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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
Visit the Web Site of Hoboken Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo

Part 3

As early as 1640, the Lenni Lenape Indian territory of Hobocan Hackingh (land of the tobacco pipe) was settled by the Dutch of New Amsterdam. Shortly after, the Indians, aroused by a ruthless Dutch massacre in 1643, drove the settlers out and burned all the buildings with the exception of a brewery. The first in America, it had been built in 1642 by Aert T. van Putten, one of the earliest settlers. Peter Stuyvesant bought the land back from the Indians and later his relatives sold it to Samuel Bayard.

Very little occurred to differentiate Hoboken from other towns in New Jersey before the coming of Col. John Stevens, inventor and financier, who bought the whole area for $90,000 when the extensive land holdings of William Bayard, the Tory grandson of Samuel, were confiscated and ordered sold by the Bergen Court of Common Pleas. In 1804 Stevens mapped the territory into what he called the "New City of Hoboken" and auctioned the lots in New York.

Stevens put into service in 1811 the first regular steam ferry in the world, the Juliana. As early as 1808, however, he had operated the Phoenix, a steamship of his own design, as a ferry. He was forced to abandon the venture when Robert Fulton, who had secured sole rights to steam travel on the Hudson, objected. The Phoenix, sent south to Delaware River, was the first steamship to navigate at sea.

Colonel Stevens also devised the first iron floating fort, never completed although huge sums were spent on it; he drew plans for a vehicular tunnel on the bed of the Hudson, and for a bridge from Castle Point to Manhattan. In 1824, after arguing the feasibility of railroad transportation with doubting capitalists, Stevens built a locomotive and, on a circular track in Hoboken, conducted the first successful run in the United States.

Hoboken soon acquired world fame as a resort. Beer gardens, fireworks, mountebanks, and waxworks brought New York's citizens over in droves, and the beautiful country so close to the metropolis attracted society people and literary and artistic celebrities. John Jacob Astor built an extensive villa on the city's shores; Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, Martin Van Buren, and other prominent people vacationed here. In Hoboken was founded the New York Yacht Club with John Cox Stevens, son of the colonel, as its first commodore. Organized baseball had its beginning in Hoboken. The first game was played in 1846 on the Elysian Fields by Hoboken's Knickerbocker Giants and New York.

The River Walk was soon packed hard and smooth by pleasure-seeking visitors, and Sybil's Cave became a lovers' rendezvous. The cave figured in one of Hoboken's early scandals when the body of Mary Rogers, a pretty young New York tobacco shop clerk, was found floating in the river near the entrance. Edgar Allan Poe based his story, The Mystery of Marie Roget, on the newspaper accounts of the murder.

Hoboken's separation from North Bergen and its incorporation as a city in 1855 marked the beginning of a new development in its history. Industrialists were attracted by the ease of communication with New York and the advantages of the water front. An influx of labor, mainly Irish, came with the industries. Later the Hamburg-American Line made Hoboken its American terminus.

A $10,000,000 fire that resulted in 14.5 deaths broke out in the North German Lloyd line dock on the afternoon of June 30, 1900. Two blocks of the water front blazed, and several ships, including the Main, Bremen, and Saale, endangered shipping as they floated burning into the harbor. The fire probably started from a burning bale of cotton which, tossed overboard from a cargo ship, ignited a wooden pier.

When Hoboken was chosen as a major point of embarkation during the World. War, strict military rule was imposed on the city. Anti-German feeling rose quickly and with disastrous effect on the German families who had made their homes here. The United States seized the larger portion of the steamship properties as a war measure and has held them ever since.

The labor required for the shipment of war supplies brought the population to an abnormal high. After the War, the exodus of many workers caused the failure of a number of businesses established during the boom.

During 1928 and 1929 Christopher Morley and his associates brought back the sophisticated New York crowds that once pressed into the two old theaters by presenting the melodramas of another generation. After Dark and The Black Crook kept the Rialto and Lyric alive with eager sightseers; "Seidel over to Hoboken" became a national phrase. But the competition from Harlem was too strong in 1929. The novelty-seeking crowd drifted away, and the theaters were closed, to reopen as third-run moving picture houses.


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