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A Guide To Its Present And Past
Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of New Jersey
American Guide Series

Originally published in 1939
Some of this information may no longer be current and in that case is presented for historical interest only.

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003
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Part 2

To seamen, as well as to visiting New Yorkers, River Street is the heart of Hoboken. An almost unbroken row of saloons, with cheap hotels and cats above, stretches along one side of this broad, paved street. On the other side are the entrances to the piers on Hudson River, protected by high wire fences. During the arrival and departure of great liners, River Street resounds to the rattle of innumerable trucks and taxis, the footsteps of excited, hurrying travelers and their friends. Between times the street is a Rialto of the seamen of all nations, interspersed with stevedores and longshoremen. The swinging doors of the many saloons admit tieless workmen in blue denim shirts, or loitering sailors looking for a berth. In larger backrooms the seafarers meet the local citizenry to dance at night to the music of small jazz bands, mechanical pianos or phonographs, or drink beer at small tables with checkered cloths.

Nothing more strikingly illustrates the post-war change in America's maritime life than the stories of River Street's yesterdays, and its life today. The River Street saloons, the sailors' boarding houses and resorts have been known the world over to sea-faring men for generations. The shoptalk of the seven seas was town gossip on River Street sidewalks. Strangers from inland could listen wide-eyed to casual stories of hardship and adventure, of hardboiled captains and wily owners, of nautical feats of sail and steam. Today the same saloons and sidewalks are still frequented by the jerseyed men of all nations who bear unmistakable stamp of their seafaring life. But the talk among these seamen is of unions and labor probproblems, of fabulous financing of steamship corporations as viewed from sailars' eyes, of horsepower and turbines and tonnage. The tang of the sea still permeates River Street, but the sailor has turned from a hardbitten adventurer into a trade unionist of a mechanized, technical craft.

Through this same area are taverns and dance halls of a different type where a respectable German clientele finds quiet entertainment reminiscent of Continental cafes, and excellent food, served in the best German tradition. There are larger places with old-fashioned fixtures, decorated mirrors, and cut-glass doorways outside swinging doors. Hoboken has been famous for its beer since 1642, though none is brewed here today.

Smoke-dirtied factories at the northern end of the city manufacture a variety of metal, chemical, food, leather, and foundry products, furniture and technical equipment. Ten steamship lines, three of them carrying passengers as well as freight, and five railroads, one of them serving only manufacturers in the city, make Hoboken a transportation center.

The majority of the population is of Italian extraction, although the German, Irish, and Polish nationalities are well represented. Most of the workers are employed in the factories, on the railroads, or on the docks that line the water front.


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