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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

Jersey City
Part 5

Speculative New Yorkers cast appraising eyes upon the site of Jersey City in 1804, immediately after Col. John Stevens' auction of lots in Hoboken. John B. Coles, a flour merchant, laid out city blocks in the Bergen area. Anthony Dey, a young New York lawyer, acquired land and ferry for a perpetual annuity of 6,000 Spanish milled dollars.

Dey's company was incorporated as the Associates of The Jersey Company under a charter that made the organization, in effect, the civil governing body. The real estate boom, however, was anything but resounding. Although a red brick tavern was built and a few small industries came, the political domination of the Associates hindered growth. Another obstacle was New York's claim to riparian rights up to the low-water line on the Jersey shore, which hindered the building of piers and wharves. The boundary dispute was unsettled for many years.

Steam ferry service began in 1812 with the Jersey, built by Robert Fulton. A passenger reported that the crossing was made in fourteen minutes as thousands watched from both shores, all "gratified at finding so large and so safe a machine going so well."

During this period, when the population consisted mainly of boatmen and transients and the town had neither jail nor policemen, the Hook became known for dog fights, bull baits, and drunken brawls. Efforts to obtain an autonomous government were balked by the Associates, who had great influence with the legislature. Finally the citizens succeeded in incorporating the City of Jersey in 1820, but the Associates retained special powers until 1838.

The year 1834 was a turning point in the city's growth. A treaty setting the line between New York and New Jersey in the middle of the Hudson River, while New York got Staten Island, gave the city access to its own water line. Terminals of the New Jersey Railroad (later the Pennsylvania) and the Paterson and Hudson Railroad (later the Erie) were established in Jersey City. Horse-car service to Newark, begun in September 1834, was replaced by steam in 1838. Meanwhile the Morris Canal, with its western terminal on Delaware River, had been extended from Newark to Jersey City in 1836.

Several important industries had already been established. As early as 1760 the Lorillard Tobacco Company had started a snuff factory. In 1884 the firm opened a night school for the 250 children then employed. Dummer's Jersey City Glass Company, later famous for its flint glass, began operations in 1524. The fireworks factory built by Isaac Edge Jr. became a training school for American pyrotechnists. Some of the foremost American potters learned their trade at the plant of the American Pottery Company, which was one of the first factories to compete successfully with leading English producers.

Other industries included Colgate soaps, Dixon pencils, steel, paper, beer and whisky. By 1860 the population was 29,000, an increase of almost 150 percent in nine years. Jersey City opened its first stockyards in 1866, and it was also for a time the western terminal of the Cunard Line, beginning in 1847.


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