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.

PETERSTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD


The 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 Renna’s wonderful, informative 28-issue newspaper endeavor "Around About Peterstown," (12/98-Present). Virtually all of the Historical Society’s 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 neighborhood’s 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 Sutera’s 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. Anthony’s church itself, after it split off from St. Michael’s (which tended to emphasize its German constituency and mores). The church’s 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.

Peterstown citizens chose St. Anthony’s 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 Church’s sponsorship of this remembrance, Mike Guarino noted, recognized the neighborhood’s 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 over 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 Elizabeth’s geography and history.

ELIZABETH TRAIN STATION

Grand 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 citizen’s experience, because the true landmarks establish the relations of a citizen‘s 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 citizen’s 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 own.

The Historical Society applauds this Train Station reconstruction and congratulates Mayor Chris Bollwage for his fiscal and moral support. We also applaud Michael LoBrace, Michaelino’s 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 Inc’s Town Hall meeting, February 2000. We sincerely thank Chad Leinaweaver of the New Jersey State Historical Society and the Society’s 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 Price


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 ca. 1900
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 Philadelphia.

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 region’s first airport and still the region’s 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 Authority
From the Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society. NB the current NJHS exhibit WHAT EXIT
?

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 State’s 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 Jersey’s economy and progress.

ELIZABETH 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 Society’s website: Places: www.visithistoricalelizabethnj.org)

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 and 1925.

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 owner’s 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 Elizabeth’s 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 employee’s courtesy passes and New York City accessibility.

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 isn’t 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 Price’s 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 patrolmen’s 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 Society’s 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 18’s Neighborhood Journal, "History Comes Alive in Elizabeth" directed and moderated by Soraida Peres (first week of August 2004).

ELIZABETH TRAIN STATION NEIGHBORHOOD
COMPARATIVE STATS: NATIONAL ORIGINS*
 
1900
1910
1920
1930
 
Russia
5%
2%
3%
.9%
Poland
----
3%
.7%
.4%

Checkozlovakia

----
----
----
4%
Hungry
----
----
----
.9%
Germany
6%
6%
3%
3%
Italy
2%
2%
5%
1%
Greece
----
----
3%
2%
France
----
----
.3%
.9%
Other Europe
12%
19%
13%
12%
Ireland
6%
13%
6%
7%
England
5%
5%
5%
5%
Scandinavia
.7%
.3%
2%
.4%
All Europe
21%
28%
26%
21%
 
UNITED STATES
76%
67%
72%
89%
Northeast
6%
4%
3%
7%
Middle Sts
65%
55%
58%
69%
NJ
43%
40%
44%
40%
NY
13%
11%
11%
18%
PA
8%
4%
3%
11%
 
South
4%
6%
7%
11%
West
1%
2%
3%
2%
 
China
.5%
.3%
.3%
----
Guatemala
----
----
----
.4%
 
Unknown
----
3%
.3%
.4%

*The flags used in this schema were taken from a pamphlet published by Singer Sewing Machine Company to identify their employees’
national emblems.

TRAIN STATION COMPARATIVE STATS:

HOUSEHOLD HEADS’ OCCUPATION
 
1900
1910
1920
1930
 
UNSKILLED
21%
40%
33%
34%

SKILLED

46%
32%
37%
35%
MANAGERIAL
12%
8%
16%
8%
PROFESSIONAL
7%
2%
2%
9%
UNKNOWN
13%
19%
13%
22%