Stephanie Daniels published Community History Project in Paulus Hook History 2023-03-07 18:58:39 -0500
Don't know much about history? You aren't alone, especially when it comes to the history of Paulus Hook - and Jersey City in general.
Join us for our first public Community History Project meeting on March 22 | 7pm-8:30pm
City Hall, 280 Grove Street | Caucus Room, Ground floor, Room 127
With support from the NJ Council for the Humanities, HPHA board members, Stephanie Daniels and Nirupa Umapathy, in partnership with the Historic Paulus Hook Association (HPHA) and the Museum of Jersey City History(MJCH) are putting their energy and passion into unearthing our rich history as part of the NJ Community History Project. We are calling it, Underground Jersey City: Where Am I?
And we want to know how you'd like to uncover Paulus Hook's history.
Join us for a discussion led by Bill Westerman, Sociology & Anthropology professor at NJCU and Martin Pierce, board president of the MJCH. Refreshments will be served.
THE COMMUNITY HISTORY PROJECT
Underground Jersey City: Where Am I?
WHAT'S THE PROJECT ABOUT?
Walk down any street in Paulus Hook and you are sure to pass sites of a multi-layered history, starting with the legacy of the first inhabitants of this land, the Lenni Lenape, a checkered era of slave ownership and slave trade from the time of the Dutch settlement in the 1600s and sites from the industrial age that have been replaced by high rises.
Much of this rich historical legacy lies in obscurity – unnamed and unidentified with the exception of a few landmarks such as the Morris Canal. The site of the Battle of Paulus Hook, for example, sports two identical signs that tell viewers they are on the site of “George Washington’s Flying Camp.” What does that even mean? What actually happened on that site? Those signs will never tell you.
WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?
Uncovering the obscured history of a place is exciting. Tell a neighbor what once stood on an empty lot and their eyes widen in disbelief. We saw this play out in real-time last June at a city-wide event, a bicycle ride for children where young riders set off on a scavenger hunt for clues using a map, so they could “find the fort.” When children and their parents rode up to the intersection of Washington and Grand - the site of the fort - they were greeted by HPHA board members and members of the Landmark Conservancy and the newly opened Jersey City History Museum, who happily recounted the story of the Battle of Paulus Hook. In the process people got a sense of what the land they were standing on actually looked like in 1779. The children were busy playing with their prizes – but parents were transfixed. They had no idea about any of the area’s history and were hungry for more.
THERE'S A LOT OF HISTORY HERE - WHERE DO WE START?
At the beginning, of course! Think of Paulus Hook before it had a name, the moment before Henry Hudson set foot on land. We will start at that moment-before in the early 1600s and describe the oyster beds that the Lenni Lenape dug, the salt marshes that made Paulus Hook an island at high tide the way of life of the first people who populated this part of the world. We will move forward in time to the Dutch settlers and the first settlement in New Netherland and dig into the Dutch West India Company that traded pelts with the Lenape and filled ships with lumber and other resources that they brought back to their "High and Mightinesses," the Dutch rulers in Amsterdam. We will take a good look at the Africans brought across the ocean to build New Amsterdam, and see how that played out on this side of the Hudson. We want to tell the story of how those who colonized Paulus Hook lived, with one another and with the Lenape. This first phase will end after the Pavonia Massacre, which resulted in over a hundred Lenape brutally killed and the Director of New Netherland sent back to Amsterdam to answer for his actions. Alas he never made it. His ship sank somewhere between here and there. He was replaced by Peter Stuyvesant who led the colonies until 4 British ships showed up in NY Harbor and he handed over the keys.
Digging into history is a little like reading a mystery novel - maybe you find out who dunnit in the end, but maybe not really. What you do find out in the process is why a place is the way it is.
WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY WANT TO DO?
Underground Jersey City: Where am I? intends to uncover the living past of local historic sites first of all, by identifying them. This project aims for interactive and storytelling rich formats of presentation and community engagement, creating a visceral connection to “place,” and the history upon which we reside.
If you want to know "how," well, that's where you, the public come in, because we don't really know yet. How best do you learn? How do you want to see history told?
WHAT IS COMMUNITY HISTORY?
Community History is inherently a collaborative and shared authority practice, which values the knowledge, expertise and perspectives of all stakeholders. As the name indicates, community is a key stakeholder in this form of history. A subset of public history, this history is designed to be accessible to non-academic audiences. Public historians work with communities to tell untold and underrepresented histories that are outside of dominant historical narratives.
OK, SO WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE CITY?
We anticipate that Underground Jersey City: Where Am I? will expand in time and move geographically through Jersey City as did the settlements, so ultimately the story of the years during and after the Revolution, Civil War, creation of the City and Industrial Age, will be told, giving Jersey City residents a more connected sense of place both within immediate neighborhoods and Jersey City at large.
Stephanie and Nirupa wrote the first grant to be part of a statewide NJ Council on the Humanities cohort that is being trained in how to think like historians, how to engage the community in the process and how to take the next steps to implement the project. We partnered with Martin Pierce from the Jersey City History Museum at Apple Tree House and Bill Westerman, anthropology professor at NJCU. To keep the project moving beyond Paulus Hook, our vision is for interested stakeholders in other neighborhoods to take up the mantle and continue digging. The ultimate goal is to make this a citywide project.
THE PROJECT TEAM
Stephanie Daniels arrived in Paulus Hook in 1990 and has served on the HPHA board since 2006. Currently, in her role as Vice President and content strategist, Stephanie drives community building through digital media. Stephanie spent much of her life in television and film and is an Emmy Award-winning television producer, who co-produced several feature documentaries for PBS, the Smithsonian, and Discovery Channels. Stephanie left broadcast television to work politically on the local level to forge change. Since 2014, she has campaign-managed two city council elections and headed up marketing and social media for the Jersey City mayoral campaign. She currently leads film initiatives and serves as creative director and director of website development for Jersey City. She serves on the Nimbus Dance board, where she was part of a 4-member committee, to create a 5-year plan as an organization that amplifies the multiculturalism and diversity of Jersey City. Stephanie is a fierce advocate for the open space that is Liberty State Park.
Nirupa Umapathy, board member/ community liaison for the HPHA, has been a resident of Paulus Hook since 2002. A native of south India, Nirupa is actively involved in the community as an organizer and social entrepreneur, who is deeply invested in issues pertaining to community connectivity, equity and access, and resilience building, especially in the face of rapid change. Nirupa is a co-founder of a women owned-women run-business, called Salons for Life. SFL organizes salons, facilitated with the lens to empower each individual to tell their story and share experiential wisdom in a peer learning setting emphasizing the power of creativity and connectivity. Nirupa volunteers with Welcome Home - an organization that aids the resettlement of refugees in Jersey City and beyond, and Friends of Liberty State Park- which actively advocates for the preservation of LSP as a public, protected open space.
COMMUNITY ADVISORY BOARD
John Beekman is a local history librarian and archivist in the New Jersey Room of the Jersey City Free Public Library. He has worked there since receiving his MLIS degree from Rutgers in 2006, becoming Dept. Manager in 2020. Prior to that he was a sheet music librarian at Tams Witmark Music Library, providing scripts and scores to musicals to amateur, school and professional theaters. He is a founding board member of the Museum of Jersey City History. He serves as co-editor of the H-Net forum for NJ History, H-New-Jersey, and is active in the NJ Studies Academic Alliance, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, and the New Jersey Library Association’s History and Preservation section, from which he received the 2022 Susan Swartzburg Award.
Martin Pierce is proud to be the first President of the Board of the Museum of Jersey City History (MJCH). For eighteen years I served on the Board of the International Institute of New Jersey; finally, as its president. The Institute assisted aliens, asylees, immigrants, migrants, and refugees in rebuilding shattered lives in a new welcoming community. During my tenure there, I happily contributed to making Jersey City the diverse, equitable, and inclusive place that it strives to be. I see a close connection between my work at the International Institute and my work at MJCH. In the increasingly globalized and socially conflicted Jersey City of today, the lessons of our distinct and unique past are more important than ever in preparing us to confidently face and overcome the many difficult challenges that confront us, by inspiring us to maintain the truly American spirit of our highest ideal: "liberty and justice for all."
Bill Westerman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, and coordinator of the program in Ethnic and Immigration Studies at New Jersey City University. In addition to a specialty in immigration, he has extensive experience in historical museums, having been director of the Historical Society of Plainfield, N.J. and the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago. He was a co-founder of First Friends of NJ and NY, an organization serving refugees and asylum-seekers, and worked for nine years at the International Institute of New Jersey here in Jersey City where he directed the Program for Immigrant Traditional Artists.
ABOUT THE NJ COUNCIL FOR THE HUMANITIES
Our Vision is a New Jersey that delights in diversity, appreciates that there are no easy answers, and finds joy and understanding in the humanities. We do this by enabling public programs and humanities experiences that deepen our understanding of ourselves and our world.
As a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, we ensure that public humanities programming is available statewide. NJCH is present in every Congressional District in New Jersey. Impact reports, detailing partnerships and programs, are provided to Congressional delegates annually.
Our longstanding Incubation and Action Grants allow us to serve hundreds of organizations across the state by providing opportunities to innovate or implement public humanities programs.
Throughout the pandemic, NJCH has helped encourage the recovery and resilience of New Jersey’s cultural sector by awarding CARES and ARP funding to organizations around the state. This funding, which was allocated through the NEH, was made available in two categories—General Operational Support and Program Support.
In 2020, NJCH awarded over $660,000 to 84 organizations as part of its CARES Act COVID relief grants program. Through that funding, we:
- Connected 1,230,913 New Jerseyans through virtual convenings
- Saved 120 jobs
- Reached 165,120 people with in-person programs
In 2021, as the pandemic continued, NJCH provided $1,003,297 in American Rescue Plan relief funding to 96 organizations.
On the corner of York and Van Vorst streets are two buildings currently obscured by sidewalk sheds. But look behind the sheds and you’ll see buildings with a long history. St. Peters Grammar School was built in 1861 and St. Peters Hall, also known as the auditorium building was constructed in 1898. The buildings tell a history of Jersey City's very humble beginnings as a place where immigrants made their homes and worked the docks, warehouses and factories, trudging home covered with dirt, grease or soap residue from the Colgate factory. Backbreaking work. They attended mass on Sundays and their children were taught by the nuns.
In the 1960s and 70s, when waterfront factories started closing, the children of these immigrants left for the dream of the picket fence and grass - a better life in the suburbs from what was one of the grittiest parts of the Jersey City called Gammontown, from the Dutch word gemeen, meaning “abandoned” or “vile,” because the waterfront neighborhood was infested with rats. The last St. Peter’s Church, a mid century modern building erected after the original church was demolished in 1958, was still open through the early part of the 2000s, but finally closed its doors. The demographic of Paulus Hook had changed and there was little need for three churches in the span of three blocks (another Roman Catholic and one Orthodox). The church and the two education buildings on York Street were purchased by St. Peter's Prep in 2004. The mid century modern church was repurposed as a cafeteria and the school on York Street in the older building held its last parochial school class in 2002. A charter school leased the buildings for a few years, but by 2011 St. Peter's Prep had other plans for the historic buildings.
In 2018 St. Peter’s Prep brought the case to demolish the Civil War-era buildings before the Historic Preservation Commission. They were directed to come back with more information to justify their request. In 2019 they did and the hearing resumed. The HPHA, along with a group of concerned Paulus Hook neighbors as well as many residents of the greater Jersey City testified at the hearing and the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously against demolition of the historic buildings.
Three years later St. Peter's Prep is now back to appeal the Historic Preservation Commission’s unanimous decision through the Zoning Board of Appeals. Again, the threat to demolish two historic buildings that they have deliberately allowed to deteriorate over the last two decades is very real.
There is a name for this: Demolition by Neglect.
What is Demolition by Neglect? Wikipedia says:
Demolition by neglect refers to the practice of allowing a building to deteriorate to the point that demolition becomes necessary or restoration becomes unreasonable. The practice has been used by property owners as a means of sidestepping historic preservation laws by providing justification for the demolition of historical buildings. In order to prevent demolition by neglect, a number of cities have adopted ordinances requiring property owners to properly maintain historical buildings.
We’ve seen it in other parts of Jersey City, 111 First Street, for example. Sadly, St. Peter’s Prep has a history of using the practice on other historic buildings. Their property at Warren and York streets was neglected, demolished and the property sold. A high-rise luxury residential building took its place.
St. Peter's is arguing the building is unstable after Superstorm Sandy flooded it, which their own engineers disputed on the record in 2019, saying, the buildings could be repaired - if the owner wanted to spend the money. The Historic Preservation Commission unanimously denied demolition then.
Historically, these buildings are significant and have the history to back up the claim.
The land for St Peter’s Church was deeded to the Church by the Associates of the Jersey Company – a group of real estate speculators that purchased the land with ferry privileges from Cornelius Van Vorst. Colonel Richard Varick, a lawyer and former New York City mayor was one of the three original stockholders and Alexander Hamilton was treasurer for the Associates. It was Hamilton who put together the original concept for Jersey City’s street grid. Note that back then, Paulus Hook was Jersey City.
The buildings are located in the Paulus Hook Historic District and are listed on the state and national registers. The grammar school is the oldest parochial school building in NJ. It may be the only pre-Civil War school building in NJ.
Aside from the long history of providing a place for the education of thousands of Jersey City residents, the Hall with its large stage and balcony was a gathering place for lectures, political rallies and other civic activities. In 1910, Woodrow Wilson launched his NJ gubernatorial campaign at St. Peter's Hall.
Why should you take a stand for these buildings?
- SPP has a legal and moral responsibility to maintain their buildings- just like the rest of the building owners in Jersey City. Allowing Demolition by Neglect is a dangerous precedent to set in Jersey City.
- Allowing a building to deteriorate by neglect shouldn’t be allowed because of who you know; the rules can’t be only for the rest of us.
- SPP knew the legal responsibilities when they purchased the historic structures: to conform to the historic preservation ordinance as they’ve done so with many of their other buildings in Paulus Hook.
- Their own engineering and architectural reports have concluded that the buildings could be saved, so why demolish? Has any stabilization been done to address the concerns noted in the engineer’s reports?
- The buildings are a valuable asset of the historic district. To be placed on the State and National Registers is an arduous process that requires multiple levels of review and justification. The buildings were not accepted for the registers because they were pretty, but because they have strong local, state, and national significance.
- Demolishing the structures will undermine one of Jersey City's most valuable and stabilizing resources - the remaining historic structures and districts throughout the city
The HPHA has entertained several proposals for the site of the buildings from SPP over the years including a high rise building and most recently, a parking lot. Does anyone really believe they are going through all this for a parking lot? Note that at-grade parking lots are not permitted uses in historic districts and are considered bad and retro city planning.
When Sandy damaged our historic homes, we repaired them. We would not have been permitted to demolish them if we'd wanted to. Why should different rules apply to St. Peters? And why should they be rewarded for neglecting their buildings?
What can you do?
Contact your representatives - Council President Joyce Watterman, Council at Large Danny Rivera and Amy DeGise, Ward E Councilman James Solomon, Ward F Councilman Frank E. Gilmore and Mayor Steven Fulop with your comments. They need to hear from you!
A BRIEF TIMELINE
1621-1664 - Dutch West India Company declares the land theirs, calls it New Netherland and builds the first settlement on the west bank of the Hudson River at what is now Paulus Hook. The British take control of the Dutch colonies and it doesn't go well.
1779 - Deep into the Revolutionary War, Major Light Horse Harry Lee attacks the British-held fort and against all odds, takes the fort in the Battle of Paulus Hook.
1804 - After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton, President Washington's former Treasury Secretary, helps found the Associates of the Jersey Company. Paulus Hook is subdivided into lots for sale and free distribution to churches. Later, St. Peters Parish erects its first of three churches on Van Vorst St. at the NE corner of Grand St.
1861 - St. Peter's Parochial School is erected at 155 York Street. It may be the only non-residential Civil War era building left in downtown Jersey City.
1898 - St. Peter's Parish Hall and Parochial School (for upper grades) is erected at 137 York Street.
1910 - Woodrow Wilson launches his NJ gubernatorial campaign at St. Peter's Hall and Parochial School.
1980 - Paulus Hook Historic District is formed to protect historic buildings within its boundaries from demolition. The St. Peter's buildings are not only protected but are on the National Historic Register. Paulus Hook historic district boundaries are north/south from Montgomery to the canal; east/west from Marin to Greene Street.
2002 - St. Peter's Grammar School (the two buildings by then function as one) ceases operations.
2004 - St. Peters Preparatory School purchases school buildings and the adjacent church building from the Newark Archdiocese.
2004-2011 - The buildings have numerous uses, including a charter school, book sale location, sports practice, etc.
2011 - Active use of the building ceases.
2012 - Superstorm Sandy Hits Jersey City
2019 - St. Peter's Prep files with Jersey City Historic Preservation for the right to demolish the two historic buildings on the grounds that Superstorm Sandy has undermined the building's structure. St. Peter's own engineers testify that the building is reparable. HPHA and neighbors launch campaign to preserve buildings. St. Peter's loses bid to demolish with a unanimous HPC vote.
2022 - St. Peter's Prep files with Zoning Board of Appeals to appeal 2019 Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission decision.
RESOURCES FOR A DEEPER DIVE
The image on the right is from the 1919 Plat Book, Jersey City/Bayonne Page 2. See the original map HERE
Will they Pave History and Put up a Parking Lot? NJ.com
Stephanie Daniels donated 2023-11-25 18:53:56 -0500
- To be a member of HPHA, an individual must be over 18 years of age and a resident, property owner, or business owner within Paulus Hook. Annual membership dues are $10 for individuals.
Benefits of membership include:
- Know about plans affecting the quality of life in Paulus Hook by attending our monthly meetings, visiting our social media pages and reading our monthly E-Newsletter and community email updates.
- Attend events sponsored by the HPHA including our Annual Earth Day Cleanup, our weekly Farmer's Market and our HPHA Book Club.
- Receive special offers and attend events sponsored by our HPHA Business Members.
- Influence decisions that affect our Paulus Hook community by making your voice heard at our meetings.
- Join our board! Members that attend three general meetings qualify to run for a position on the board.
- Make new friends! Our members look forward to having you join our organization. We are always looking for new ideas and we are excited to hear your vision for the future of Paulus Hook .