Celebrating 150 years of Bayonne

Portraits of mayors and council presidents unveiled

A celebration of Bayonne's 150th anniversary on April 11 culminated in an unveiling of portraits of mayors and council presidents.
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A celebration of Bayonne's 150th anniversary on April 11 culminated in an unveiling of portraits of mayors and council presidents.

Everyone with Bayonne pride is observing the city’s 150th anniversary this year. Students, city officials, veterans, historians, and local businesses are all celebrating. The Hudson Reporter dedicated its entire spring edition of Bayonne: Life on the Peninsula to the subject.

That collective spirit culminated in a ceremony at city hall on April 11 that featured a re-dedication of the portrait gallery of Bayonne mayors and city council presidents since 1869, which are on display in the city council chambers.

Speakers included Carmela Karnoutsos, professor emeritus at NJCU; vice-president of the Bayonne Historic Society, Gerry Nowicki; and Michelle Pyka Laskowski, also known as Miss Bayonne 1969. There were presentations from Bayonne High School students; musical entertainment from alumni of Bayonne High School’s a capella group, the Bee Sharps; and a rendition of “Wonderful Bayonne” by Joan Hajducsek Rosen and Robert Sloan.

The song was written for Bayonne’s centennial celebration in 1969 and adapted for the 150th anniversary. “Wonder, wonderful Bayonne, New Jersey; You’re a hundred and fifty years old; With your memories of those bygone days; Like a treasure chest of gold,” the duet sang after being introduced as “Bayonne’s Donny and Marie.”

“We’re more like ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” quipped Sloan, who recently achieved the honor of being the city’s longest serving city clerk, beating out his predecessor, William Hamilton, who served for 40 years.

Honoring mayors and the city council

Four new photo portraits were added to the gallery in the Dorothy E. Harrington City Council Chambers. Photographs of Terrence Malloy, who served as mayor from 2007 to 2008, and is currently the business administrator; Mark Smith, 2008-2014; current Mayor James Davis; and current City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski were hidden underneath red ribbons until BHS students in the Rho Kappa Social Studies Honor Society read aloud biographies of them and unveiled their portraits.

“I’m just in awe that I can stand here today,” said Ashe-Nadrowski.  “If you asked me 10 years ago if I would be in political office, I would have called you crazy, but here I am. It should be noticed that I am the first woman as city council president. That is something that won’t be the last.”

In her comments, Ashe-Nadrowski noted the woman for whom the room was named, Dorothy E. Harrington, the first woman elected to the city council, who headed the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority, and was the first female president of the Bayonne Board of Education.

“It should be noticed that I am the first woman as city council president. That is something that won’t be the last.” – Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski

No Bayonne mayor in history has been either female or a person of color. The Bayonne Board of Education, however, has its first elected Hispanic man, Christopher Munoz, and Hispanic woman, Maria Valado, who both attended the ceremony. Munoz sang with the Bee Sharps toward the end of the event, a skill unknown to many until that moment.

Why did the chickens cross the street?

Carmela Ascolese Karnoutsos, PhD and Professor Emeritus at NJCU, spoke at length about the early history of Bayonne in connection with the city’s first mayor, Henry Meigs, Jr. Originally called “Bayonia” when the city was a vacation getaway for wealthy New Yorkers, it wasn’t incorporated until after the Civil War, when there was an acting governor to sign the articles of incorporation.

Meigs’s family dated to Puritan New England. He oversaw the paving of Bayonne’s first paved road, Plank Road, now Broadway. He helped found the Bergen Point Gas Light Company, which installed the first gas lamps in the city in 1872 before the advent of electricity. He welcomed John D. Rockefeller in 1877 as Standard Oil built a refinery and oil tanks on the city’s southeastern shore. Standard Oil, later renamed Exxon, eventually paid hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of NJ for the environmental degradation caused by its refineries. Carbon emissions and environmental destruction weren’t top of mind for city leaders at the time. To them, industry was a symbol of American ingenuity.

The bigger problem, according to Karnoutsos, was that livestock, including chickens, cows, and goats, were roaming the city freely, interrupting traffic and causing conflict of all kinds. So, Meigs passed an ordinance banning livestock from city streets.

“Take a moment to think of where we are, who we are, and the accomplishments of this city which generated what this country is,” said Mayor James Davis. “There is nothing better than to stand here before each and everyone of you and say, this is the greatest city in the United States and in the world.”

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Rory Pasquariello can be reached at roryp@hudsonreporter.com.