THE HISTORICAL NEIGHBORHOOD
OF NEW POINT ROAD
At the turn of the century the residents and inherited traditions of the
New Point Road neighborhood differed dramatically from its composition
today. Two features in particular document these differences: first, a
vibrant Singer Sewing Machine plant which employed many residents of the
neighborhood; and second, many different ethnic groups, particularly from
Germany, Hungary, and Russia. After 1900 the percentage of residents from
Germany would begin to decline; the numbers from Eastern Europe, particularly
Poland would increase. Eastern Europeans represented 53% of the neighborhood
by 1920, when citizens born in the United States numbered only 16%. The
Federal census records show that German names dominated the supervisory
positions at Singer. Throughout these first decades of the 20th century
one-third to one-half of the NPP resident were skilled laborers.
The neighborhood was a walking community, not
only to places of employment but daily for groceries and essential goods.
Before the days of auto and refrigeration, the corner markets, which were
everywhere, became the principle place where different ethnic traditions
met and learned about each other. This neighborhood acculturation differed
from the more formal version taught to resident children in the public
and parochial schools. Day-to-day consumerism-particularly for fresh milk
from a few remaining dairy farms in the city limits-established distinct
cultural priorities to which mom-and-pop markets catered. Unlike the corner
markets, the first A&P branch on Magnolia refused to offer credit
to customers, signaling to all its lack of rootedness in the community.
The residents' cultural traditions formed the bedrock of a new culture
in Elizabeth in the early 20th century.
The Historical society; Elizabeth NJ wishes
to thank the Union County Office of Historical and Cultural Affairs and
the New Jersey Historical Commission for 2002 grants to pursue research
in the New Point Road neighborhood.
Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ Inc explored the Peterstown section of
Elizabeth during 2002-2003, supported by a History Grant from the Union
County Historical and Cultural Affairs Office and by the able advice of
its staffer, Ethel Washington. We conducted a number of interviews and
collected many photos via the good graces of Mike Guarino five-year
effort, "Peterstown, My Peterstown" (1984-88) and Joe Rennas
wonderful, informative 28-issue newspaper endeavor "Around About
Peterstown," (12/98-Present). Virtually all of the Historical Societys
citizen/interviewees were Italian-Americans, since the neighborhood has
been solidly Italian since the 1920s.
Our key research question addressed the continuity of Italian culture
through most of the 20th century. When other neighborhoods achieved an
ethnically or racially distinct character, it seemed to the society that
the neighborhoods retained that ethnic distinction for little more than
a decade or so. The Peterstown section has retained its distinctive place
and routines for many decades. How did this continuity happen?
In the mind of citizens like Carl Zaro, Peterstown took its name from
a landowner named Peters, whom he thought may have been German. He described
the neighborhoods street boundaries as South Street to South Fifth
and from Second Avenue to Fourth Avenue. He did admit that non-Italians
occasionally resided there, like the African-American family the
Vandeveers - in a Center Street six-family facility. They were movers,
that is, they moved house furnishings from one place to another. Zorro
thought a pattern established itself during the Depression: because no
one had much, they shared whatever they had and developed a sense of all
experiencing the good and bad together.
The Sutera brothers, -
Joseph and Vinnie (picture at right)- who just this month (June
2003), retired from their grocery begun by their grandfather, testified
to a neighborly network bound together not only by food but by their delivery
service. They claimed to have been in every home in Peterstown at one
time or another. They not only sold oil and cheese and pasta but provided
recipes for young couples starting out and for interested non-Italian
customers. In the days before autos, everyone walked, and key local stores
like the Suteras benefited so substantively that Peterstown residents
rarely had to leave the neighborhood for their basic staples or even for
items others found in Broad Avenue department stores.
Mildred Favor and Frank De Rosa assured us that the binding agent was
not simply residential proximity or daily shopping routines but rather
the role of St. Anthonys church itself, after it split off from
St. Michaels (which tended to emphasize its German constituency
and mores). The churchs Italian-speaking pastors, its many associations
and groups, meant that the traffic between home and church was not simply
a Sunday affair. The very building of the church, facing the neighborhood
its served, made an architectural statement about its place in this community.
citizens chose St. Anthonys as the locus for its memorial to 39
young men from the neighborhood who gave their lives in World War II,
a sacrifice so substantive that the entire community formally remembered.
The Churchs sponsorship of this remembrance, Mike Guarino noted,
recognized the neighborhoods commitment to the nation and the city.
Riveting pictures of World War II by Sol de
Caesar (picture on right) captured his own war experiences plus
many of those of soldiers he treated as an Army medic but they also capture
the broader patriotic nationalism of citizens equally proud of their Italian
heritage. Peterstown residents pride themselves on their multi-faceted
commitments rather than seeing them as divisive or competitive.
(picture on left) Peterstown War Memorial
Mike Guarino ( picture to right) graphically
recounted the ball teams especially the softball teams like Sticky Fingers
and the Disgruntled Millionaires who became champions in their sports,
with everyone wondering who were those guys who beat us but had no uniforms!
Many of these teams were not entirely Italian-American but included Irish,
German and African American and drew audiences to Peterstown from all
Union County. Mike sketched a voluntary network of other self-directed
youth organizations, like the John St. Dukes, that acted as local monitors
of public behavior and civic responsibility.
Cumulatively this neighborhood of Italians created a religious-based community
of mutual support that overcame the Italian pattern of returning to Italy
or of overemphasizing their Neapolitan, Calabrian or Sicilian allegiances.
Whatever the personal or economic dislocations they experienced, these
Italians bound themselves culturally to each other for several generations
and in the process created a highly distinctive niche in Elizabeths
geography and history.
Opening May 28, 2004
The Importance of Historic Places
by Paul H Mattingly
Historical Society Elizabeth NJ Trustee
Elizabeth Broad Street Train Station is a landmark
for our city. But it is not simply a landmark for its age but for its
place in the experience and memory of multiple generations. The process
of comprehending a city is not quick but rather a long, interactive process.
It actually involves the initiative of every citizen, drawing on their
multiple traditions to give a landmark meaning that other groups have
not attached to it. And the landmark itself it not a passive artifact
but presents itself differently at successive moments and indeed viewed
from different levels.
An urban resident orients himself or herself, not by street grids or with
maps, but by a key environmental presence like this Train Station. One
might also mention Warinanco Park, the Elizabeth River, the Arthur Kill,
and of course the County Building all riveting entities that everyone
has experienced and seen near and far. Take them away and you remove the
touchstones of every citizens experience, because the true landmarks
establish the relations of a citizens residence to the larger schema
of the city itself.
Many commentators define a city as a patchwork of neighborhoods and to
some small extent, they are right. However, in any city worth remark,
there is a larger entity, a cohesive device and vision, usually captured
by one of its landmark icons (like say the Empire State Bldg. in Manhattan).
For a city to acquire a character takes leadership; the leaders must take
seriously the creation of an urban culture, something more than fiscal
stability; it takes an appreciation of historic places because of their
importance in every citizens life. Every such icon embodies stories,
memories, values and roots.
The Historical Society of Elizabeth has recently studied the ethnic and
racial patchwork of the city and has discovered here as in other places,
the Train Station has a distinctive neighborhood. Unlike say the German-Italian
area of Peterstown or the early Slavic-Polish- Russian-Irish sector of
New Point Road and Trumbull Street neighborhood, the Elizabeth Train Station
neighborhood contained majorities of native-born American, 40% or more
born in New Jersey from 1900 thru 1930. In 1900 one local lawyer completed
his census record with his name, address and occupation: "Foster
Voorhees, 297 No Broad, Governor this state." Before 1930 there were
no Slavs, no Hungarians, no French, no Greeks, very few Russian, Italian
and German in this immediate neighborhood, though they resided substantively
elsewhere in the city. After 1920 a strong minority of African Americans,
from the Carolinas and Virginia, settled in the Price and Harrison St.
domiciles on the border of the Train Station neighborhood.
The city is a sorting device, has disparate parts and must labor to achieve
even minimal levels of cohesion. None of these neighborhoods now are like
they were then and hence remind us that vibrant cities constantly find
ingenious reuse of their strategic places. So there are internal patterns
to any city; to match its external patterns. This social order emerges
from the way different groups respond to their historical places and their
collective icons. And emphatically there is no single way to understand
their many contributions, only through an historical process in which
each citizen makes their neighborhoods and their city landmarks their
The Historical Society applauds this Train Station reconstruction and
congratulates Mayor Chris Bollwage for his fiscal and moral support. We
also applaud Michael LoBrace, Michaelinos owner, for applying his
considerable design and construction experience in modernizing this facility.
The Train Station now is one of the finest examples of imaginative reuse
of a strategic place in Elizabeth and embodies the principle of sustainable
reuse enunciated by Future City Incs Town Hall meeting, February
2000. We sincerely thank Chad Leinaweaver of the New Jersey State Historical
Society and the Societys acknowledgment of the historical importance
of this structure.
Now the Train Station once again can be enjoyed by everyone, passing by
or resting and eating. I predict especially the Tower will now have a
new iconic importance for the city and for all passers-through. The tower
will signal not only a new presence in Elizabeth and an energized place
for its cultural heritage; it will become, far more than it has been,
a cohesive force in the shaping of our 21st century city.
Read about the Architect
of the Elizabeth Train Station, Bruce
TRANSPORTATION AND ECONOMIC PROGRESS
Chad Leinaweaver, NJ Historical Society
May 28, 2004
New Jersey has been at the heart of transportation
in the Eastern United States throughout its entire history. Perhaps instead
of the Garden State we really should be calling New Jersey the "Transportation
State." New Jersey, like all coastal states, knew in their earliest
years the importance of fast and inexpensive transit of goods and people.
Prescient political leaders knew these connections needed to move up and
down their coastlines but, as important, to integrate into a unified economic
system hinterland agriculture, industry and port cities.
In the early 19th century it was not clear which transportation technology
would prevail. Federal Period Turnpike Companies felled trees and tried
to keep their roads in repair. By 1830 the NJ legislature had chartered
more than 50 turnpike companies, and about 880 km (550 mi) of roads were
built, almost all in the northern part of the state. Steamboat Ferries
across the Hudson River made and lost the fortunes of several, including
Elizabethan and former NJ governor, Aaron Ogden. Col. John Stevens improved
steam technology and in 1825 operated the first steam locomotive in Hoboken.
Freight Steamer Meta at Elizabethport
This steamer was operated by the New York
and New Jersey Steamboat Co.between
South Amboy and New York while also stopping at the Meta Dock Bayway.
From the Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society
But railroad transportation was not immediately
thought to be the wave of the future. Morris Canal, chartered 1824, completed
1831 between Newark and Phillipsburg connected the Hudson and the
Delaware and open north central Jersey mining to NJ's markets. This canal
and its position along the Passaic River made Newark the state's leading
city (1828 authorized to extend to Jersey City). In addition, the Delaware
and Raritan Canal, completed 1834 connected the Delaware and Raritan
rivers, providing a short-lived, all-water route from New York City to
Gradually however, the railroad became very competitive with the alternate
systems. In 1834 the Camden and Amboy Railroad was completed making the
newly completed Delaware & Raritan Canal obsolete. Quickly it became
a monopoly for linkages through Central Jersey and held a lot of power.
After the Civil War the railroad became the powerful engine not only of
national transportation but of the national economy as well. Its needs
often drove other related technologies like the shift from iron to steel
rails and later sophisticated telegraph and electronic signaling. The
railroads also spurred construction of bridges and tunnels, which accelerated
in the 20th century with the coming of the automobile. The grand boom
of bridge and tunnel building occurred in the 1920s-1930s: Holland Tunnel,
1920-1927; Goethals Bridge, 1925-1928; Outerbridge Crossing, 1925-1928;
Aerial view of the Goethals Bridge
with Elizabeth in the upper right background, May 8, 1968
(oil tanks in Linden NJ are to the left
of the image beyond the NJ Turnpike and Elizabeth NJ is in the upper right
of the picture).
Photograph by A. Belva and courtesy of the Port Authority of New York
and New Jersey
From the Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society
George Washington Bridge, 1927-1931; Bayonne
Bridge, 1928-1931; Pulaski Skyway, 1930-1932; Lincoln Tunnel, 1934-1957
first tube completed in 1937; Delaware Memorial Bridge, 1949-1968.
Airline technology in the 20th century began to supplant some brands of
railroad and auto transportation, especially with the construction of
Newark Liberty International Airport, 1928 the regions first
airport and still the regions busiest. The profitable auto industry
nevertheless pushed for advanced highways to compete with the airlines:
The New Jersey Turnpike, 1951; Garden State Parkway, authorized 1952,
first toll taken 1954, virtually finished 1955, linked to NY thruway 1957;
The New Jersey Turnpike running underneath
the Pulaski Skyway, ca. 1950-1965.
Photograph by Ostergaard and courtesy of the The New Jersey Turnpike
From the Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society. NB the current
NJHS exhibit WHAT
The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 financed
a new generation of four- and six-lane freeways to replace narrow highways
and open up land on the outskirts of Morris, Sussex, and Somerset counties.
I-78; I-80; I-287; I-95; I-295; I-195; Atlantic City Expressway, 1965;
Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
The railroads gained a new surge of development with intra-city and inter-city
connections: with subway and commuter lines from 1960s onward NJ
Transit (est. 1979); SEPTA; PATH (originally the Hudson Tubes or Hudson-Manhattan
RR completed 1911, and became under the Port Authority in 1962, becoming
the "PATH" in ) and still increasing: Seacaucus Junction
Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, 2000; Elizabeth Light Rail connector to Newark
Airport; plans for a passenger ferry to Manhattan; Newark Subway connection
between Broad Street and Penn Stations.
Some older technologies, like river ferry service, found a new niche after
9/11: Hudson River Ferry Service operating from 10 stations on the Jersey
side of the river.
All these technologies impacted New Jersey communities, sometimes individually,
sometimes collectively. Elizabeth NJ, in particular, felt the effect of
all the transportation devices: ferry, train, airplane and auto
because of its pivotal place in the States center and its strategic
location for NYC connections. The rededication of the Elizabeth Train
Station today represents one more affirmation, not just of the history
of railroads but of the history of transportation as a key to New Jerseys
economy and progress.
TRAIN STATION PROJECT
NEW JERSEY HISTORICAL COMMISSION
FINAL GRANT REPORT 2003-2004 (7-27-2004)
A study of the Elizabeth
Train Station neighborhood, supported by a grant from the New Jersey Historical
Commission, explored another Elizabeth neighborhood, using Federal Manuscript
census records and oral interviews. Earlier comparable studies explored
Elizabeth neighborhoods in the Newpoint Road area (adjacent to the Singer
Sewing Machine plant) and the Peterstown section (experiencing a transition
from German to Italian residents). The New Point Road study witnessed
a strong influx of skilled laborers especially after 1910 from the Eastern
European countries, in part a consequence of the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. After 1910 Italian immigrants concentrated in the southwestern
area of the city known as Peterstown. The ethnic experience was palpable
everywhere in these earlier studies. (See the Societys website:
The striking feature of the Elizabeth Train Station neighborhood is the
absence of this ethnic patchwork. Indeed the dominance and in 1930 the
resurgence of native Americans, especially from New Jersey, contrasts
markedly with the neighborhoods we have already sampled. In 1900 there
is a small cadre of physicians and lawyers near the train station area.
One prominent citizen, Foster Voorhees (1856-1927), resided at 297 No
Broad. He was 43 years old and lived with his younger brother Daniel,
a physician, and his sister Marge. Voorhees registered his occupation
with the census taker: "Governor, This State."
These professionals had the singular advantage of the railroad connections
to many parts of the state, since two major lines the New Jersey
Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad on the eastern corridor, intersected
there. The Elizabeth Train Station thus became the centerpoint of a statewide
and regional transportation and communication system.
How did this nexus impact its immediate city neighborhood? The ethnic
presence in the Train station neighborhood in no way reflects the proportions
of new arrivals that fanned out from the Train Station into different
residences after 1910: a tiny portion of Russian merchants and peddlers,
no Hungarians, Greeks or French until 1920 and no Slavs till 1930. Nearly
half the sampled residents of all these years are native born New Jerseyans.
The only important minority presence in the Train Station area are the
(mostly Southern-born) black residents drovers, gardeners, odd-job
fixers - who gather into the Price and Harrison street borders of the
neighborhood. These individuals participated in the largest internal migration
in US history, from the South to northern industrial centers between 1915
For the entire period (1900-1930) one third or more of Train Station residents
are skilled laborers. One 1930 newcomer was Charles Maffey, an Italian-speaking
locksmith from the Austrian Tyrol, who came with his wife Marie and four
children: Agnes (9), Charles (8), Constant (7), and Grace (2). Also in
the family is the owners sister in law, 16-year old Clara Brunnell.
The Maffeys settled at 1182 E Grand, near the very place where their locksmith
establishment still operates in 2004.
The skilled labor in this neighborhood are more like the Maffeys, with
skills for local residents rather than for large industrial manufacturers,
like the molders, finishers, pipe-fitters of the machine-building factories
in the Newpoint Road area. Instead, in the Train Station area, there were
a number of seamstresses, musicians, teachers, shoe-makers and railroad
men (conductors, inspectors, agents and engineers). The Managerial group
represents largely store owners and department store managers for the
businesses that attracted customers throughout the state and who traveled
the train lines to browse in Elizabeths Broad Street stores, a consumer
pattern that only waned in the 1950s. According to several interviewees,
this pattern of using the Train Station as a crossing of inter-county
shopping and consumerism continued until after World War II. During the
weekday rush-hours most of the commuters were Elizabethans going to Manhattan.
Interviewees testified that one railroad worker in the family gave many
family members access to employees courtesy passes and New York
Many women in this census sample put "none" in the census blank
for occupation. However, especially if the women were the household head,
there were often a large list of lodgers, boarders and roomers in their
side street residences, not far from the Train station. The "Unknown"
category of occupation is deceptive and about half included a group of
clearly enterprising women taking care of themselves and often working
children. The Train Station was clearly pivotal to their life chances,
particularly for widows after 1920 and World War I.
It isnt clear whether the large concentration of native New Jerseyans
near the Train Station represents a collective choice among these individuals
to shun the newer immigrants or whether it is simply the advantage of
English-speaking residences near an important commercial district. One
might note that the other commercial sector on Elizabeth Avenue (a border
of both the other neighborhoods studied) was intensely diverse, ethnically
speaking, more so than the nearby neighborhoods where one ethnic group
dominated a given block.. Native New Jerseyans formed a very small minority
in this other commercial district or ethnic enclaves. Elizabeth Avenue
commerce was clearly a melting-pot experience, where one could expect
to meet and do business with someone unlike oneself and where a number
of stores had ethnic proprietors. The Train Station neighborhood represents
another alternative entirely, one which cultivated New Jersey natives
either from the city or via train from places elsewhere in the county.
The Train Station (built 1893-94)was clearly an edifice that Elizabeth
leaders used to showcase American architectural values. The architect
hired to design and realize the station was the eminent American architect,
Bruce Price (1845-1903), who often was associated with Henry Hobson
Richardson, his contemporary. Both men used native stone, rough surfaces,
elegant arches and towers in an indigenous style that greatly influenced
later architects, like Frank Lloyd Wright. Price used this style in many
of his notable designs, like the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec and in many
train stations designed for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. He also designed
the affluent community, Tuxedo Park, New York, and several residences
therein for wealthy individuals like Pierre Lorrilard, the tobacco magnate.
(Price was also the father of Emily Post, a 20th century arbiter of American
manners.) The Elizabeth Train Station is a small jewel of Prices
crown, exhibiting in a very accessible building the essence of turn of
the century American architectural ingenuity. For train commuters as well
as Elizabeth residents its distinctive tower has assumed an iconic resonance.
The Train Station also represented a gate-keeping experience, according
to Patrolman Ralph Froehlich, now long-time Union County Sheriff. In his
early days on the police force, patrolmen walked their beats and knew
their neighborhood residents. Each greeted Elizabeth residents as they
descended the trains in late afternoon and evenings. If any individuals
got off the train who looked suspicious, Froehlich explained in an interview,
the patrolmen invited them to get back on the train and get off elsewhere.
The patrolmens other duties were to extract riders from cars when
the dip underneath the train arches flooded with rainwater. In the 1960s
these beat-walking and gatekeeping duties changed with the advent of the
radio car and more stringent enforcement of due process policies.
Most importantly the train station represented a unique crossing in New
Jersey, a nexus where two major railroads passed each other on different
tracks in the center of a large city. One interviewee, Charles Shallcross,
a retired Elizabeth High School Civics teacher, impressed upon this project
the impact of the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing the Central Railroad
of New Jersey, which carried heavy loads of coal from the Pennsylvania
coal fields. One reason it may not have occurred in any other city may
have related to the two hundred trains that passed through the city daily,
in its heyday. "It was," our interviewee underscored, "very,
very dangerous." Eventually the north-south line would be raised
above its rival, reducing the danger. The Elizabeth Train station stayed
at ground level.
This material will soon join the other neighborhood studies on Elizabeth
Historical Societys website and will be fully accessible to the
public. In addition, this material became part of a public presentation
to a supportive crowd of residents and city officials, May 28, 2004, when
the remodeled Elizabeth Train Station re-opened as an upscale restaurant
for train commuters and local citizens. In addition, portions of the study
have been integrated into Cable Channel 18s Neighborhood Journal,
"History Comes Alive in Elizabeth" directed and moderated by
Soraida Peres (first week of August 2004).