Local historian Bob Leach tells a great story of Prohibition-era Jersey City.
During one of his popular historical lectures last year at the Jersey City Free Public Library, Leach recounted how former New Jersey Governor Edward Irving Edwards ran for office in 1919 on what was known as the “wet ticket,” which opposed the laws of Prohibition.
According to city lore, during his gubernatorial run, Edwards, a former president and chairman of the board of First National Bank of Jersey City, supposedly placed a bottle of bootleg whiskey in a time capsule that was laid in the cornerstone of the bank’s building at 1 Exchange Place in 1922. That time capsule has never been disturbed, according to Leach, and Edwards’ bootleg whiskey is still right where he put it.
One Exchange Place will soon be converted to a hotel that will likely attract many tourists who may never hear this colorful story about the building’s history.
‘There might be something just down the street you’ve never noticed before that is a particularly interesting back story.’ – Matt Ward
“Jersey City is steeped in history that people, whether they be tourists or residents, just don’t know about,” said Ward, who moved to Jersey City two years ago.”You hear people talk about there being a tale of two cities. You have the waterfront ‘Gold Coast.’ And then you have neighborhoods like your Greenville or your Heights or Journal Square. There’s not too much exploring going on. I thought a walking tour might be something that people would seek out and enjoy. Sometimes there might be something just down the street from where you live that you’ve never noticed before that is a particularly interesting back story.”
Plotting the path
As Ward envisions it, he’d like to see various sites throughout the city designated with some type of tag indicating that the site is part of the Walk JC History tour. There are different ways people can access the historical facts or stories related to specific sites included in the tour. One possible way is for people to send a text message to a number that would immediately reply with a text containing information about the site.
It’s also possible that tour sites will have small city markers with the historical details included on the marker themselves, similar to the signs that line the walking path between the Newport neighborhood and Hoboken.
At present, Ward – an assistant project manager with Garden State Episcopal CDC – is compiling information about different spots in the city that might be included on tour routes.
“I’m taking that information and finding what would be interesting and plotting it along a logical route that people could either use as they’re going from A to B, say, just going to work, or that they could use as an actual planned tour.”
Building JC pride
Ward believes the self-guided walking tour concept would also help build a sense of civic pride among local residents, who may not know any more about Jersey City history than a tourist passing through one of the local hotels.
“I think every urban place could probably use a little more civic pride or unity, including Jersey City,” said Ward. “You have some areas, like Brooklyn, that are very confident in their identities. But I think it’s something that most other urban areas can benefit from and there’s always a need for more.”
To find out more information about the walking tour, or to lend assistance to Ward, you can contact him at MattBWard@gmail.com or visit http://www.facebook.com/WalkJcHistory.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.