Elizabeth Through The Ages



Morris turnpike completed, improving travel on the old road between Elizabeth and Morristown. Also Gradual Abolition Act passed in state legislature, insuring that any slave born after July 4, 1804 would be freed at age 25. (New Jersey outlaws slavery in 1844)


The formation of the Second Presbyterian church on East Jersey street by Dr David Magie gave the city (now in 2003) its oldest church structure.



First railroad passes through Elizabeth.


The Elizabeth and Somerville Railroad, later the Central Railroad of New Jersey, established regular passenger service, first to Plainfield, making interior farmland accessible for development.


Woodcut of Elizabeth in 1840 from Broad Street bridge.


St. Mary of the Assumption Parish acquired land from the Irish-born Presbyterian minister of First Presbyterian Church, Dr. Nicholas Murray. Services initially were conducted for Irish immigrants working on the railroads and local factories. Parishioners built their present church in 1858, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Union county. Their first pastor was Rev. Isaac F. Howell who served for twenty-two years.


On November 12, 1846, Charles Lawrence Williamson died. Williamson born in 1795, joined the small US Navy in 1811 as Lieutenant and served in several capacities before joining the USS Saratoga under Commander Thomas Macdonough in the Battle of Lake Champlain (1814). Later in 1827 while aboard the USS Delaware he was injured in fighting pirates in the Mediterranean.The injury would plague him for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, he was promoted Master-Commandant of the USS Warren in 1841 and retired from service at that rank in 1844.

He died in (802 Pearl St) Elizabeth, November 12 1846, the hometown of his wife Susan Ten Eyck Williamson. Charles was a nephew to Isaac Halsted Williamson (1768-1844), a native of the town, Elizabeth mayor (1830-33) and NJ Governor and Chancellor (1817-29). Williamson St in Elizabeth NJ was named after this prominent Elizabeth family.


General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), hero of Mexican War and Whig candidate for 1852 presidency, moves into his father-in-law’s home on East Jersey and Madison Avenues and resides there until his death in 1866. The house was razed in 1928 and a replica erected on Westminster Avenue in 1931, now occupied by the NJ branch of the American Cancer Society.

Scott House Replica


 David Naar becomes Mayor of Elizabeth, shortly after his return from the island of St. Thomas where he had served as US Consul. Naar, a native of Wisconsin (b. Nov. 6 1800) belonged to an old family of Portuguese Jews who could trace their families lines to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. In his early years he operated a merchandising business with his brothers, specializing in the St. Thomas to New York City trade until a fire in 1835 destroyed their business. He then practiced farming in Elizabeth NJ where he became known for his speaking skills. His assistance with the 1844 campaign of President James Polk in New Jersey led to his consulship. In 1851-52 he was clerk of the NJ Assembly and state treasurer in 1865. As a Mason, he worked successfully to secure the Grand Lodge’s recognition of blacks members. In 1853 he acquired the “True American” newspaper in Trenton, making it and him important influences in the state until his death in Trenton, February 25, 1880.



 The Elizabeth Water company received its charter March 3, 1854 (according to THE CITY OF ELIZABETH, copyright by 1889 The Elizabeth Daily Journal) and one year later the Elizabethtown Gas Company followed suit.


The city’s water supply first drew on the Elizabeth River, then on reservoirs on Westfield Avenue, Chilton Street and Irvington Avenue at Ursino Lake, which sported icehouses.


Founding of Pingry School, which thrived until 1953 on its 2.5 acre campus,now the site occupied by School 23 aka Nicholas Murray Butler School, named after Elizabeth native who became president of Columbia University and in 1931 a Nobel laureate.

John Pingry (1818-1893), a native of Haverill, Massachusetts, came to Elizabeth in 1836, the year he graduated from Dartmouth College. For four years, while studying for the ministry, he served as assistant to the Rev. John T Halsey, headmaster of Chilton Seminary on West Jersey Street. Later Pingry married Caroline G Oakley, a sister of Mrs. John T. Halsey. In 1842 Pingry was ordained and ministered to the Fishkill (NY) Presbyterian Church, while conducting a classical school for boys. He later relocated his school to Roseville NJ, a suburb of Newark. In 1860 he became principal of Elizabeth’s Pearl Cottage Seminary [then 1186 E. Grand St], the successor to Chilton Seminary.

In 1861 Jonathan Townley, principal of another nearby school, enlisted for duty in the Civil War and Pingry took over his school, then located at 445 Westminster Avenue. He served the Pingry School until his death in 1893, the year the institution incorporated with Congressman Charles Fowler its Board President. Pingry School continued as a day school until 1918 when its Headmaster Mitchell Froelicher, converted it to a country day school. The change extended the day and encompassed many shop and club activities ordinarily associated only with boarding schools. In addition, Pingry organized its classes into six lower and six upper forms with the additional innovation of a Student Council.

In 1953 the school moved to North Avenue, a location now serving Kean University as its East campus. In 1983 Pingry School moved once more to a 193 acre site in Martinsville, New Jersey, where it continues today.


The first Jewish congregation formed and later became Temple B’nai Israel.


In the early morning hours of January 9, 1861 Elizabeth resident and ship captain, John McGowan steered his merchant steamer, Star of the West, toward Fort Sumter to resupply the union troops stationed there. With US flags prominently displayed, McGowan’s ship drew cannon fire from Morris Island and its secessionist cadets from The Citadel. One shot went across its bow and two others struck the ship, but without much damage. The South Carolina resistance prompted McGowan to sail out of Charleston Harbor and return to New York. Historians consider this exchange to be the opening shots of the Civil War, even though war had not been officially declared.

McGowan, born in Philadelphia in 1805, had extensive naval experience in the US Revenue Marine Service during the Mexican and Seminole wars. In 1853 he resigned the navy to enter civilian life as commander of merchant steamships and moved his family to Elizabeth. He lived there for the rest of his life, dying January 18, 1891 at his home at 1027 Elizabeth Avenue (his residence in the 1880 federal census). His death came a few days after the 30th anniversary of his participation in the first gunfire of the Civil War. [Cf Steven D Glazer, “John McGowan” in NEW JERSEY GOES TO WAR Edited by Joseph G Bilby (Hightstown NJ: NJ Civil War Heritage Assn, 2010), p.80. ]


Abraham Lincoln travels from New York City and stops briefly in Elizabeth on his way to Trenton and Philadelphia. In Elizabeth Mayor J. J. Chetwood offers him welcome and Lincoln replies from the train platform, very cognizant that New Jersey as a state voted for his Democratic opponent in the 1860 presidential election. In Philadelphia where he stays that night, he learns of a plot to assassinate him on the inaugural journey. He assumes a disguise and a different train from Harrisburg to Baltimore and eventually arrives safely in Washington before its citizens are aware of his presence.


African American organized the first black church in Elizabeth, Siloam Presbyterian Church. Such churches provided leadership in the black community and advanced education. Some independent schools flourished as early as 1815 like Oliver Nuttman’s free school for “colored” children and adults. In 1847 Miss Pamela Price conducted a school on East Jersey Street behind Stephen Pearson’s grocery store.


The Hersh family moves to Elizabeth and starts a paper bag business on First Street. The business later included groceries and other supplies. In 1932 the family builds the tallest building in the city, the Art Deco Hersh Tower.


In the 1870 federal census Franklin Leonard Pope resided at 235 Morris Avenue with his parents, Ebenezer and Electa Pope, both natives of Great Barrington, Mass. Franklin and his brothers Ralph and Henry are all listed in the 1870 census as “telegraph operators” but in fact are inventors. Franklin had worked for many years for the innovative America Telegraph Co and in 1869 worked on the creation and refinement of the stock ticker (with Thomas Alva Edison) in New York. In 1869 and 70 he created the Pope Edison & Company and had Edison reside in his Morris Avenue home. Franklin L Pope went on to many distinguished accomplishments in electricity and publications on the subjects. After many years living in Elizabeth, he returned to Massachusetts where he set up a laboratory in Great Barrington. There, on Oct 13, 1885 he died accidentally from an electric jolt of 3000 volts. Sometime in the mid 1870s Franklin married Sarah Amelia Dickinson of Amherst Massachusetts, a kinswoman of poetess Emily Dickinson of Amherst.

F.L. Pope & T. A. Edison – Printing Telegraph


Monday, May 2 – On this day the New York Times reported that President Ulysses S. Grant attended morning services “yesterday” in Elizabeth NJ at St. Pauls’ Methodist Episcopal Church, on the corner of Jefferson and East Jersey Street. He was accompanied by the family of Abel Rathbone Corbin, his brother-in-law, then an Elizabeth resident. The sermon was delivered by Rev. L. R. Dunn, but the 600 or so attendees at the end of the service cheered the departing President. Grant spent the rest of the day and evening with the Corbin family. The remarkable feature of this event was that less than a year earlier financier Jay Gould had used Corbin as a willing participant in his scheme to corner gold, only to be thwarted by the astute Grant who flooded the market with US gold and prevented its price manipulation. Still, in 1870 Corbin put his net worth at $1 million dollars in the US federal census making it clear that he, like Gould, was not ruined, as were others, by the dynamics of Black Friday (September 24, 1869).

President Ulysses S. Grant – 1870


Completion of Trinity Episcopal church (f. 1857/59) designed by Richard Upjohn (1802-78), leading architect of the Gothic Revival style and noted for his Trinity Church in Manhattan and Grace church in Newark NJ. He also produced Italianate residences like Kingscote (1850) in Newport, Rhode Island for William Wetmore Story, who made his fortune in the China trade. Upjohn, born in England and immigrated to the US in 1829, was the author of the influential book, Rural Architecture (1852) and was the founder (1857) and first president of the American Institute of Architects. The Church has merged with several other congregations in the 20th century to become St. Elizabeth’s Church, Rev. Barton Brown, Rector at North Broad and Chestnut Streets.

Trinity Episcopal Church

Lyonel Feininger, (1871-1956) [pix] one of the distinguished caricaturists and painters of the 20th century and exemplar of Germany’s Bauhaus School, was actually a native of NYC (1871). His maternal grandparents John B. and Marie Elizabeth Lutz, were residents of Elizabeth N.J. from at least 1860-1880. In Elizabeth John Lutz was a Merchant Tailor and in 1880 resided at 210 South Street. In the 1870 federal census, Feininger’s parents were Frederick William Carl – a 25 year old musician – and Elizabeth Cecelia, (nee Lutz), a 20 year old native Elizabethan and accomplished singer. In 1870 the Feiningers were residents of Brooklyn NY, living not far from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (f 1861).

Lyonel Feininger


The First Baptist church, formed in 1843, built its solid, brick church on Prince and Union Avenues in this year.

First Baptist Church


I. M. Singer (1811-1875) establishes his sewing machine factory on Newark Bay, a 32 acre plot on the former site of Crane’s Ferry, and builds a workforce of six thousand, at the time the largest in the world. The company remained an economic mainstay of Elizabeth until 1982.


 Rev Martin Gessner (1825-1912) was a native of Bavaria, Germany and accepted his appointment to St Patrick’s parish (f 1858) in 1873. He worked for the rest of his life promoting temperance in his sermons and building St. Patrick’s church (1887) not far from the Singer Sewing Machine factory. Gessner was passionate about St. Patrick’s schools, which were dedicated (Aug 1, 1880) with a service attended by thousands of city residents who listened to a sermon in the adjacent park by Bishop Bernard McQuaid, former president of Seton Hall University (1856-57, 1859-68) and later bishop of Rochester NY (1868-1909).

In this year William H Rankin (1843-c1925), a native of Pennsylvania, came to Elizabeth and established his business of making roofing products. Initially he bought land (the block bordered by Front St, Elizabeth Avenue, First Street)adjacent both to the railroad and to the Arthur Kill in order to ship heavy loads anywhere, both nationally and internationally. He resided close by at 214 Elizabeth Avenue according to the 1880s federal census. In the 1900 census he has moved his residence further from his plant to 322 North Broad Avenue and in 1910 to 332 Westminster Avenue. By 1927 the Sanborn Map Company produces a color-coded diagram of his enlarged plant, now a unit of the Barrett Roofing Company, probably a consequence of Rankin’s death in the 1920s. Rankin’s story well illustrates many features of the manufacturing careers in Elizabeth in the late 19th and early 20th century.



Orestes Brownson, for nearly two decades before his death in 1876, resided in Elizabeth NJ. A native of Vermont, Brownson associated himself with New England Transcendentalist intellectuals like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. He distinguished himself for his publications which defended the rights of the laboring classes, the abolition of slavery and experimental social thinkers like Robert Dale Owen and Fanny Wright. His 1844 conversion to Roman Catholicism continued his defense of reason and other advanced issues in Brownson’s Quarterly Review (f. 1844) and made him one of the most important social critics of his day. His writing became particularly controversial when he publicly differed from Catholic orthodoxy and urged the Church to engage its own vigorous intellectual heritage. He served (1861-1876) as trustee of Seton Hall University and was at times a professor there.

His daughter Sarah, an authoress herself, married Wm J Tenney in St. Michael’s Church, Elizabeth in 1873. Tenney, a graduate of Yale and also a journalist/ editor, had served as collector of the port of Elizabeth under appointment of President James Buchanan. He was the longtime editor of Appleton’s Annual Cyclopedia and served for a time on Elizabeth’s Common Council.

Orestes Brownson

It may well have been this vibrant circle of Catholic intellectual culture that attracted to Elizabeth John Gilmary Shea,the 19th century’s most distinguished Catholic historian. From his appearance in the 1870 federal census to his death in 1892 Shea and his family resided at 138 Catherine Street, Elizabeth, NJ. During this time, while continuing his occupation as a lawyer and sometime literary editor of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, Shea produced an extensive stream of books, culminating with his four volume masterwork, A History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1886-92), which documented the Catholic contribution to the shaping of the nation. Implicitly Shea’s work attempted to check Protestant nativist criticism concerning the putative undemocratic influence of Catholicism in American democracy.

John Gilmary Shea
138 Catherine St in 2005


John H Kean (1852-1914), the president of Elizabeth Water company, Elizabeth Gas Light Company and founder of the Elizabethport Banking Company, accepted election to the US Congress. He is elected again in 1886 and in 1899 and 1905 to the U. S. Senate, while residing in Liberty Hall. His brother Julian H Kean (1854-1932) succeeded him as president of the Elizabethtown utility interests. Their father, Col. John Kean (1814-1895) was the longtime president of the National State Bank and the Central Railroad of New Jersey.


St. Patrick’s Church, a Roman Catholic parish since 1858, laid the cornerstone of its present church in 1887. The imposing twin-spired structure, designed by William Shickel imitating the Cologne Cathedral, took thirteen years to complete and used Maine granite. In 1948 the interior, with its wondrous 44 stained-glass windows, received an uplift and a modernization. The church, easily seen from the New Jersey Turnpike and for miles around, served as the spiritual mainstay for many Elizabeth workers, many of whom were employees of the nearby Singer Sewing Machine Company.


 March 5 – On this date Gustav Jacobson founded a small picture framing business that continued the work his parents began earlier.  The frame molding quickly became a plain plastering contracting business, then segued into an ornamental and decorative plastering enterprise. Their clients in the early years of the 20th century included important architectural firms, like McKim Meade and White, and leading architects like John Russell Pope and James Gamble Rogers. They participated in many notable projects including the Pompeian Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan and the Presidential Palace in Cuba along with contributions to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California and several of the Newport “cottages.” As ornamental work went out of style in the Depression years, Gustav’s son, Victor Jacobson took the company into architectural acoustics and ceiling materials.  Today the company is recognized as the premier drywall contractor in the Metropolitan New York area. Among their major recent projects Jacobson & Sons contributed to the Trump Tower, the American Express Tower, the Rainbow room renovation and the Carnegie Hall renovation. Its current CEO are partners: Thomas Davidson and John V. Jacobson, the fifth generation of their family to lead the company – Jacobson & Co., Inc., whose main office is in Elizabeth NJ.


Joseph Battin, president of the Elizabethtown Water Company, donates the A. W. Dimock mansion to the city for use as a High School.

Battin High School


Below this bicycle bar is the logo of the Junior Order of United American Workmen, a fraternal group of skilled laborers, that sought a national outreach but organized state by state. Here one member has his picture taken by Elizabeth photographer J. G. Hall, 915 Elizabeth Avenue.


Charity Organization  Society founded as a voluntary effort to distribute coal and food during the severe winter of 1893. This effort was private and afforded an outlet for advantaged women whose work outside the home was often blocked by cultural reservations. Gradually the work of distribution became more activist and reformist, addressing issues of child labor, parental care, truancy etc. Increasingly state institutions like juvenile courts and professional training schools, made the work of charity less voluntary and private and more public and formalized. In Elizabeth the COS merged with the Elizabeth Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1898 and moved its offices from Elizabeth Avenue to the Union County Court House, reflecting the changing nature of the work. As the state expanded its protection, especially to neglected children, Elizabeth’s organization, which became The Family and Children’s Society in 1938, shifted its attention to unmarried parents, temporary foster care, adoption services and family counseling. During the 1960s federal interventions in this area moved charitable work beyond the middle class to issues of the larger community, focusing especially on at risk children. Federal support enabled branches of this work to open in 1969 in Pioneer Homes (Elizabethport) and School #1, serving troubled children. In 1981 the organization changed its name to Family and Children’s Counseling and Testing Center with a professional staff.

Family and Children’s Services


Bruce Price (1845-1903), Architect of the Elizabeth Train Station, completed 1893-94. The train station design Price began in the same year he designed the buildings for Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, CT.

Price was born in Cumberland Maryland and came to New York in 1877 after a period of study in Europe. In New York he refined his style with many tall office buildings including the American Surety Co. His fame peaked with projects like the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec and several memorial buildings – Osborne and Welch halls – at Yale University. His style is associated with Henry Hobson Richardson, known for his varied stone and brick surfaces and his characteristic arches. He cultivated these features in laying out the design for Tuxedo Park NY where in addition to the overall plan, he became the architect for several houses including that of tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard. In 1887 he designed a home for Elizabeth resident and manufacturer, Frederick Levey, at 323 North Broad Street. In 1899 his work for George Gould, the son of robber baron Jay Gould, resulted in a mansion and estate which today has become Georgian Court University. His daughter Emily became the well-known arbiter of American etiquette and manners, Emily Post. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects and notably employer/mentor of John Russell Pope, designer of the Jefferson memorial in Washington DC. He was the author of
A Large Country House

Family and Children’s Services


The residence at 546 Jefferson Avenue became the home of Elizabeth resident, Emily Jordan (1858-1936), and her husband, Henry Folger (1857-1930). In these years Henry Folger worked as the director of Standard Oil company’s manufacturing wing . He commuted to the company’s main office at 26 Broadway. In 1908 he became a director and then in 1911 president of the company. Folger and his wife, a graduate of Miss Ranney’s School in Elizabeth, then Vassar College, developed an interest in Shakespeare’s work.

Eventually the couple amassed a library and archives of over 200,000 books, manuscripts and items relating to the poet. In 1932, a year after Henry’s death, the couple’s plans for a Washington D.C. Library were realized with the opening of the Folger Shakespeare Library, a world-class facility for the study of Shakespeare. The full realization of the couple’s dream became the lasting achievement of Elizabeth resident, Emily Jordan Folger.

Miss Ranney’s School in Elizabeth
546 Jefferson Avenue