A Rich History Of A Hidden Treasure -- Newport!
In a world filled with wonderful and exotic communities, one stands out as the most sophisticated of them all: Newport in Jersey City.
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Directly across from Manhattan's World Trade Center, Newport's skyline is an imposing addition to Jersey City's Hudson River waterfront. Unique in the annals of urban living, this $10 billion "total living" community was conceived and set in motion by the Lefrak Organization, pioneers in urban renewal and in the development of advanced shelter and new-town concepts of housing.
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Though rich in history, the Newport site in recent years had become nothing more than rusting railroad yards, abandoned warehouses, and rotting piers. However, through the vision, experience, and resources of the Lefrak Organization, the rich potential of the site was perceived and the process of revitalization launched. Today, the Tri-State Metropolitan area can claim as its own one of the largest and most advanced communities in the world.
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Newport has a long, rich history, reaching back to when all land west of the Hudson River was considered the American Frontier.
In the twilight of an illustrious career, which included the distinction of serving as America's first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, gazing at the site from lower Manhattan, predicted: "One day a great city will rise on the west bank of the Hudson River."
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Hamilton, though, was not the first to see the potential of this land. As long ago as 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the river that would later bear his name, the allure of the west bank was apparent. Hudson and his crew on the Half Moon found the land "as pleasant with Grasse and Flowers, and goodly Trees, as ever they had seen." Hudson claimed the site and everything surrounding it for Holland.
Initially, entrepreneurial Dutch merchants who had financed Hudson's expedition were disappointed that their explorer had failed to locate a water route to the Orient; but they consoled themselves with reports of fertile soil, an agreeable climate, and an abundance of fur-bearing animals whose pelts were in demand by the European elite. Anticipating lucrative investment opportunities, they dispatched additional ships carrying itinerant trappers. In 1624, the Dutch West India Company sent permanent settlers to the southern tip of Manhattan. From a small cluster of homes protected by a palisaded fort grew New Amsterdam.
Six years later in 1630 Michael Pauw, a Dutch burgomeister, purchased two large properties from the Leni Lanape Indians. Situated on the western banks of the river, opposite New Amsterdam, the price was "certain parcels of goods." The northern tract was known to the Indians as Hobocan Hackingh. The southern tract consisted of two parts, Harsimus or Ahasimus and Aressick, and extended southward from the present Jersey City-Hoboken boundary. Pauw called this land Pavonia, basing his choice upon the Latin spelling of his own name, pavo, which means "peacock." It was in this area that Newport would be built.
Pavonia soon became the funnel through which inland trappers and Indians transported their pelts to New Amsterdam. Envious of the potential of this site, Pauw's fellow directors of the Dutch West India Company thwarted his ambition to be patroon over thriving plantations by forcing him to resell his land to the firm for 26,000 florins. In 1634, the Company resumed jurisdiction over the west bank and hired as its agent a convivial Walloon named Cornelius Van Vorst who built his home near the present intersection of Fourth and Henderson Streets. Fond of French wine and involved in the politics of the growing colony of New Netherland, which encompassed both sides of the river, Van Vorst was a generous host. These tastes brought him to temporary grief in 1638 following a day of lively conversation fueled by quantities of Burgundy. To give his guests a roaring sendoff as they boarded their boats, Van Vorst rambunctiously shot his gun into the air, thereby setting fire to the roof of his home and destroying the first European dwelling near the site of Newport.
Although other early Pavonia settlers did not achieve instant prosperity, they lived fairly well, fishing, hunting, farming, harvesting shell fish, and selling their products to New Amsterdam markets across the River. Conflicts with the Indians, however, drove them to the safety of New Amsterdam forts in 1643 and again in 1655. The threat of renewed conflict loomed over the west bank until 1660 when "Peg Leg" Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, ordered the Pavonia farmers to congregate within a palisaded settlement high on the hill overlooking the waterfront. In this more defensible location, the first permanent community in New Jersey was established.
The Dutch Colonial period, however, was soon to end. England, by virtue of the 1497-98 discoveries of John and Sebastian Cabot, claimed ownership of all North America. War between Holland and England erupted over this and other global territorial issues. England eventually was victorious; and in 1664, Dutch rule passed into history. Soon after, Charles II granted the newly-won possessions to his brother, the Duke of York. The tract of land lying between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers -- virtually all of present New Jersey -- was sold by the Duke to Lord Berkely and Sir George Carteret. Philip Carteret, Sir George's brother, was appointed Governor of New Jersey.
England now ruled the Colonies, and the area of Pavonia and Harsimus became known as the Duke's Farm. With the exception of improving transportation links, notably with the Paulus Hook Ferry and Harsimus Road, there was little change in the community during the 17th and 18th Centuries; and it prospered as a public market place and a commercial center, with harbor and river facilities linking New Jersey and New York.
Despite this commerce and activity, the people of Pavonia retained an insular attitude, which did not diminish until the American Revolution intruded upon their lives. In 1776, the British occupied New York and several forts along the New Jersey side of the harbor, including one at Paulus Hook, and brought their floating batteries into Harsimus Cove.
During the War, General George Washington and the Continental Army paused on the Pavonia site as part of their tactical deployment from New York and the campaign of 1776. From the Hudson River site, Washington marched through Jersey and crossed the Delaware to Pennsylvania. Waiting for the right moment, he then re-crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day, catching 1,400 Hessians by surprise and winning the Battle of Trenton.
Later in the War, on August 19, 1779, Major "Light Horse" Harry Lee, a Virginian patrician, led a raid upon the fort at Paulus Hook. His efforts earned him one of only eight medals bestowed by Congress for service and extraordinary heroism during the war.
One of the most appealing and dramatic incidents that continues to lend historical significance to this land occurred in 1783, soon after British withdrawal from the United States. Following General George Washington's Farewell Address made to his officers in Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan, he was rowed across the Hudson to Paulus Hook near the present site of Newport. Legend has it that he rested and dined in a tent near Henderson and 6th Street. Hearing that their General had paused on his way to his Virginia estate, many of his New Jersey soldier-veterans began gathering at the site. Tears in their eyes, heads bowed, they watched in silence and awe. When he was ready to leave, they wished him Godspeed. They never thought they would see him again. From Newport, Washington was taken by coach to Philadelphia, on to Annapolis, and then to Mount Vernon. In 1789, he was back in New York to take the oath of office as our nation's first President. Many of his same New Jersey Revolutionary War veterans were there to welcome him.
The early days of our nation witnessed the beginnings of great change in the Jersey City-Hoboken area. In 1804, the Duke's Farm was sold to John B. Coles. Having secured the greater part of the upland and meadow north of Newark Avenue, Coles platted the land with the right angled streets and put lots up for sale.
During the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, three other great names in American history --Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, and John Quincy Adams -- were connected with the area. Hamilton, who owned property in the area, was an influential exponent of Federalist principles, and a friend of Jersey City Founding Fathers, Anthony Dey, Richard Varick and Jacob Radcliff.
During the days of political upheaval that saw a shift in power from the Federalists to Republicans, bitter feelings ran high, and Hamilton, in the tragic and famous duel at Weehawken, was killed by Aaron Burr.
Fulton owned a shipyard and dry dock near the present Greene and Morgan Streets. His new steamboat, the Clermont, revolutionized shipping; and it was from the Pavonia site that he ferried people, goods, and animals across the River, up and down the Hudson, and as far as Albany and Red Bank.
A reliable source of evidence also indicates that the Newport area was once owned by a member of the John Quincy Adams family. No further records of the land being transferred, sold, or passed out of the family exist.
Nathaniel Budd operated a ferry in Harsimus in 1802 with a dock located at what is presently 8th Street. He built a road connecting his dock with the present Newark Avenue. Two years later, he acquired the submerged acreage of the cove. By 1818, the ferry was defunct. Budd sold his submerged property in 1835 to the New Jersey Harbor Company. In 1840, the land was purchased by Mary Bell.
An 1841 map of Newport shows that much of the western two blocks of the area was dry land, with the exception of the northwest corner that was salt marsh. The original shoreline was depicted accurately, as the filling of Harsimus Cove had not yet begun. While earlier roads had been replaced or straightened, Henderson Street still remained the main road to Paulus Hook, while the road west became South 4th (now 5th) Street. Both thoroughfares were incorporated into the street pattern that survives today.
The Pavonia Ferry was started in 1861, joining other ferries in the area, and providing a link to New York. The area rapidly was developing into one of the world's leading commercial and transportation centers.
It was during this time that the manipulation of the shoreline through cutting and filling at the areas of Paulus Hook and Harsimus Cove began.
America's Westward expansion following the Civil War and the growth of its railroad networks added lustre to the site, as the dominant force of commercial transportation at the time came to depend almost solely on iron rails and steam locomotives.
Bustling terminals on the Jersey shore waited for ferries and ships laden with merchandise from New York and New England. These goods were transferred to railroads at Pavonia, and the bounty then began its journey south and west. In turn, eastward-bound freight trains packed with meat, ores, farm produce, timber, and raw materials from the West and South ended their journey at Pavonia, where cargo was off-loaded and taken aboard ferries to cross the Hudson to New York markets.
By the end of the 19th Century, New York's port was handling more than half of the nation's trade. Competition in Manhattan forced even more port activity to expand to New Jersey. Hudson County's waterfront continued to prosper.
The early 20th Century tidal wave of emigration to America witnessed still another stage in the increased activities of the area's port, as tens of thousands of Europe's "huddled masses" retreated from Manhattan, crossed the Hudson, and took railroad journeys to relatives or greater opportunities waiting beyond New York. Not until the Hudson tunnels and George Washington bridge were built in the 1920s and 30s did the beehive activity end in this transportation mecca.
The climax to the busy Pavonia port area came during World Wars I and II when the piers and docks experienced the extraordinary action brought about by a war economy and the demand to ship materiel and men to Europe and desperately waiting American and Allied forces.
It was the era of the Liberty Ships, with submarine wolf packs waiting to sink them from as close as Sandy Hook. Dauntlessly, these freighters and troop ships embarked from ports like Newport, plying back and forth across the Atlantic. Outbound, they saluted the Statue of Liberty, their captains and crews praying they could make it to Southhampton, Le Havre, Gibraltar, or wherever their cargo was needed.
Many of them never returned, sunk with precious cargo and crew. Those that did, however, sailed once again under the inscrutable gaze of Liberty, her torch held high to welcome them back. Aptly called Liberty Ships, they toiled without herald or glory, but helped keep democracy alive, while bringing honor to the men who sailed in them and the ports they served.
The end of World War II saw the end of an era, and with it the end of the Jersey waterfront, as the intensity and demands of the war ceased. Ships were junked or mothballed to rust in hidden coves. The railroad freight business died, too, since now trucks, not locomotives, hauled the overwhelming majority of freight.
Waterfront deterioration soon followed. Abandoned dock facilities and worn buildings that needed refurbishment gave the area a shabby and bleak appearance. Five railroads finally ceased operating. With their eventual bankruptcy, the site collapsed into its ultimate stages of decay. Dismal and deserted, the area belied the bustle and attention that once caused it to sparkle with activity.
For years, then, the future Newport site was looked at, but not really "seen"... not until it was seen with the eyes of visionaries.
The process of converting a decayed waterfront into a thriving community began in 1978, when the Newport land assemblage was undertaken. More than 80 different owners were dealt with, and it took eight years to complete. This marked the birth of Newport.
From an abandoned commercial site, Newport is being transformed into a residential park, with retail, commercial, and office space, along with an extraordinary spectrum of recreational and cultural facilities ... from chaos to order and beauty ... a community containing every conceivable service and amenity of modern living to make it truly a world of tomorrow.
When complete, Newport will include 10,000 residential units, including rental apartments, condominiums, and townhouses; up to 10 million square feet of office space; three hotels with convention and conference centers; a 1.2 million square-foot, 3-level shopping mall; and other onsite amenities such as theatres, health clubs, and museums. Recreational areas are being constructed, along with a waterfront esplanade, a yacht club, and a 1,000 boat marina. At the river's edge will be festival shops, restaurants, and the Jacques Cousteau world oceanographic center.
This 600-acre community will be the largest planned community ever built in the New York area and one of the greatest in the world. It will be the prototype experimental city of the 21st century, a community offering a "total living" environment. Through its vast resources, Newport will prove a treasure for Jersey City and its environs, now recognized as a vital urban center built upon a long and rich history.
Founded in 1905, the Lefrak Organization is among the largest private building firms in the world, and is known for its commitment to affordable housing, urban renewal, and "total living" communities.
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