I’ve set out on a journey to learn a little more about each neighborhood in Jersey City; its history, architectural details, landmarks and any other interesting anecdotes I come across.
Let’s start with Paulus Hook, shall we?
When I started asking around for a good resource on the neighborhood, all signs pointed to Diane Kaese, President of the Historic Paulus Hook Association (HPHA) and an active community member, rollerblader and Jersey City map lover.
Diane’s been in Paulus Hook since 1985, back when the Onyx Chemical plant was still in town and oil spill clean ups would fill her block with soap suds that reached the second floor windows. Needless to say, she’s been here long enough to see the landscape change dramatically.
When I asked her what her favorite spot in Paulus Hook was, she said, “I don’t know if I have one. What makes it for me is the people. My favorite spot can be talking to the gelato guy who’s back in town, or having a jousting conversation over at the Light Horse Tavern, or speaking with locals who have been here longer than I have. My favorite spots are all over the place.”
Let’s start with the basics —
Where is Paulus Hook?
The boundaries vary a bit depending on what map you’re looking at, but roughly Montgomery, Hudson, Dudley and Van Vorst Streets.
A BRIEF HISTORY:
How it got its name –
In 1630, Michael Paulez, an agent for the Dutch West India Company (a group of merchants that colonized land back then) was put in charge of a swampy, marsh area that resembled more of an island at high tide. Paulez was anglicized to Paulus (or “Powles”) and was combined with the Dutch word “hoeck” which translates to “point of land” that juts out into the river. The neighborhood then became known as Paulus Hook.
A bloody past –
In 1643 the neighborhood was home to turf war known as the Pavonia Massacre or Kieft’s War between the Native American tribes and the Dutch colonists. The colonists were afraid of an Indian uprising so they preemptively attacked and killed over 100 Native Americans.
In 1779 the Battle of Paulus Hook takes place – a major turning point in the Revolutionary War.
In 1804, Paulus Hook gets a planning grid from the city and starts to become a residential neighborhood.
“The houses here vary,” said Diane. “We have some very high-end houses and we have what we call ‘mews’ or ‘worker houses.’
Diane explained, “Paulus Hook was essentially a series of islands that got filled in over time. If you look at what flooded during Hurricane Sandy, it was the same areas that were low on the 1800s maps and where the land had to be filled in to build houses on top of.’
‘During the Civil War the waterfront began to develop commercially and by the 1920s factories dominated the area; Colgate Palmolive being one of the biggest. According to HPHA’s website, ‘Older residents remember that when it rained, soap suds would fill the gutters; and on any given day, the air held the smell and taste of soap.’”
By the mid-1970s, the Colgate Corporation sought to expand its campus around Jersey City and began buying up properties but became infamous for demolishing buildings within 24 hours of sale. “They would buy something up and tear it down the next day,” says Diane. And so began what she refers to as the “missing teeth” of the neighborhood; lots that remained vacant and purposeless for many years.
Paulus Hook Park
The four corners of Washington & Grand Streets
In 1903 the Daughters of the American Revolution erected the obelisk monument to commemorate the former battle site but as horse-driven carriages made way for motor vehicles, the monument kept getting hit by cars. The city dismantled the monument and promised to restore it but immediately lost all the pieces. What stands today is a replica.
The U.S. Post Office
Corner of Washington and Montgomery Streets
Designed by James Knox Taylor, a Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury who designed hundreds of post offices around the country in the Beaux-Arts Neoclassical style. He sourced the granite from Mt. Waldo and the bronze window frames, sashes, railings and postal boxes from Tiffany Studios in Jersey City.
The Colgate clock
End of Essex Street
The Colgate Clock was erected in 1924 and originally housed on a rooftop of the Colgate-Palmolive company campus. Its octagon shape was designed to mimic one of Colgate’s early products; Octagon laundry soap.
174-178 Grand Street
Founded in the Progressive Era by Cornelia Foster Bradford, this was a settlement house for the poor. Bradford was a radical social reformist, abolitionist and a fierce advocate for prohibition and women’s rights. She had worked at settlement houses in East London and Chicago, offering assistance to poor urban residents which inspired her to found the Whittier House. Her goal was to improve living conditions in the neighborhood and the house quickly became ground zero for many social reform initiatives such as a free kindergarten, women’s club, dental clinic, library, pawnshop and a base for classes in stenography, sewing, dancing and cooking.
It is named for her poet and friend John Greenleaf Whittier. The motto for the settlement is a quote from one of his poems; “He serves thee best who loveth most/ His brothers and Thy own.”
During the depression, Bradford retired and the city took over the house, turning it into one of the earliest outposts for the Boys’ Club of America. Today it’s condos.
The majority of brownstones and residences that populate the neighborhood were developed as single family homes between 1840 -1880s, but by the 1930s most had been converted to tenements.
Much of the ornate lattice and cornice details adoring many of the brownstones seems artisan today but was no more than factory-produced embellishments in the mid to late 1800s. “You can equate it to Levittown,” Diane said. “These were not architect houses. It’s the same idea when you go into suburbia; these are tract houses.” I was surprised to learn that a repetitious design element denotes the same builder who simply bought the building materials of that time, not a particular architect’s signature.
A note about the Historic Paulus Hook Association:
HPHA is fighting the good fight to keep Paulus Hook great. You can credit them for confronting city redevelopment plans head-on with major corporations, befriending our city councilpersons, and creating what they call the “construction principles” of the neighborhood; enforcing noise ordinances, making sure the green space is sustained and that when 1,000 construction workers come in to build a tower, they use public transportation and don’t take up all the parking spaces.
“We’re known for driving a hard but fair bargain around here,” Diane said. “When these corporations come into the neighborhood what we want to know is; what are you bringing to the table? Don’t just bring over more people; we want to know what they’re going to contribute to the neighborhood. You have to come to Paulus hook with that attitude. You have to invest yourself.”
HPHA meets on the first Wednesday of every month where you can keep up to date on their neighborhood initiatives, including their renovation of Paulus Hook Park. Construction will break ground in the spring of 2016 and include a playground, multi-leveled amphitheater-style seating and more. Find out more at: www.paulushook.org
Below is a gallery of photos from and around Paulus Hook: