Elizabeth Through The Ages



Foster Voorhees (1857-1927), Gov of NJ, resided in Elizabeth (297 No Broad St) since 1878. In that time he served as Elizabeth School Commissioner and State Assemblyman while conducting a law practice. During his governorship (1898-1902) he was noted as a reform governor – school system, corporate franchise policy, and most especially, with Theodore Roosevelt, the promoter of the Palisades Interstate Park along with many other environmental measures that secured the state water system and state forest service priorities. His progressive Republicanism set the stage for the reforms of Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson a few years later. After his governorship he returned to Hunterdon County where he was born. Before his death he donated his 325 acre estate to the State, the core of land which became Voorhees State Park. [Many thanks to his kinsman, David Voorhees of NYU, for this data]


Stone arches over Broad Avenue built by Pennsylvania RR as part of 1890-1905 modernization of connections from Jersey City to Chicago.


The Union County Courthouse was built in this year and added its tower in 1923.


A plan for Greater Newark developed in these years, one which projected annexation of much of Essex and Hudson counties and parts of Bergen and Union counties, including the city of Elizabeth. Newark sought to become the fourth largest city in the United States, ahead of St. Louis in population, manufacturing, banking and property valuation.

The strategic impediment to Newark’s annexation of territory depended on the relative sophistication and maturity of targeted towns’ infrastructure. Elizabeth’s Water company (founded 1854), drew on the Elizabeth River to fill two reservoirs, one on Westfield Avenue and another on Irvington Avenue. In 1889 the company operated forty-six miles of water mains, serving 35,000 individuals. Its capacity was sufficient for foreseeable future development in the eyes of its directors (Joseph Battin, John Kean, etc). In addition, Elizabeth had railroad service since 1836 connecting it to interior towns like Somerville as well as New York City ferries. Its internal street railway dated from 1888. Electricity arrived in 1888 and the telephone followed a few years later. Highways to adjacent towns by 1890 boasted macadam or stone pavers, an advantage for “wheeling clubs” and their cycling members. The city circulated seven newspapers in 1890.
A strong city infrastructure was the key to the city’s independence and progressive spirit in the early years of the 20th century and a defense against Newark annexation.


Kirk Building dedicated, for use by German-American Liederkranz


Aline Murray, a student at prestigious Vail-Deane School on Salem Road in Elizabeth, composed a song which her family thought strange that it was not accepted by the school for official use:

On the steps of old Vail-Deane
On the steps of old Vail-Deane
Where we gathered with joy
At the sight of a boy
On the steps of the old Vail-Deane

In 1908, not long after her graduation, Ms Murray married Joyce Kilmer. She herself matured into a fine poet and story-teller, publishing Candles That Burn (1941). She was born in Norfolk, Virginia and probably attended Vail-Deane because of her stepfather, Henry Mills Alden, the influential and long time managing editor of Harper and Brothers, publishers. Alden had been the author of a guidebook for the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which passed through the city, and likely became acquainted with the school during that assignment. Ms. Murray, whose mother, Ada Foster Murray, was also a poet, died in Stillwater, NJ October 1, 1941.

The Vail-Deane School had originally been the home of Charles N Fowler, a Republican lawyer and banker who represented New Jersey in the US House of Representatives from 1895 to 1911. His home, later Vail-Deane School, was designed by Carrére and Hastings – the distinguished architects of the New York Public Library among many other structures and residences – in the Colonial Revival style and in 1986 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The photo of Aline Murray Kilmer is published with permission of Anne and Miriam Kilmer, granddaughters of the poets. [cf:mirian@risingdove.com and a related weblink: http://www.risingdove.com]


The “Steps of Vail-Deane” represents the building designed by Carrére et al, recovering from a fire in July 2003 and now the property of the Dar Ul-Islam mosque.



Altenberg’s Piano House flourished (on East Jersey Ave.). One member of the family, Alexander Altenberg (1884-1940), though born in Greenville, NJ, resided in Elizabeth in 1910, to cultivate his expressionist landscape painting. Though later he removed to France, his Elizabeth presence energized an active artists’ group in the city.

Another member of the Elizabeth artistic group was Charles Goeller (1901-1956) who was born in Irvington, studied in France but resided for much of his adult career in Elizabeth, He cultivated a Precisionist style which focused on urban and industrial forms for their geometry and mechanical dynamism. For many years he taught at the Newark School for Fine and Industrial Arts.

New Jersey has been equally reputed for its artists of naturalism and landscape realism. One Elizabeth born practitioner was Maxwell Stuart Simpson (b1896) who later moved his residence and studio to Scotch Plains.

The Artists’s community buys their paint supplies at Kosberg Paints (just opposite the Broad Street Station’s stone arches.
One later painter who frequented the store was Mickey Walker, an Elizabeth resident who had earlier won fame as the Middleweight Boxing champion and later Light-Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world.

Kosberg’s business closed in the 1990s after nearly a century of business, at the time the oldest retail establishment in Elizabeth


Anthony George Diener was born this year in Elizabeth and resided with his family at 9 Prospect Street, near the corner of Elizabeth Avenue. At the time Diener was the third generation to reside in the city where his father, T. Edward Diener, was the proprietor of a Clothing Store and his grandfather (res: 629 Elizabeth Avenue in 1880) had worked as a tailor.

Anthony’s family changed their residence shortly after his birth and moved to California, where Anthony attended Christian Brothers high schools. He graduated from their St Mary’s College in Moraga and joined the Christian Brothers, teaching chemistry. In 1930 Anthony’s family operated a restaurant in Glendale and it may have been there that his culinary knowledge joined his chemical interests and the Christian Brothers need for a director of their small vineyard for sacramental and medicinal purposes.

Anthony converted the small vineyard into a world-class wine and brandy producer and became known in the words of admirer and fellow vinter, Robert Mondavi, as a pioneer of California wine-making industry, “a legend …the heart of the industry.” Brother Timothy as Anthony was known to the Christian Brothers, worked for 50 years building a business that in 1989 was sold to Heublein Fine Wine Group.

Brother Timothy died November 30, 2004 at Christian Brothers Mont La Salle novitiate.


JANET MEMORIAL HOME replaced the Elizabeth orphanage (f 1858) on Murray and Cherry Streets. The new building, built at Salem Road and Westminster Avenue, received financing from Mrs. John Stewart Kennedy of New York City, who had the facility named after her mother, Janet Van Eyck Edgar. In 1962 the State of New Jersey closed all orphanages, replacing them with foster care. On February 11, 1952 a commercial airplane crashed just behind the Janet Memorial Home, killing 25 passengers and crew and four residents on the ground. This was the third commercial crash in 58 days and this last event closed the Newark Airport for nearly a year. Subsequently different landings and takeoff routes were developed so that such tragedies would not recur. In 1996 the Janet Memorial Home building was torn down and replaced with a public school, the Westminster Academy, subsequently named Dr Orlando Edreira Academy, after a respected Kean University teacher and co-president of the Historical society; Elizabeth NJ Inc. One of the noted presidents’ of the Janet Memorial Home was John A McManus (1910-2007), who for many years owned and operated Elizabeth’s McManus Brothers Furniture company.


Andrew Carnegie provides funds to build the Elizabeth Public Library (click to visit)


Opera House opens and later becomes Gordon’s Liberty Theater (HB); Battin High School is built on site of local mansion that first housed the school.


Elizabeth Rotary Club founded (HB)


On Sept 12, 1918 Anthony W. Dimock died, leaving behind an important legacy for Elizabeth NJ. He was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia Aug 27, 1842 and attended Phillips Andover Academy graduating in 1859. He travelled to New York and entered the banking business and had great success in the gold market. His profits enabled him to purchase control of the Bankers and Merchants Telegraph company as well as becoming president of the Atlantic Mail and other steamship companies. Eventually he created his own brokerage firm, A. W. Dimock &Co. Later in 1872 he took a degree from the Columbian University, now George Washington University in Washington DC. By this time he had married Helen Weston of Elizabeth NJ and built a large, stylish home on South Broad St. The Panic of 1873 curtailed his fortune and he sold his residence to Joseph Battin, who later donated the residence to the city for Elizabeth for its high school. At the height of his career he journeyed West to study Indians and ranchers. Upon his return to the East he bought a 100 acre farm on South broad St and proceeded to build hundreds of homes large and small as well as a gymnasium and other structures. Afterward he built a palatial estate on the Hudson Palisades as well as a comfortable home in Happy Valley, Ulster Co, NY where he lived the rest of his life. From his Ulster Co home he travelled regularly to Florida where he enjoyed the fishing and writing a number of books about his experiences: The Book of the Tarpon (1911), Florida Enchantments, Wall St and the Wilds (1915) and Be Prepared or The Boy Scouts in Florida (1912). His first wife died in 1901 and in 1909 he remarried to Leila B. Allen of Elizabeth NJ. His Florida presence is noted in Peter Matthiessen’s 2008 National Book Award winning Shadow Country (p.120)


The New Jersey Dry Dock and Transportation Company workers celebrate the November 11, 1918 Germany’s unconditional surrender. The Company made and repaired all manner of ships and was located near the mouth of the Elizabeth River on South Front Street.

Photo – courtesy of Dirk Van Hart


Elizabethans – Emily Hiller and Elsa Wallack – initiate efforts to create YWCA and organized supper conference at First Presbyterian Church on November 13, 1919 for 250 attendees. YWCA formally organized in 1920, reaching 1801 charter members and electing Elizabeth W. Renshaw, first president. YWCA purchases building 1129-31 East Jersey in March 1920 and opened it January 25, 1921. The building can board 15 women and includes a gymnasium. The facility offers programs in health education, household arts, clerical training, job placement , recreation, religion, etc. In 1925 they conduct informal programs with Siloam Hope Presbyterian Church to reach out to African-American girls. In 1932 YWCA joins other organizations to form Elizabeth’s Community Chest. In 1933 the YWCA offers shelter services to women homeless because of the Great Depression. In 1941 YWCA helps found a Negro Recreation Center on Pine Street in Elizabethport and in the following year established an Interracial Committee for mutual understanding. In 1944 YWCA joins with the NAACP to form the Urban League of Eastern Union County. In 1946 the national YWCA recommends desegregation to all its constituencies. For further info on YWCA see Nancy M. Robertson, Christian Sisterhood and Race Relations, and the YWCA, 1906-46 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007).

YMCA in Elizabeth



Creation of the Union County Park System, first president Henry Summers Chatfield (1864-1933), memorialized with a stone bench in Warinanco Park’s tulip garden.

A 1921 racing car built by two Elizabeth NJ residents – Frederick S. (1877-1932)and Augustus S. (1879-1955) Duesenberg – won the Lemans Grand prix race (July 25, 1921), the only American car ever to win this event. [Pix of Le Mans win] Their record –breaking speed was 78 miles per hour. The Duesenbergs who were born in Germany, immigrated to the US in 1885 and from early work in bicycle repairs became eminent auto designers and manufacturers.

833 Kilsyth Road

In 1921, according to the Elizabeth NJ Directory, Augustus and Fred Duesenberg resided on Kilsyth Road in Elizabeth NJ at #909 and #833 respectively. These houses were attractive, relatively new homes in an arts and crafts style and were exactly one block from the Duesenberg auto factory on Newark Avenue.

909 Kilsyth Road

Shortly before their Le Mans win the factory was sold in 1919 sold to auto manufacturer, John Willys, and later to Billy Durant of Durant Motors who expanded the building to construct an assembly-line for the Durant Star. (see 1922). The brothers Duesenberg moved their auto production to Indianapolis, Indiana and sold their cars to notable individuals like the King of Spain and movie actor, Rudolph Valentino.

Duesenberg Winning Le Mans


Mickey Walker was a product of Elizabeth’s Irish neighborhood, known as Keighry Head, and well represented the scrappy vitality of that community in the early years of the 20th century.

915 Bond St.

Walker attended Sacred Heart Church and school before dropping out and working in local factories. His family resided at 915 Bond Street in 1910 and 923 Magnolia in 1920.

His first professional fight occurred in Elizabeth in 1919 at age 18. In 1922 he won the world’s welterweight championship in Madison Square Garden.

Walker Family

In 1926 he won the middle-weight championship and consistently fought fighters heavier than himself, acquiring the sobriquet, “the Toy Bulldog.” Walker became a notable figure of the 1920s outside the ring, fraternizing with both mobsters, gamblers and actors  like Charlie Chaplin. After his career he opened a tavern in Elizabeth and took up painting, buying his oils from Kosberg’s on Broad Avenue. He died in Freehold, NJ in 1981.

Mickey Walker’s 1920 home

Mickey Walker

In 1922 the New York Times reported (June 11) that William C Durant, former head of General Motors (f1908), had purchased the Willys-Overland Motor Works, once the Dusenberg auto manufacturing plant, on Newark Avenue. The $5.5M purchase price would enable the Durant Motor Company to produce 500 cars a day on the first assembly line in New Jersey.  The Durant vehicle advertised itself as a competitor with Henry Ford’s model T and offered four types of the Star: Roadster $470, Touring $500, Coupe $642, and the Sedan $710.

Durant Motors Star logo

The building had recently been expanded to encompass over 40 acres and was considered the “most modern automobile manufacturer in the world.” During the period of Willys-Overland’s ownership its executive vice-president Walter Chrysler had planned to produce a new 6-cylinder engine at the plant. Durant experienced early success but failure to compete with Ford caused him to sell the facility in 1927.

Durant Motors Factory


The noted landscape design firm, Olmsted Associates (founded by Frederick Law Olmsted [1822-1903], the designer of Central Park in NYC among many other projects) completes plans for “Elizabeth Park”in Union County, NJ, now Warinanco Park.


Olmsted Associates begins a long relationship with Union
County, NJ in the planning of an “Elizabeth River” park, an association that continues until 1958.

Elizabeth River


Building of the Carteret Hotel (1155 E Jersey Ave.); $10M rehab in 2000 as 90 unit facility, Carteret Senior Living for retired persons, operated by Wallick companies.


Goethals Bridge Opens. The Goethals Bridge opened June 29, 1928, the same day that the Outerbridge Crossing bridge opened. They were designed by the same architect, John Alexander Waddell (1873-1938). The Goethals bridge was a cantilever span 7100 feet long and 135 feet above the water in the center, permitting ocean-going ships to pass under. The bridge spanned the Arthur Kill, linking Elizabeth New Jersey, with the Howland Hook area of Staten island.

The bridge memorialized Major General George Washington Goethals (1858-1928), the principle builder of the Panama Canal (1907-1914) and the Panama Canal Zone’s first governor (1914-1916). Goethals’s name appeared as consulting engineer to the bridge project, though he died shortly before the bridge opened. In 2002 15.6 million vehicles used the Goethals Bridge.

Geathals Bridge



On May 10, 1930 an Elizabeth native, Edward Stratemeyer, age 68, a prolific novelist of at least 200 books and a businessman who managed the Stratemeyer Syndicate, died and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, close by the burial site of Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage. 

Stratemeyer was born in Elizabeth, October 4, 1862 and lived with his parents, Henry and Ana Stratemeyer, residents of 24 Palmer St in the German enclave of Peterstown. He worked as a clerk in the family “segar” business until 1890 when he opened a stationery store in Newark NJ. The next year he married there and began a family.

Meanwhile, he had begun writing stories for an emergent juvenile magazine industry and caught the eye of an aged and ailing Horatio Alger. Alger, the successful novelist of many books celebrating America’s “rags-to-riches” mythology, persuaded Stratemeyer to complete his final novels and agreed to have him write many more in the upbeat Algeresque vein.

In 1915 Stratemeyer created a Syndicate whereby he sketched the themes and contracted with others to flesh out the stories. He produced numerous successful book series for juvenile audiences, including Rover Boys, Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys and in 1930 the very popular Nancy Drew mystery series. Edward Stratemeyer’s Syndicate produced more than 800 novels for adolescents, significantly influencing a young national audience. His 85 Hardy Boys novels, located in “Bayport,” drew in part on his early experience with the Bayway and Elizabethport sections of his native city.

24 Palmer St.

Edward Stratemeyer


First Republican mayor elected (HB)


FDR’s bank Holiday that closes US Banks and leaves people and merchants without currency. (HB)


Eliz chapter of Community Chest founded by Henry LeBow (HB)


Newark Airport expansion (NT)


In this year Charles Godfrey Poggi, a noted local NJ architect, promoted his model home (561 Riverside Avenue) for the upscale residential section of Elizabeth, known as Westminster. The attached image was a promotional packet of needles showcasing his model home. Poggi was born in Rutherford, NJ (Aug 10, 1875) and gained his architectural skills under the tutelage of New York architect, John. H. Duncan (1855-1929) (designer of Grant’s tomb, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Brooklyn and Trenton’s War Memorial among other notable structures).

Poggi began his own architectural practice in 1898 and worked for the Elizabeth School system on a number of buildings including Battin High School and Grover Cleveland Jr. High School. He also designed PS 12-17 as well as Cranford High School. Early on his office was located at 2 Julian Place and later at 275 Morris Avenue. Among his other buildings were the Tudor style Warinanco Administrative buildings (1926) and in a similar style the chapel of Evergreen Cemetery (1932-33), where he was buried in 1957. Poggi also designed the building for the Elizabeth Daily Journal, the Elizabeth Home for Aged Women, not to mention the original Westminster Presbyterian Church and the Singer Recreational Building. He also was the architect for Pioneer Homes and Mravlag Manor. He served as President of the Elizabeth Rotary Club in 1936 and President of the NJ Branch of the AIA (1943-45). He died in February 14, 1957 in Cranford, NJ.


High-level RR platforms at Broad Avenue station built by Pennsylvania RR

Thomas Mitchell

118 Livingston St


Thomas Mitchell, the distinguished American film actor, wins an Oscar in this year for his portrayal of Doc Boone, a boozy physician, in John Ford’s epic STAGECOACH.

Mitchell was the first actor to win the film industry’s triple crown: Oscar, Tony and Emmy. The Tony he won for his 1953 performance in Hazel Flagg (a musical version of the film NOTHING SACRED [1937] and an Emmy in 1953 as TV’s Best Actor.

1939 was a stellar year for Mitchell, since he also contributed to four other classic films in that year: THE HUNCHBANK OF NOTRE DAME, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, Mr SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and GONE WITH THE WIND.

His 1946 performance as bumbling Uncle Billy in Frank Capra’s classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE endeared him permanently to his many fans.

Mitchell grew up in Elizabeth, residing in 1900 at 125 First Street and by 1910 in the family residence at 118 Livingston Street. In 1910 at age 17 he listed his employment as a newspaper reporter (like his father James). By 1913 he was already acting in the Charles Coburn’s Shakespearean troupe in New York as well as writing plays, like LITTLE ACCIDENT, written with Floyd Dell and performed on Broadway. His film career began in earnest in 1934 and achieved large notoriety with his part in Frank Capra’s 1937 film, LOST HORIZON.

His nephew, also an Elizabeth native – James P Mitchell – became US Secretary of Labor in the Eisenhower administration [see 1953 James P Mitchell] and his memory is preserved with his name on the building in which the Elizabeth Board of Education has its offices.



First Civil Rights protests initiated by Bravell Nesbit, Director of NAACP and funeral home owner, joined by Stephen Sampson (owner of Reed/E. Jersey St. barber shop (“Not Just a Barber Shop”) and other prominent Afro-American leaders (incl. Wm Brown and Kirkpatrick Marrow, the city’s first black police detective). Organized picketing of Howard Johnson’s (on present site of Daffy Dan’s) to protest right to equal service.

1945 Victory Parade along Broad Ave., Elizabeth, NJ


On January 14, 1946 Local 41 of the Electrical, Radio and machinist Workers Union (UE) went on strike against the Elizabeth NJ based Phelps Dodge Co. The strike closed the plant for 270 days, one of the largest work stoppages of the year, larger even than other substantive coal and steel strikes which usually lasted no more than three months.. The length of the strike, ostensibly over wages and working conditions, was a function of the ethnic solidarity of the work forces in the city’s neighborhood.

Phelps Dodge first purchased its South Front St property in Elizabeth in 1932 and was a major producer of nonferrous (esp copper) metal goods. It soon expanded its holdings to the entire Bayway Terminal, once used for storing cotton from India and China. Plant officers or employees – over a third were Polish, largely skilled or semiskilled – played little role in civic affairs but invested substantively in industrial sport leagues. Phelps Dodge president resisted negotiation and hired armed Brooklynites, which the union accused of being gangsters led by Mafia figure Anthony Anastasia. One violent confrontation resulted in the gunshot death of worker Mario Russo. The eventual settlement favored the labor union.

Cf. Robert Bruno, “The 1946 Union of Electrical, Radio and machinist Workers’ Strike Against Phelps Dodge Copper Company of Elizabeth New Jersey,” Labor History


Workers’ strike (5 months) of Elizabeth’s Singer plant, one of the most notable strikes in NJ history, receives support of celebrated folklore singer, Woody Guthrie

Rankin Roofing Company

1949 – Meryl Streep

(b.1949), the distinguished American actress, had a connection to Elizabeth via her great-great-grandfather, Godfrey Streep, (b 1813 in Prussia) who worked for the Rankin Roofing Company and resided in employee housing. The Rankin plant layout here [pix] shows workers’ row houses along the eastern side of Elizabeth Avenue. Streep’s ancestor lived in # 68 acc to the 1880 manuscript federal census along with his wife Christina 48, his 20 year old son William, a laborer; his 17 year old son Godfrey , an oysterman; his 14 year old daughter Elizabeth; his 12 year old son John; his 7 year old son Charles; his 6 year old daughter Rose; and his 3 year old daughter Annie. Godfrey’s oldest son, Frederic (b. 1857 in NJ) worked as a clerk, then as a driver in nearby Newark, NJ. One of Frederic’s grandsons, Harry William Streep, Jr. became a pharmaceutical executive, and the actress was his daughter born in Summit, N.J . in housing far removed from that of her ancestors. The HSE provided this data to the PBS program, “ Faces in America, “ which aired February 17and 24, 2010.



Nicholas S La Corte became the Republican mayor of Elizabeth in 1952 and served two terms. His key issues were juvenile delinquency, street lighting and sanitation, parking and police protection. In the wake of three commercial airplane crashes (1951-52) he developed a concern for long-term planning, which included a design for an Elizabeth River Parkway.

Nicholas S La Corte


Three crashes of commercial airliners into the city in three-month span of time. (ET)


James P Mitchell, (1900-1964) An Elizabeth native, become US Secretary of Labor in 1953 and in the Eisenhower Cabinet he became “the social conscience of the Cabinet.” Mitchell had worked during World War II in Washington DC for the Army Service Headquarters and later after the war as business executive in the personnel offices of R H Macy and later Federated Department Stores. But perhaps his most effective work was his involvement with multiple national organizations like the National Catholic Conference on Interracial Justice, National Civil Service League, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Anti-Defamation League, National Urban League (for which in 1957 he was awarded the Equal Opportunity Award). After his death in 1964 the central office of Elizabeth Board of Education became the James P Mitchell Building named in his honor.

He was also the nephew of the distinguished film actor, Thomas Mitchell, also an Elizabeth native. [cf 1939 – Thomas Mitchell]. James P Mitchell’s Papers were donated to the Dwight D Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abeline, Kansas.

James P Mitchell


Mayor Stephen Bercik (1921-2003) elected mayor and serves until 1964. Important achievement: 1960 passage of new City Charter, which sought to remove key policy posts from political patronage, centralize authority in mayor’s office (which shifted from 2 to 4 year term), and created a nine-member council (6 elected and 3 at large, instead of 13 ward- based members).

Stephen Bercik

Mary Gillen


In May 1956, Mary Gillen elected the first woman to serve on the City Council. She served Elizabeth’s Sixth ward until 1959, then from 1959 to 1966 as Councilwoman at Large.


St. Elizabeth (f 1890s) modernizes with early oxygen unit. Directed by Sr. Ellen Patricia (HB)



Protest marches sparked by Afro-American leaders to get black workers into construction unions (SS)


Mayor Thos G Dunn elected mayor and will serve until 1992, 28 years, at the time the longest serving elected mayor in the US.(JR)


Imam Heshaam Jabbar draws attention to Elizabeth’s Muslim community when he conducts funeral in New York City for assassinated black leader, Malcolm X (IHJ). In 1968 Jabbar opens Elizabeth office of Organization for African Unity.


Creation of Pioneer Homes (SCM)


The Central Railroad of New Jersey files for bankruptcy, and its stock, operating under the aegis of the Reading Railroad since 1933, becomes a part of the new (1976) Conrail Corporation. Most of the current Raritan Valley line runs on the old CNJ’s main line.

The Elizabeth and Somerville RR chartered in 1831, was the first railroad company operating out of Elizabeth and served as the predecessor of the Central RR of New Jersey, formed on February 20, 1847. The company directors immediately extended the line beyond Somerville to Bound Brook, then later to Easton and Phillipsburg, Pa. (by 1852). The increasing traffic from the Pennsylvania anthracite fields – the railroad’s major commodity – made clear the need for a larger terminus. In 1864 a Newark bay bridge permitted access to the Jersey City marshland where a Hudson River terminal was constructed. The CNJ proceeded in the next decades to buy up many smaller lines, culminating in the 1871 acquisition of the Lehigh and Susquehanna RR which gave it direct access to the coalfields. In 1879 the CNJ leased the NJ Southern Railroad, connecting its existing system southward to Bayside, Atlantic City and Camden. In 1883 the Reading Railroad leased the entire CNJ but defaulted on their contract. Nevertheless, the joint effort created a century long partnership between the two companies. In 1933 the CNJ came under the control of the Reading, which operated the system until the 1976 creation of Conrail. In 1954 the last steam engine was retired in preference for the postwar diesel locomotives. In March 22, 1967 the CNJ filed for bankruptcy, bringing an end to the company.
Cf Clint Chamberlin, CNJ History: NE Rails


Founding of Elizabeth Education Association, after law passes permitting teachers to organize (AM)



Westbound Central RR of NJ derails and wrecks train station
opposite the Old Railroad Tower. (Nov. 4) No fatalities in spite of complete building destruction and demolition of 600 feet of rail.

Elizabeth Train Station C1972


In the early days of March 1973 Edward J Grassmann passed away, age 86. He was a quiet but forceful presence in many aspects of Elizabeth’s 20th century development. He was a graduate of Cooper Union and worked as a civil engineer, working with the distinctive clay, kaolin, an important ingredient in ceramics and other industrial products. He worked in Georgia where the clay was prevalent and eventually became owner (1927) of Georgia Kaolin and president of American Industrial Clay Company in Sanderville, Georgia, the largest kaolin operation in the US and the second largest in the world.

He used his wealth to benefit many educational and environmental projects in Georgia and New Jersey. Particularly important were Grassmann’s efforts to preserve distinctive historic Elizabeth buildings, like the Bonnell House and the Belcher-Ogden mansion, both on East Jersey Street.

Edward Grassman’s 1910 home
422 Madison Avenue


First system-wide Teachers strike begins in September and goes several weeks, creating great esprit and solidarity among Elizabeth’s teachers (AM)


Occupational Center of Union County opens on E. Jersey Ave. with four patients (MS)


On January 22, 1976 a Time Capsule, complete with articles and distinctive effects from the nation’s Bicentennial year, became part of a display in the Elizabeth Public Library, to be opened in the year 2026. The Time Capsule Chairman, Peter Runfolo, with the advice of schoolchildren from representative Elizabeth schools, dedicated a cabinet in the library for this purpose. Members of the Bicentennial Committee included Mayor Thomas Dunn, Library Director Hazel Elks, Mrs. John Kean, Capt William Brennan, Charles Aquilina and Sally Essig.


Gil Chapman, an Elizabeth native, was the first African American elected to the Elizabeth City Council. In his six year tenure on this body, he was proudest of his effort to get Martin Luther King honored on the City Plaza. The renaming alone may appear in the 21st century as a small gesture, but in 1978 sentiments for and against Dr. King still were strong. The African-American community felt this commemoration finally produced a public acknowledgement not only of Dr. King’s leadership but of their own contributions to Elizabeth over the years. Chapman relied on his own personal achievement as a star athlete at Thomas Jefferson High School, where he had become one of the leading scorers in the history of New Jersey football. At the University of Michigan he enhanced that record with 18 touchdowns and over 2500 yards, distinguishing himself in kickoff returns. He later played three seasons for the New Orleans Saints before holdings several executive positions in professional sports. In 1986 he became president of Island Ford, a Ford motor dealership on Staten island, New York. In 1999 the Newark Star-Ledger judged Chapman as one of the best offensive players of the 20th century and the City of Elizabeth in 2008 elected him to their Athletic Hall of Fame.



 Closing of Singer Sewing Machine Co, in operation in Elizabeth since 1873; Isaac Merritt Singer (1881-1875) b Oswego, NY to German immigrant parents; illiterate; a traveling actor who memorized Shakespeare and temperance plays, held many jobs including pressman, ditch digger, sawmill operator but most of all INVENTOR; during his work in printing establishments he invented a machine to carve wooden blocks for making letters. In his travels to New England to sell the machine he observed the difficulties of working with Elias Howe’s invention of a sewing machine that did not sew continuously; he invented one that did, complete with a pedal drive and pitman. In 1851 he promoted his machine, and Howe and other sewing machine manufacturers sued him. Then he hired an attorney, Edward Clark, to meet with the operators and arranged a patent pool of all claimants under the rubric of Singer Sewing Machine Company, one of America’s first patent pools. He licensed all machines to holders for $15 per machine per year and $5 for every one outside US.

Clark was persuaded to run the company and sold machines for $125 when an average worker made $500. He invented the installment plan for $5 down and $3 per month. So well built, family only bought one, forcing company to think about overseas markets.

Singer fathered 24 children by 4 women, two of whom he married. In 1863 his marital arrangement caused a scandal, and he arranged for a stock liquidation and Clark took over company. Singer retired to Torquay in Dorset, England where he lived until he died.

Clark managed the company well, opening the first overseas manufacture in Glasgow in 1861, making Singer one of America’s earliest multinational corporations.

Singer Sewing Machine Factory

On January 22, 1976 a Time Capsule, complete with articles and distinctive effects from the nation’s Bicentennial year, became part of a display in the Elizabeth Public Library, to be opened in the year 2026. The Time Capsule Chairman, Peter Runfolo, with the advice of schoolchildren from representative Elizabeth schools, dedicated a cabinet in the library for this purpose. Members of the Bicentennial Committee included Mayor Thomas Dunn, Library Director Hazel Elks, Mrs. John Kean, Capt William Brennan, Charles Aquilina and Sally Essig.

In 1908 Singer built the tallest skyscraper in the world in Manhattan, to hold its central offices (149 Broadway) and remained there until it moved its offices to Stanford Ct about 1962.

Singer took advantage of the large number of Irish and German immigrants for his workforce before World War I and after the war cultivated Slavic and Italian workers. The plant reached its peak Elizabeth workforce in the 1940s with 7K workers (by 1970 1400), whose skills attracted other manufactures of Simmons mattresses, Kelly presses, oil refineries, soap and chemical mfgrs as well as clothing, cordage, and iron and steel mfgrs. Singer itself diversified into thermometers, valves, electric switches and gradually into products for NASA incl. the guidance system for the Apollo lunar modules and Trident missiles.

In 1982 it had experienced downturns due to inexpensive Japanese sewing machine variants. Sears, one of Singer’s principle outlets, also bought the competitive cheap imitators. Between 1970 and 1980 sewing machine sales dropped from 3M to 2M. But even in 1980 Singer’s sales reached $2.8B, making it 194 on Forbes richest American corporations. In that year it was 1st in sewing machines but also 2nd in power tools (also sold to Sears which marketed them under their brand name, Craftsman), and 2nd in bedroom and dining room furniture. It employed 81K workers and had some 2300 sewing machine outlets worldwide. Its sewing machine manuals were translated into 54 languages.


Sam Decavalcante stepped down as Boss of the Elizabeth Mafia, an organization which began in the early years of the 20th century and which concentrated on bootlegging alcohol. During the late 20s and 30 the organization, led by Stefano Badami, built relations with the New York Five Families as well as with its Philadelphia and Chicago counterparts. Their work expanded into loan-sharking, narcotics, prostitution, waste removal, money laundering and of course murder. After Badami’s own murder in 1955, internal tensions increased until the organization was headed by Fillipo Amari. An attempt on his life convinced him to move to Sicily and pass the reins of the organization to Nick Delmore. With Delmore’s illness and death in 1964, the reins of the organization passed in 1964 to his nephew, Sam Decavalcante (1913-1997), also known as “Sam the Plumber” for his Kenilworth plumbing establishment. Decavalcante’s organization became infiltrated and taped but, without federal authorization, the tapes were invalid in courts of law. However, the tapes were published and became the basis for the popular TV series, “The Sopranos.” Decavalcante was convicted of a $20M gambling racket in 1969 and served 5 years, after which re officially retired to Florida. The FBI still monitored him as they could, suspicious that he still directed the Northern New Jersey section of the Mafia. Officially John Riggi succeeded Decavalcante, though increasingly the New Jersey portion fellow under the Gambino family led by John Gotti. Sam the Plumber died in Florida in 1997.



Closing of THE DAILY JOURNAL, (Jan 3, 1992) by its publisher Richard J Vezza, after a continuous run of 212 years. At the time of its closing the circulation was 30,000 and the staff it fired numbered 78 full-time and six part-time employees. Its first publication was Feb. 16, 1779, published as THE NEW JERSEY JOURNAL, a small sheet folded into four pages. In its time reporters who served the paper included Irving Horowitz, later (1957- 91) EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES and investigative Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein who worked for the JOURNAL as one of his first (1965-66) journalistic jobs.

The first editor was Shepard Kollock, who moved the papers to several locations before settling in Elizabeth in 1785. The newspaper operated out of Kollock’s father-in law’s home on the site of the present-day Second Presbyterian Church. He left the business in 1818 when he became the town postmaster. After a number of owners the newspaper was directed from 1863 by Frederick Foote, a former schoolteacher at the Old North End School at N Broad St. and Salem Avenue. In 1871 he named it THE ELIZABETH DAILY JOURNAL.

Later the Crane family assumed control, first via Augustus C. Crane who became treasurer in 1903 and two years later president, a post he held until his death in 1923. His son Fred L Crane, succeeded him and held the post until his son, Robert C. Crane, succeeded him as editor and publisher in 1948. During the Crane’s ownership Harry Frank became its publisher and hired Valentine Fallon as editor. Fallon raised the circulation to 60,000 by 1960.


In 1959 the paper was sold to Robert Ingersoll, Jr. who was the first editor of Life Magazine, Fortune magazine and (maybe most importantly) the feisty New York tabloid, PM, which refused to publish advertising. On June 1, 1960 the newspaper changed its name to THE DAILY JOURNAL, to reflect expanded coverage of Essex and Middlesex counties. A bitter strike in 1971 forced the newspaper to lock out its 225 employees. It was bought in 1975 by Hagadpone newspapers who built a new building (July 1977) and a computer operated plant. After another strike in late 1970s the business operated with non-union staffers. In 1986 the business was sold to north Jersey newspapers but could not stem falling revenues. In 1992 it closed its doors.

Mayor Tom Dunn asserted at the time, “ A local newspaper is probably the best source of keeping the electorate informed of the issues and candidates for office.” “The loss of a paper,” he added,” is a terrible obstacle to overcome.”


Opening of Jersey Gardens Mall (15 million shoppers in its first year and $2M in city revenues).


Establishment of Elizabeth Health Task Force


Founding of Historical Society; Elizabeth, NJ Inc., first cultural organization committed to reconstruction of entire city history and connection of history to present and future planning.