|THE ELIZABETH FORUM 2013|
JACKSON PARK AND URBAN SPACE
In 1835 Edward Kellogg, a real estate speculator and urban developer, worked to create working class housing in Elizabethport and other areas of the city. He marked off the space, known today as Jackson Park and offered it to the city, which according to his own document would take responsibility for grading and maintaining. For reasons unspecified, Elizabeth officials rejected this offer, likely because of the expense involved and because the tradition of park space was as yet in its infancy in America. Parks were only in the middle years of the 19th century developing a rationale for public space. Early arguments legitimated parks as open areas to set off public buildings and provide a modest area for recreation and strolling. By midcentury, some prescient individuals, like Frederick Law Olmsted, would advance a more ambitious arguments for parks (like his Central Park in Manhattan or Prospect Park in Brooklyn) as a counterpoint to the adverse pressures of city routines.
An Olmsted Park (like Elizabeth’s Warinanco Park) was to become an oasis, a shield against man-made constructions which regimented the freer instincts of human nature. His parks were to be "the lungs of the city," a restorative space rather than (the earlier tradition) urban development. In 1835 the argument for an Elizabethport Park was insufficiently compelling to an undeveloped area concerned about its economic future. By midcentury, with Elizabeth fast losing walking contact with its natural borders, reformers argued the need for nature as an intra-urban resource.
Several decades later, in 1868, the Elizabeth City council took ownership of Jackson Park, accepting Kellogg's tribute of the space to the US President in 1835, Andrew Jackson. In a measure that also included Elizabeth's Jefferson Park, the city became official owners of park space but apparently without a particular plan except to respond to the parks, "as city finances will permit." Other judgments appear to have shaped Jackson Park and its environs in the next few decades. By 1882 an official county map shows the eastern boundary of the neighborhood to be the Central Railroad of NJ's Coal Yards, one endpoint for the material extracted from Eastern Pennsylvania coal fields. From here it would proceed to New York and other points along the coast and indeed for international trade.
On its western border the neighborhood also had a smaller rail line down Broadway. It s southernmost border would be the Arthur Kill and on the north, also a small spur, of the Perth Amboy and Elizabethport Railroad. Jackson Park had willy-nilly became the centerpiece of a neighborhood bounded predominantly by entrepreneurial, man-made rail lines rather than any plan or schema beyond economic development.
Still, by 1882 the park had become a means of showcasing the buildings of the relatively new St. Patrick's Church and parochial school, which would expand substantively in the next decades on Court Street, to form the eastern wall of Jackson Park. The Jackson Park neighborhood had become by the 1880s a neighborhood set apart from comparable neighborhoods to the East (centered on the inspiring 1872 factory of Singer Sewing Machine Company) or to the West (Elizabethport and Bayway with their factories and their conduit to the interior, Elizabeth Avenue).
It was Jackson Park itself that gave focus to the neighborhood. A rectangular order that invited promenaders to enjoy the open space and neighborly traffic lent further credibility to the argument that parks were companions to the public-supported common school systems that many northeastern and Midwestern states created after the Massachusetts model in 1837. Parks and schools together put a new refinement upon all individuals, introducing the unlettered to the example of the more advantaged classes and to social uplift. The park that initially appeared benign and passive in its social service actually was a more purposive and activist feature of urban democracy. They both insured the comingling of classes, the social interaction that often in Europe led to exploitative, class dominance. However, in the parks no less than in the schools, different groups devised different applications of this democratic mandate and made both open space and intellectual training an ongoing problematic feature of the urban landscape.
The houses of the neighborhood reflected the new rationalization of factory schedules. No longer were they individually stretched along a roadway but, now in working-class townhouse fashion, the housing presented a short-front and extended backward into the building lot. Together they faced the street on their short side of their construction, to create a predictable four-room, single familyhouse with no foyer or internal hallway. One entered the sitting room and continued back into an all purpose room that usually accommodated the kitchen. Upstairs were front and back bedrooms. In the early days there were outbuildings in lieu of sewer systems and no garages, since most residents would walk to their factory employers. Many Jackson Park residents, immigrants from overseas, brought with them skills to finish or extend their dwellings, a practice that nationwide led to a large percentage of working class home-ownership in the midst of middle-class renting patterns. The industrial expansion of the 19th century began to provide even in these small town houses, looking glasses, window curtains, parlor stoves, floor coverings and sometimes wallpaper and paint. But daylight still would govern much of a domestic routine until well into the 20thc century, and candlelight or kerosene lamps after sundown was often considered a luxury. Inexpensive clocks became necessary items for all factory workers, and meals together (especially with meat) were largely reserved for a weekend event in families where every member had separate schedules. Inexpensive crockery provided the special decorative touch, before end-of-the-century lithography made wall pictures commonplace. The domestic space of working-class householders in Jackson Park's environs more and more had the advantage of mass-produced goods and the certain knowledge that their life chances improved upon those of their parents.
On the 1882 Union County map, the current School #1 did not exist on Jackson Park, where it is situated today (2013).
At its opening (May 12 1856) Public School #1 took responsibility for responding to the incoming immigrant classes. Later in 1896 when a new facility was built between Fulton and Easy Jersey on which now sits St Adalbert's Church, PS #1 was the largest school in the city with 30 classrooms and cost $60K. This event was memorably depicted later as a parade of school children from the old facility to the new with its class assignments, a new set of desks, a ventilation system and decorations. Not long after, the entire school celebrated with its principal, B. Holmes the victory of Admiral George Dewey at Manila Bay in their new assembly room.
Joseph Battin, the superintendent of Elizabeth's Water Works, enabled the city to establish its first high school and accommodated up to 500 students.
This achievement finally delivered on the 1846 promise of the state creation of a public school system, just as the early swarms of immigration from Ireland and Germany were registering themselves. Cities like Elizabeth took on the burden of public school expenses, largely as a means of rapid acculturation. It isn't clear in retrospect whether Elizabeth built its system out of defense or because of its activist engagement with reform and commitment to democratic values. Until the 1846 school law passed, the city's leadership relied successfully on private academies, which generally did not cater to immigrants.
After the school law passed, the expenses of schooling were not readily forthcoming, probably because the "public school" still carried the stigma of catering to charity students, and Elizabeth's leaders grappled not only with that inheritance but with the dislocations of the Civil War in the 60s and economic panic afterward. In 1879 the city actually defaulted on its bond obligations to the public school system. Was it because the incoming immigrant populations exceeded all expectations and posed a social threat or was it the indifference of the city fathers to its school obligations? Whichever it was, in 1879 the city attracted Augustus Dix as its new superintendent and charged him with the redress of the problem. Dix actually hired his son, the lawyer Warren Dix (and later the owner of the Belcher Ogden mansion), to implement a new educational agenda. In a decade, Warren Dix had achieved fiscal stability (1889: $76, 131.59) and a building program commensurate with the city's school age population (4,042 with 69 teachers and seven principals), an achievement the city applauded in its 1889 celebration of itself.
The new Battin high school and the public school on Jackson Park graphically embodied this achievement. Sometime after 1928 a third building was constructed for PS #1 near Jackson Park and had its boundaries marked out by the East Jersey trolley and well appointed houses on Livingston St as well as the school playground. About the year 1960 the current modern building of PS#1 was constructed.
But School #1 did not exhaust the educational potential of Jackson Park. The park also showcased St Patrick's School founded in 1858 as a vocational school for incoming, working class Catholic children. (The public school systems nationwide had for two generations at least a decidedly Protestant and middle class cast.)
St Patrick's elementary school held some high school classes (1863) before constructing its high school building. Here we see the St Patrick's complex before the construction of its impressive two-steepled church. St Patrick's gradually segued into both a new elementary and high school complex under the guidance and fund-raising of German-born Msgr. Martin Gessner (1829-1912) since 1873. Indeed at the laying of the cornerstone for the new grammar school (August 1 1880), from a platform in Jackson Park, Bishop Bernard McQuaid (1823-1909) of Rochester, intoned the educational policy of the American church: "I would not believe in the faith of the Church, if not for the school ever by its side." Not only were church and school companion institutions, both were to serve the larger, even the non-Catholic community. St Patrick's pastor Rev. Martin Gessner was not above soliciting funds from both Catholics and non-Catholics. In both the private and public high schools - almost always an urban phenomena nationwide in the 19th century - the class sizes were small until well into the 20th century. In the 1890s less than ten percent of the high school age youth
Like the public schools, high school classes at St Patrick's were conducted for many years in the grammar school building. Just as the public schools separated out its high school classes with the Battin residence, St Patrick's followed suit in 1909 with the construction of a separate facility along Court Street. In the graduating class of 1910 there are 22 students, 14 women and 8 young men. One might also note that many Catholic immigrant families could not afford St Patrick's elementary school and attended public school (like the majority of Catholic youth). It was also the case that many immigrant families, Catholic or not, needed the income from their children's work - errand boys, newspaper delivery, factory runners etc - and saw schooling after ages 10-12 as an unwanted competitor for their children's time and their family's stability. In immigrant families it was not uncommon for the wife to take boarders - accounting for 10-15% of family income and for children to provide an equal amount with ad hoc work. Rarely did the male immigrant householder supply 100% of family income, making both public and private schooling an important family consideration.
The actual histories of the schools on Jackson Park become intertwined with the changing DEMOGRAPHY AND ETHNIC GROUPS IN THE Jackson Park neighborhood. In 1910 the dominant group (24%) are Irish and Polish (16%) with a declining minority of Germans and Hungarians. Native born American, especially New Jerseyans, form 42% of the residents. However, in twenty years, effectively one generation, the configurations are dramatically different according to the 1930 federal census. Now Polish are emphatically the dominant minority with Lithuanians a rising secondary group. Native Americans have fallen to 30% of the population and in that number one finds a small African Americans predominantly from the Carolinas and Virginia. In 1930 Jasper Gaddy from South Carolina dwelt at 214 Second Street with his extended family, working at fence repair, wholesale grocer, servant in a private home , truck driver and foundry laborer. Equally important, was a percentage of native Pennsylvanians, likely second generation immigrants who began their American assimilation on the coal fields serviced by the Central New Jersey Railway which ended its coal runs in the “Coal Yards” of Elizabethport, on the Arthur Kill. Three percent of the 1930 sample is either Spanish or Portuguese, which will form one of the larger postwar influxes in the 1950s but which creates a toehold during the American depression.
One of the few Portuguese household heads in 1930 was 33 yearold, Edward Besca, the proprietor of a pool parlor, whose 65 year old mother lived in the family of 4 children, all New Jersey born, at 210 Second Street. Similarly the beginnings of a Russian Jewish enclave arises in 1920 (10%) and in 1930 (8%) of the Jackson Park residents, living predominantly on South Park Street. In 1920 the Jewish residents are occupied as peddlers but will become strategic resident/merchants on third Street by 1930 and the years afterward . Several of these merchants will gravitate to Second Street and also Elizabeth Avenue, where virtually every ethnic and racial groups had a commercial representation of some sort by 1930.
In 1930 the Strassman's sons still live on Third Street and operated the hardware store as proprietors. Yiddish speaking families, like Joseph Horowitz and family in 1920, a tailor, living at 109 So Park, were sprinkled through the South Park and Court Sts but by 1930 one could find on 166 Park Place (on Jackson Park) Joseph Spivak, a 49 year old Russian born Contractor, dramatizing the upward mobility of the Jewish community.
JACKSON PARK NEIGHBORHOOD STATS-OCCUPATIONS, 1910-1930
JACKSON PARK NEIGHBORHOOD STATS –
The public and private schools formed a sorting machine for this ethnic and racial complex by 1930. The Irish, initially attracted to the area by its factory jobs and St Patrick’s church, would decline in numbers by 1930 but were still thought of – certainly by Red Migliore who in 2013 could recite the litany of Irish names of his Jackson Park comrades – as more numerically dominant than they were. Wherever the Irish had moved out of the neighborhood, many still attended St Patrick’s Elementary, while Lithuanians went to Sts. Peter and Paul school and St. Adalbert's took in Polish at the elementary level. However, at the High School level, most Elizabethport Catholics went to St Patrick's High school.
The tuition for theparochial schools were kept low to insure access for local residents who sought Catholic education. Many non-Catholics in the neighborhood did not have the St Patrick's option and went to Public School #1, like the African American, the Jewish children and many children from the projects. From the viewpoint of their playmates there was no ethnic or racial aspersion in the organization of football and baseball games either in nearby Brophy Field – the designated starting space for Saturday games – or Jackson Park, which occupied weekend energies in the afternoons. Jackson Park also was considered functionally a part of the St. Patrick’s educational complex, while Public School #1, after its relocation to the park, had its own playground.
Throughout much of the period the only memorable contestation of open park space was either city custodians who tried (unsuccessfully) to run off the football and baseball players or else mothers trying to use park space for their smaller children or for picnics. These women were more forceful and more successful when they insisted on separate spheres of activity. But emphatically the dominance of athletics in the park prevailed, especially on weekends.
Forceful women also played seminal roles in providing needed services to a range of children in the city, but most especially for children attending Public School #1. One singular example began with the leaders of the Charity Organization Society, founded in 1893 and privately funded. This organization sought to provide financial and other relief to citizens dislocated by the Depression of 1893 and the dislocations that followed. The organization was the first city-wide effort to address problems of industrial accidents, family desertion, physical disability etc.
Sometime after Public School #1's relocation on Jackson Square, the COS established one branch of their organization in the school.
Its leader in 1910, Helen Townsend, asked her neighbor, Arabella Miller (whose father was the long-time superintendent of the Singer Sewing Machine corporation), to create and operate a Visiting Nurses program. A year later the program became the independent Visiting Nurses Assn of Elizabeth. Miss Miller and her lifelong friend, Anna Noble, went on from this modest initiative to establish what in effect was a settlement house in the city, first at 122 Magnolia, but catering to the city's youth in a range of experiments from skill training, to dramatic acting, to a highly successful age-specific program of basketball and baseball (where the participants names seem to be largely Polish and Lithuanian) between the wars City Recreation Champs 1934-35]), called the Pioneers.
Arabella Miller's lifelong work in both local endeavors, national movements like the Urban League, and international groups for peace prompted the city Mayor in 1941, James T. Kirk, to recognize her special contributions to the city and shortly afterward to name one of the city's early low-income housing units, Pioneer Homes, in memory of her work and her successful athletic teams.
So Jackson Park was never a neutral space. It always hosted a range of different and sometimes conflicting priorities. The essence of these interactions was heavily inter-ethnic but also at times exchanges between the older native American inhabitants and the newcomers. Sometimes the interaction were recreational - picnics, promenades, athletics - and sometimes they were simply for reasons of civility and health, with the park acting as the "lungs of the city" and serving as an extension of residential culture.
At times the substantial eastern "wall” of the St Patrick's complex dominated all events in the park. In 1887 the cornerstone of a new St Patrick's church was laid, and even before the church was finished, it was using first floor facilities for services even though construction still continued. But on December 31, 1899, determined to ring in the New Year and New Century, with the dedication of St Patrick's granite church, Dean Gessner arranged a gala. By midnight 10K people anticipated a church bell concert with the towers massive peals. The culmination of the moment was midnight mass, after which, mass goers were surprised to see Jackson Park still full of residents, anticipating an encore of the bells.
The event was considered unforgettable by every attendee. Dean Gessner repeated the gala in September 1908 with a 50th anniversary fete that filled Jackson Park once again with thousands of Elizabethans, Catholic and non Catholic alike. This time he strung a 125 foot American flag between the two steeples; he spread thousands of lights on the steeples themselves to be lit at night; he began the day with a chiming of "The Angelus" at 6AM. All the parish buildings received garlands and bunting of red, white and blue.
For 24 hours Elizabethans continued to pay their respects to the man who in his last years raised the money for St Elizabeth's Hospital in addition to his other projects. At his Solemn High funeral mass, St Patrick's church held 6K people and many more close by in Jackson Park to mark the moment.
Homilists reminded all of his many monuments but especially the number of religious who were graduates of St Patrick's schools, especially the Class of 1909, which also included the later distinguished actor, Thomas Mitchell, who won an Oscar for his role in "Stagecoach" but whose work was equally famous for his parts in "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway and in Hollywood "Gone With the Wind" and "It's a Wonderful Life." A few year later, (1915), Dean Martin Gessner's supporters - 20K of them - erected a moving memorial stature to him (complete with children) in the park itself.
Many of the stores along his funeral procession to Mt Olivet Cemetery closed their doors out of homage, and St Johns Episcopal Church on Broad St tolled its bell as Gessner's bier passed. Many had been converted to his values who never became Catholics. Yet Gessner's mantra, like that of his mentor Bishop McQuaid, remained "In the school lay the foundation of the future Church.”
Even though the tradition of geometric parks like Jackson Park were initially used for recreation and as a device for setting off remarkable buildings, centrally positioned parks were also use to memorialize people and events. Dean Gessner received his adulation not long after his death in 1912. However, there was an earlier event associated with the Spanish American War, so well woven into the celebration of a new public School #1 on Third St, the enthusiasm for Admiral George Dewey's successful triumph over the Spanish navy in Manila Bay.
The War must have stayed on people's minds however, because of the dramatic destruction of the USS Maine in Havana Bay on February 15, 1898, the precipitating even for the Spanish-American War in the first place.
Though its actual origins and cause were never fully and convincingly established - was it sabotage with a planted mine or was it an internal accident which exploded the ship's magazine? - the event undeniably caused the deaths of many American naval seamen and marines, 266 or 254 crewman and officers. One of these was a Elizabeth native, Charles F. J. Fadde (apprentice, first class), whose father served the city as a policeman and who had lived for many years at 226 Franklin Street. The city determined to keep its vigil at Fadde's memory with a simple stone, atop which was placed a naval shell and a brief explanation for the tribute.
More recently (2012) the city has refurbished the monument and reaffirmed its appreciation of Fadde and his ultimate sacrifice.
The initial railroad into Elizabeth in the 1830s was the Elizabeth and Somerville Railroad, largely a convenience for Manhattan travelers to provide weekend getaways and short-term tourism. On April 17, 1849 this railroad merged with the Somerville Easton Railroad to form the Central Railroad of New Jersey. By 1852 this corporation had laid track to eastern Pennsylvania and Phillipsburg, at the edge of that state's coal fields. Traffic became sufficiently intense that Jersey Central extended a branch to Jersey City for increased access to ocean going vessels on Manhattan's west side.
The railroad bought swampy flats in Jersey City and proceeded to use garbage to fill in and raise the land, to the great consternation of oystermen and fishing boats which had formerly used the area. In Elizabethport the Jersey Central built its principle yards for repair and streamlining of its stock. Its tracks formed a significant eastern boundary of the Jackson Park neighborhood and indeed became a strategic artery for native born Pennsylvanians to relocate to Elizabeth. In the 1920 and 1930 censuses Pennsylvanians provided an important minority of native Americans in the city, many of them were second generation immigrants and veterans of the coal mining industry.
The continuous wave of immigrants continued during and after World War II. International dynamics not only affected America's immigration policy - from 1924 to 1986 a privileging of European countries - but the repopulation of its cities. The American designation of several peoples as refugees from oppressive nations - Hungary, Poland, Cuba - continued to affect Elizabethport. With the influx of Cubans in the 1960s and shortly thereafter Portuguese, Elizabeth Avenue experienced an uplift and the Jackson Park neighborhood a revitalization. Elizabeth lawyer Nelson Monteiro recalls his parents coffee shop across from the projects that became the family "gold mine," (in addition to his father's factory job.)
In the late 1930s the coffee shop - Maria's at 210 Second St. was a focal point because of his mother's bilingual skills. "Before the revolution [1974 bloodless replacement of Portugal's right-wing political party that had supported Antonio Salazar's dictatorship], the men in the shop talked only soccer; afterwards they only talked about Portugal and when they were going back. Montero recalled the Portuguese Sunday routine of mass at St. Pat's, the Portuguese club ( on Jackson Park before it was replaced by PS#1) and the large family dinner, which he considered the essence of his neighborhood culture. None of these new ethnic patterns, however, affected the basic routines of St Patrick's dominance of Jackson Park and the St Pat's students use of Dean Gessner's statue as an all-purpose rallying point and area for general association.
The Gessner statue was also a jumping off point for after school routines that included the Cozy Corner at Magnolia and Third for French fries and music, or Runkel's bakery or Kichek's candy store, among other local stores, whatever the ethnic group.
Particularly at St. Patrick's, though a relatively small high school (in the early 70s 300-330 students total), nevertheless produced a series of championship basketball and baseball teams since the 1930s. Newspapers need not strain to observe that a disproportionate number of Division I college players, several of whom went on to the National Basketball Association like Samuel Dalembert of the Houston Rockets, Al Harrington of the Denver Nuggets and Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers were once St Patrick stars. It came to be a given that the St Patrick's basketball team would be in the playoffs and championship competitions. Even non-athletic students, as Richard Trembley attested, became a part of the cheering audiences bussed to games out of town, with the attendant spike in school spirit.
Once the St Patrick school system was formally separated from it's church, Pecaro and his associates opened the non-denominational The Patrick School on Morris Avenue (175 students, half Catholic, half-non-Catholic Haitians, Latinos and African Americans plus a few Muslims) and proceeded to reactivate the scholastic excellence as well as the stellar athletic record of the old St Patrick's.
The power of urban space rests finally with its associations and its history. The buildings along Jackson Park have embodied aspirations of myriad groups and ethnic traditions. But all have in common the desire for social association and an easing of the pressures of daily routines. At every age level Jackson Park has provided opportunity over time; it has memorialized activists and citizens, characters and events from the past which, like the park itself, have an ongoing value to Elizabeth residents. The gathering of young boys for a game of pickup baseball to the 25,000 that together in 1933 celebrated the National Recovery Act during the American Depression, Jackson Park has witnessed all levels of recreation and advocacy.
The park's reintegration of citizen routines, its revitalization of public energy, its orienting service to tourists and visitors sketch out the place and meaning of a city's open spaces. For Jackson Park, Elizabeth oldest public park, its spare and uncluttered image has made possible the imputation of many different values and uses upon its terrain. However its future plays out, there is no denying that the park has given actively rather than passively through its contribution to this city's culture.