles of marble and granite are not palaces of their High Mightinesses the States General of rich Holland, but simply the modern successors of their little trading posts under trees where, with scales held in the hand, they weighed furs in exchange for wampum.
They would not know what to make of a modern banking institution with mighty steel vaults; for wampum, the currency of sea shells, was the leading medium of the New Netherlands during more of a century, and what little gold they possessed was "banked" in hiding places under the floors or in the gardens.
The sea-shell currency was known by the Indian names of wampum or seawant. The first Dutch arrivals found it in general use among the savages, and adopted it partly from choice, but largely from necessity. Dutch currency was not only scarce and precious, but it was unknown to the Indians, and thus it occurred naturally that the financial system of the new colony established itself on a shell basis instead of a gold basis.
The shells were of a special kind and occurred in two colors, black and white. The Indians prized the black shells at a ratio about double that of the white. To the Dutch traders it seemed immensely like making money by magic to obtain valuable furs for common shells; but as commerce grew, it happened inevitably that wampum could not be confined to trading with the Indians, and it had to be accepted by the Dutch in dealings among themselves.
Soon the "easy money" revenged itself as easy money always has done. Wampum was held to be worth a stiver for three black shells or for six white ones, and as twenty stivers equaled a guilder (about 40 cents) it encouraged many financiers to engage in the business of fishing industriously for the precious shell-fish. There was no law to forbid anybody from thus operating a submarine mint; and even if we repudiate Washington Irving's libelous insinuation that Director-General Kieft gave grants to his friends to rake and scrape every shell-bed from the Delaware to Cape Cod, it remains undeniable that the wampum financial system became frightfully inflated.
In 1690 there must have been almost a wampum panic, for the Council issued a Proclamation: "Whereas with Great Concern we have observed both Now and for a Long Time past the Depreciation and Corruption of the loose seawant, where-by occasion is given for repeated Complaints from the Inhabitants that they can not go with such seawant to the Market, nor yet procure for themselves any Commodity, not even a White Loaf, we ordain that no loose seawant shall be a Legal Tender except the same be strung on one string: that six white or three black shall pass for one stiver; and of base seawant, shall pass eight white and four black for one stiver."
The Old and New Hudson County Court Houses, Jersey City
Today wampum seems a ludicrously worthless currency; but centuries after wampum had vanished, governments and peoples continued to dream that government edicts and laws could establish values. There are no doubt many Bergen families that still possess, as historical souvenirs, such currency as the "shin-plasters" that were issued by Jersey City in 1862. Such money, issued by Federal, State and local governments, was, after all, simply a paper form of wampum; for, though it may have had more or less tangible value behind it, its chief characteristic was the value that had been given it by edict.
It was left for our own era to establish a financial system founded on a sound basis. How sound that basis is was proved when the great war broke on the world. This, the greatest economic catastrophe that the modern human structure has known, immeasurably more calamitous than any other that ever occurred, was borne by the financial system of the United States almost without a tremor.
Integrity of asset values is the one and only thing which made this extraordinary strength. The shock has been so tremendous that it tested the foundations of everything that man has devised, and only absolute soundness could resist it. But even had there been no catastrophe of war, the integrity of our modern American financial system has been tested in our time in a manner equally searching.During the past quarter century we have had a growth of commerce that has led us from terms of thousands of dollars to terms of millions, and from terms of millions to terms of many millions until we have learned to contemplate even such gigantic sums as billions. There could be no better illustration of this great change and growth than is presented in the records of the Trust Company of New Jersey. It is only twenty-five years ago since four men, schoolmates in their youth, A. P. Hexamer, Henry Mehl, John Mehl, Jr., and William C. Heppenheimer met in the office of Russ & Heppenheimer and organized the People's Safe Deposit and Trust Company. That was in the spring of 1896, and a bank was established at the corner of Hutton Street and Central Avenue, Jersey City, as Main Office, with a branch in the Town of Union. The venture was a success from its inception, as is evidenced by the first statement issued by the bank, covering the nine months ending December 31, 1896:
In the spring of the year 1899, the same group of business men concluded to organize a trust company in the city of Hoboken, operating as a branch of the People's Safe Deposit and Trust Company of Jersey City. They were met by the law of 1899, then on its final passage in the Legislature, preventing the operation of branches which theretofore had been permissible. Nothing daunted, they organized the Trust Company of New Jersey in Hoboken, which also was successful from the start.
In 1902, the Bergen & Lafayette Trust Company was founded in the Bergen Section of Jersey City, and in 1911, the Carteret Trust Company was organized and located in Journal Square at the Summit Avenue tube station, Jersey City. Both these companies were founded by the same men as the other two, and were similarly successful.
In 1913, the Legislature of the state of New Jersey passed an act permitting the consolidation of trust companies and their operation as branches with one main office. In accordance with this act, on the 20th day of September, 1913, the People's Safe Deposit and Trust Company with its branch in the Town of Union, the Bergen & Lafayette Trust Company, and the Carteret Trust Company all went out of existence and were taken over by the Trust Company of New Jersey, with Hoboken as the main office. Since that date the other institutions have been operated as branches under the names of People's Safe Deposit Branch, Town of Union Branch, Bergen & Lafayette Branch, and Carteret Branch.
The following gentlemen formed the Board of Directors of the consolidation which had thus become the Trust Company of New Jersey: F. E. Armbruster, George A. Berger, Ernest Biardot, Chas. A. Coppinger, Walter M. Dear, Robert R. Debacher, Lawrence Fagan, John Ferguson, Louis Formon, Ephraim De Groff, Joseph Harrison, Edward V. Hartford, Ernest J, Heppenheimer, Robert E. Jennings, Anthony R. Kuser, John P. Landrine, Edward P. Meany, Walter Meixner, Wm. L. Pyle, John T. Rowland, Jr., C. Howard Slater, Edw. H. Schmidt, Edward J. Schroeder, Emil Schumann and J. Hollis Wells.
The assets of the combined institutions at the date of their consolidation on September 20, 1913, were $17,656,778.78. On June 30, 1921, the total resources of the Company were $37,343,663.43.
With the completion of the new building at Bergen and Sip Avenues, Jersey City, it was decided by the Board of Directors to move the main office there. The Hoboken office thus becomes the Hoboken branch, continuing the same line of business as heretofore.