History Happened Here

Paulus Hook’s rich history dates from its first people, the Lenni Lenape who came for the oyster beds on the shores of its estuaries; there wasn’t much to live on - just a little piece land that jutted out into the Hudson River, an island at high tide. Settled by the Dutch in the early 1700s, who were sent by their “high and mightinesses” to establish the first NJ settlement, Paulus Hook was then fought for, won and lost by the British after 1779. All have left their mark, but those marks aren’t so easy to see anymore. The salt marsh around the little island has been filled, the street grid that was designed and developed by the Associates of the Jersey Company, among them Alexander Hamilton, has seen the little settlement grow - first, Italianate Victorian homes, then factories and railroad tracks carrying people and industry to the waterfront. Some demolished for new offices and residential buildings, some lovingly restored.

History Happened Here intends to uncover Paulus Hook’s history, from its churches, reserved as sites on the earliest maps, to its checkered role with slave-ownership, to its becoming a working class neighborhood during the Industrial Revolution, where residents labored in the dirty, rat-infested factories along the waterfront in “Gammontown” after the Dutch word, “gemeen,” meaning “dirty” or “shabby.”

Our goal is to ultimately create an interactive map of places and what happened at those places – a narrative of events and people across timelines that does not currently exist. Working with our partners, the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy and the Museum of Jersey City History, and funded by an incubation grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, History Happened Here is an early prototype. We invite you to follow our journey through the centuries and give us input on what you - the community - want to see, hear and engage with.

To download a PDF of the full map and accompanying text click here.

Think you've seen everything in Paulus Hook? Preservationist, John Gomez and our partner, the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy challenge you to Go on a history hunt!

map of Paulus Hook noting historical sites


Wedged between private residences on Grand Street, remain two red-brick apartment properties, known as Whittier House. Founded as a social settlement house by Cornelia Foster Bradford during the Progressive Era, Whittier House served the immigrant poor of Jersey City from its beginnings in December 1893 through the Great Depression. The Boys' and Girls' Club of Jersey City partly traces its origins to Whittier House. 


Built between 1840 and 1850 to support the new growing city, the firehouse is an example of the type of Italianate, non-residential row house that is common in the district. It has come to the rescue of frightened cats, put out fires large and small.


This mid-century building — no longer a church but a community hall for St. Peter’s Prep — was once the site of the pioneer Catholic parish’s second Gothic edifice, built in 1865 by the great Irish American architect Patrick C. Keely. This stately building was first damaged in the infamous munitions explosion of 1916, at what is now Liberty State Park across from Paulus Hook’s south cove, then flooded in 1950 and finally collapsed, leading to its demolition. The modern building was dedicated in 1961 and offered the first Spanish-speaking services in Jersey City and later masses in Tagalog. Its Pop Art-era stained glass windows were crafted by Simon Berasaluce of the Hiemer & Co. studios of Clifton.


St. Peter’s Prep opened for business on September 2, 1878, at the Saint Peter's College building on Grand Street. Starting with seventy-one students, the number grew to 123 by year's end. Academic degrees were first conferred on June 25, 1889. To accommodate ever increasing demand, St. Peters inaugurated a new building on the corner of Grand and Warren streets in 1913.



The site was designated as a "super lot" in the first 1804 Mangin planning map of the not-yet-developed Paulus Hook. It was erected in 1852 as a Dutch Reformed Church, seen on the right. The Russian parish was established in 1907 by immigrants. Some masses are still offered in Russian and the walls of the church are filled with art murals and icons that span the 19th and 20th centuries.





Our Lady of Czestochowa was originally built between 1830-1835 as St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, making it Hudson County’s oldest standing house of worship. Its roof being rebuilt after an 1869 fire, the building was sold to a Catholic mission in 1905; OLC parish was officially established here in 1911 to serve Paulus Hook’s Polish immigrant population, where Polish masses were offered as late as the 2000s. OLC’s site was one of two “super lots” designated as church grounds by the Associates of the Jersey Company on the 1804 Mangin Map.


Dudley Sanford Gregory was Jersey City’s early industrialist mover and shaker. Making his fortune in lottery and banking businesses, he became an investor in property in the formative Jersey City. He had a hand in several early industries and a seat on several railroad boards. He served as the first Mayor of the independent city, and two more nonconsecutive terms after that, as well as other government posts. In addition to developing many rows throughout Paulus Hook, and elsewhere, in 1834 he built his own mansion at the corner of Washington and Sussex St. where PS16 now sits.


On August 19, 1779 at what is now Paulus Hook Park, a British-held fort was attacked by Major Light Horse Harry Lee and his bedraggled band of American Patriots. They had gotten lost along the way, had to ford the high tide with soaked, unusable muskets but were victorious in taking back the fort for the Patriots. To commemorate the Battle of Paulus Hook the Daughters of the American Revolution erected an obelisk in 1903 at the center of the intersection of Grand and Washington Streets. The park appeared in maps throughout this period as Washington Square Park. As early as 1919, maps indicate a playground at the southwest quadrant of the park. PS 16 was built adjacent to it in the 1920s.


A year after she had started the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in Nottingham, England, Mother Cusack Francis Clare purchased the Grand Street house in 1885. According to her biographers, Cusack’s mission was to establish a chain of residences for immigrant girls where they might find help in getting jobs and protection from exploitation and unhealthy living conditions.” The elevated Italianate-style row house was built in 1857 by local carpenter and builder, Jacob J. Banta (the son of Dutch immigrants). Charles Wakeman first purchased the handsome three-story house of soft reddish-brown sandstone. In 1989, the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace founded the York Street Project in a downtown Jersey City townhouse at 78 Grand Street, now a residence for the working sisters. 


The “Old Beehive” is New Jersey's oldest mutual savings bank and was state-chartered in 1839 with a mission of assisting Jersey City’s immigrant poor. Co-founded by Dudley Sanford Gregory (1800-1874; Mayor of Jersey City, 1838-1840; 1841-1842; 1858-1860), the bank’s main late-19th-century branch building in Paulus Hook features historical murals executed by Ruth Wilcox and were dedicated in 1948. 


The grand Jersey City Post Office at Montgomery and York Streets was built in 1911 by the Hedden Construction Company as an Italian Renaissance design building. Prior to 1853, post offices were typically located at the home or business location of the postmaster. In 1853 Jersey City was designated for first-class postal status due to its volume of mail and from hereon, a dedicated building was assigned for the post office. An old frame building at 255 Washington Street became its postal facility. In 1873, the US Congress appropriated $100,000 for a new post office but not enough for a new building. The city, therefore, purchased the former residence of Jersey City's first mayor, Dudley S. Gregory, at Washington and Sussex Streets. Over the years, it was extended and renovated but could not accommodate the growing volume of mail.

Built in 1911, the new main post office opened to the community in 1913. The façade on Washington Street has fluted Corinthian columns and carved capitals flanked by piers with Corinthian-style pilasters. The pavilions on the Montgomery and York Street facades also have Corinthian-order pilasters. The two-story building with a basement and attic is 177 feet by 129 feet. The roof is copper, and the exterior window and door frames are cast bronze and bronze-covered wood, iron, and steel. Before you walk up the wide steps to mail something, stop and notice the bronze lights, mostly oxidized green now, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Shhh. The building is also said to have a jail in the basement!


On the bank of the Hudson River on Greene Street the massive windmill, built in Brooklyn, was used to grind grain into flour in the early 1800s. When Isaac Edge immigrated to Jersey City in 1806, he commissioned Burmley and Oakes to build a windmill, patterned after his father’s mill in Derbyshire, England. Completed in 1815, the seven-story octagonal brownstone tower, erected on a 100-foot-long foundation, became a landmark for ships approaching the Hudson River from the Upper Bay. In 1839, the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Co. (Later the Pennsylvania Railroad) bought Edge's property to build Exchange Place, at which point the windmill was relocated to Southhold, Long Island. It was later destroyed in a fire.



A horse-drawn railroad connecting Paterson to Jersey City opened in 1832, the first of many railroads that would come to occupy almost all of the Hudson County waterfront by the early 20th century. In 1839 the New Jersey Railroad Company purchased Isaac Edge’s Greene St. property and its waterfront development rights, and began filling in the land that would become its depot, even as it was engaged in the massive project of creating the “Bergen Cut” (now used by PATH) to allow longer, steam-driven trains to cross the city. In 1853 the railroad acquired the ferry rights from the Associates of the Jersey Company. In 1858 the Pennsylvania Railroad had taken over and by 1859 the block was known as Exchange Place. In 1892 the “new” terminal with its distinctive arched design defined the view of Jersey City from the Hudson, and in the new century Public Service trolleys converged to bring commuters and travelers to the trains and ferries from throughout Hudson County.

In 1891, the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed an elevated steel trestle to raise the railway between Colgate and HendersonStreets, eliminating the dangers to pedestrians inherent to grade crossings, reducing insurance rates from fewer casualties. In 1950, the Pennsylvania Railroad ended ferry service at Jersey City, and abandoned their service along Railroad Avenue. In 1965, the last piece of trestle came down at Grove Street. In 1979 the former railroad Avenue was renamed Christopher Columbus Drive.



William Colgate began moving production operations for his starch and soap business to Paulus Hook in 1820. The starch factory was located to the west, at Colgate Street, and the soap factory on York St. near Greene St. A century later the Colgate Factories had expanded to take up the waterfront from Morris to Montgomery Streets, from the river to Greene Street. A 1917 warehouse building on the west side of Greene St. is all that remains, along with the iconic Colgate Clock, now found at the Morris Canal Basin.

Many Paulus Hook residents spent their entire working lives at “Colgate’s”. With stories of soap bubbles frothing from the sewer grates when it rained and the taste of soap always in the air, Colgate expanded to cover the waterfront from Morris to Montgomery, between the river and Greene Street. A 1917 warehouse building on the west side of Greene St. is all that remains.


The octagonal Colgate clock, facing Manhattan, was inaugurated on December 1, 1924, by Jersey City's Mayor Frank Hague. Located on the former site of Colgate-Palmolive & Company, the clock's design was inspired by the shape of a bar of Octagon Soap, first manufactured by Colgate in 1887 as a laundry cleanser. The clock's surface has a 50-foot diameter, is 1,963.5 square feet, and is fitted into a structural steel framework. The timepiece could be adjusted and was set within one minute of accurate time. A small master clock at Colgate's plant reception office checked the time against the US Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. In 1988, when Colgate left Jersey City, the clock was removed from the corporate building and re-installed as a freestanding landmark on the Goldman Sachs property. It was moved to its current location, which is leased from the state, in 2013. 


Built by the Morris Canal & Banking Company to carry primarily coal from the Delaware to the Hudson, the Morris Canal was an engineering feat that extended 102 miles across rivers, lakes, and land elevations from Phillipsburg to Jersey City until the early 1900s when it was replaced by rail and other modern modes of transportation. At its peak in the 1840s-1860s, the route was believed to be used as a vital escape route on the clandestine Underground Railroad, with a terminus at the Paulus Hook canal lock where Dudley and Washington streets intersect on the banks of the Hudson River. 



Otto Matthiessen and William Weichers established a sugar refinery on Washington Street in 1868. The sugar factory grew, eventually displacing the Dummer brothers’ glass and porcelain works of the 1820s. In 1907 the building that became the Sugar House Condominiums was built as a sugar warehouse. In 1921 the sugar business was relocated to Baltimore, and a 1924 fire at a nearby saltpeter factory gutted most of the buildings. The warehouse was purchased for use by Colgate in 1942 and later sold to developers.


The only surviving business after the 1924 saltpeter explosion was Onyx Chemical, founded by the Berman family in 1913. The company manufactured antiseptics and ingredients for cleaning and sanitizing products, and grew to occupy several sites. If in the 90s after it rained, you happened to walk by the brownfield where the factory once stood you’d hear bullfrogs and would have to step around the little toads hopping around the sidewalk. The factory closed in 1987.


Look down! Imprinted into the sidewalk on Van Vorst St. is an engraving of the actual size and shape of a mule-pulled canal boat. This is the path where the Morris Canal continued west through Jersey City to reach its ultimate goal at the western New Jersey border on the Delaware River.



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