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Genealogical History Of Hudson And Bergen Counties New Jersey

Originally published in 1900
Cornelius Burnham Harvey, Editor

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

JOHN HILLRIC BONN, the founder of the present system of street railways in North Hudson County, and one of the most enterprising and successful men of his day, was born in the City of Norden, East Friesland, in the extreme northwest of Germany, September 14, 1829. There he received his early education tinder private tutors and at the national and classical high schools. He sprung from an honored and respected family, his parents being people of great energy and force of character, and as a boy developed those strong intellectual and moral traits which characterized his entire life. His father was for many years a successful master of vessels in the East India trade, and with him Mr. Bonn visited the East Indies as a youth. This enabled him to acquire, at an impressionable period, a liberal knowledge of the world.

Subsequently he attended a nautical school near Amsterdam, Holland, passed the difficult and intricate examination before the Royal Examining Committee in that city, and was awarded the first degree. But lie was not destined for a life on the ocean. From the autumn of 1845 to October, 1850, lie was employed by a firm in Emden, East Friesland, which conducted an extensive commercial, shipping, and banking business. In October, 1850, he left Germany and came to New York City, where lie accepted a position as bookkeeper and English and French correspondent in a large Greek shipping-house. Two years later, having saved some money, he invested in real estate in North Hudson County, N. J., and also became a permanent resident there, and as soon as he could legally do so he became a citizen of the United States. These relations goon resulted in making him a man of commanding influence. In 1856 he spent considerable time in traveling it America and Europe, and in October of that year was married to Miss Angelina Bonjer, of Emden, East Friesland. In April, 1857, he brought his bride to this country and took up his residence in Weehawken, Hudson County, whence he later removed to Hoboken. They returned to Weehawken in 1867 and made that city their permanent home, settling on the spot formerly owned by Daniel Webster, the statesman. There Mr. Bonn died on the 15th of November, 1891.

Mr. Bonn probably did more Than any other one man to develop and improve Northern Hudson County, and to stimulate enterprise and the growth of population. He was untiring in his efforts to secure for that section those permanent improvements which to-day make it so easy of access and so attractive to both residents and visitors. He was a founder and a prominent member of the first Board of Regents of the Hudson County Hospital. In 1868 he was appointed by the late Hon. Joseph D. Bedle one of a commission of seven authorized by the New Jersey Legislature to lay out and improve the public streets on the heights of Hudson County, which include West Hoboken, Union Hill, West New York, and other territory. Upon the organization of this commission Mr. Bonn was unanimously chosen chairman by his colleagues. For various reasons the plan which had been contemplated by the commissioners was not carried out, although the inception and construction of the magnificent Hudson County Boulevard issued from the movement. In 1872 Air. Bonn also became chairman of the Board of Commissioners which supervised the improvement of the Bull's Ferry road from Nineteenth Street in Hoboken, northerly, and which also built the main sewer in Hoboken to the Hudson River, this public work being completed in 1875.

But his most notable work, and one to which he devoted the best energies of his life, was in connection with the surface and elevated railways of the northern half of Hudson County. He was the founder, originator, and father of the present system of transit. He commenced the construction and operation of street railways in 1859, and soon had lines radiating in every direction from the Hoboken ferry. His investment in this enterprise proved wonderfully successful. He was the first, and indeed the only, president of the various original corporations; and when these were consolidated in 1865, forming the North Hudson County Railway Company, he became the first President of that corporation, and so continued until his death in 1891, a period of twenty-six years. During that time the several lines were extended and improved, new roads were built, and the system placed upon its present efficient basis. In 1874 he built the first steam elevator in Hudson County, and with this the streetcars, with the horses attached, were lifted to the top of the bluff, the process requiring but one minute. In 1884 he erected the elevated railway from Hoboken to Jersey City Heights, an iron structure ranging from fifteen to nearly one hundred feet high. This road was originally operated by cable, and was the first elevated road so operated in the United States. All these roads have adopted electricity as the motive power. In 1890 the great Weehawken elevators, of which Mr. Bonn was the originator. were begun, and on their completion, on October 23, 1891. he made the first trip in them with several other gentlemen. The elevators were formally opened to the public April 26, 1892. These great railway and ele- vator enterprises may be regarded as the best work of his life, though they were by no means the sum total of his remarkable achievements. As important and necessary public works, however. they represent a mail whose foresight and energy proved the wisdom of his judgment.

Mr. Bonn had no inclination for and never held political office, except that of Superintendent of Public Schools in the old Township of North Bergen, to which he was elected in 1857, on both tickets. He held this position one year. He held the respect and confidence of the entire cornmunity, and was noted for his benevolence, kindness, and generosity.

Mr. and Mrs. Bonn were members of the German Lutheran Church of Weehawken, and were active in both religious and charitable work. Of their eleven children four died young, and two sons, John H., Jr.. and Hillric J., are mentioned in the following sketches. Mr. Bonn was chiefly influential in bringing out the German-American Encyclopedia, a work of eleven volumes, and the first of the kind in the United States.


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