A few years ago, Chris Gadsden mentioned that communities within Jersey City developed around “water, highways, and bridges.” No one would argue that point. However, the railroad also played a very significant role in the growth of Jersey City.
At one time, powerful locomotives – steam, diesel and electric – hauling freight and passengers thundered across the miles of serpentine track that crisscrossed Jersey City. Downtown Jersey City is a living testament to the development of communities around the railroad. Downtown, at one time, was a blue-collar community, a section of the city that featured industrial complexes and wharf and dock works — and, of course, the railroad.
Several main lines operated within Downtown Jersey City: The elevated rail lines that ran above Railroad Avenue (now Christopher Columbus Drive), the Sixth Street Embankment, now commonly referred to as “Ferris’s Wall”; and the tracks that ran along 10th Street and in the back of Mary Benson Park. The rails that ran along Railroad Avenue and Sixth and 10th Streets fed the massive train yards along the Hudson River. The Erie Terminal at the foot of Pavonia Avenue serviced passenger and freight traffic. Newport now occupies that land.
The rails also serviced the manufacturing plants that operated within Downtown. For example, the Colgate plant was on Hudson Street. Today, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail uses those tracks that once serviced Colgate, as well as the docks along the Hudson River. Industries thrived in Downtown, and communities developed around those centers of industry and the railroads that serviced them.
Today, the rails and industrial complexes are gone. However, remnants of that glorious era are still visible; they serve as an enduring – and endearing – reminder of this city’s past. The majestic Colgate clock still graces the Hudson River — the huge octagonal clock that advertised Colgate was refurbished in 2013 and re-installed near the Goldman-Sachs’ tower. The Joseph Dixon Crucible plant has been converted to housing, known as Dixon Mills. The Sixth Street Embankment still exists, and it continues to be a point of contention between those who favor “green space” and those who maintain that Ferris’s Wall should be razed and the land used for development.
One can make the argument that communities within Jersey City – including Downtown – continue to develop and grow along waterways, highways, bridges and what remains of Jersey City’s huge railroad complex.
John Di Genio and Albert J. Cupo