The Railroad Helped Jersey City Grow and Prosper

Dear Editor:

Governor Phil Murphy recently announced that the state has completed its purchase of the abandoned “Boonton Rail Line.” This made me reflect on a comment that Chris Gadsden made a few years ago.

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Chris Gadsden mentioned that communities within Jersey City developed around “water, highways, and bridges.” No one would argue that point. However, being an avid model train enthusiast, I would like to add that the railroad also played a very significant role in the growth and development 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 testimony 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, wharf and dock works; and, of course, an extensive railroad infrastructure.

There were four main lines that 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 Tenth Street and in the back of Mary Benson Park. The rails that ran along Railroad Avenue and Sixth and Tenth Streets fed the massive train yards along the Hudson River. 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.

Although the huge, octagonal clock that advertised Colgate has been refurbished in 2013 and re-installed near the Goldman-Sach’s tower; the majestic Colgate’s clock still graces the Hudson River. 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 – to include Downtown – continue to develop and grow along waterways, highways, bridges, and what remains of Jersey City’s huge railroad complex.

John Di Genio

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