In composing pages for my website, forgotten-ny.com, I occasionally drive loyal readers crazy. Besides highlighting aspects of New York City that the guidebooks usually don’t think matter and don’t publish, I’m also an infrastructure buff and write articles about lampposts, signs and mailboxes. I can take a location in New York City that thousands pass each day and find something obscure about it. When I do that, some consider it heretical and complain in the comments section “that’s not forgotten,” forgetting that making those kind of decisions is up to me.
Similarly, though I have a website category called “Out of Town,” most often when I mention Hoboken, I’m castigated in comments. People are very regimented about what they want to see in websites and in other matters.
I didn’t visit Hoboken until the mid-1980s when I began frequenting the now-shuttered Maxwell’s to see British folk rocker Robyn Hitchcock, and other acts. The club was named for the Maxwell’s Coffee manufacturing plant, which was located in Hoboken until that decade. I obtained tickets from a record store named Pier Platters on 1st St.
In 2014-2015 I walked many of the lengthy north-south routes in Hoboken. It has a small town atmosphere, or did in the 1980s. I don’t know much history about Willow Pharmacy on Willow Avenue and 9th St. in Hoboken, other than it was founded in 1921. I just like its painted glass signage, likely not the original 1921 signs. I can infer that because the phone number is all numbers and doesn’t have the alphanumeric exchange letters seen before the 1960s. The signs must be very attractive at night as they’re illuminated by old-fashioned incandescent lights.
I was fascinated with this aged guy-wired stoplight on Washington and 1st Sts., across from the Hoboken City Hall. Here in 2017, I was disappointed to hear that the post wouldn’t remain in place much longer, as Washington St. underwent a complete renovation that included new sidewalks, truck loading bays, new streetlamps, and an update of the stoplights. Just one stoplight controlled traffic on Washington St. for most of its cross streets from Observer Highway north to 14th St., including this veteran. The project called for the institution of the usual traffic signal setup on major urban routes: two corners with traffic signals, and new pedestrian control signals.
This was possibly the oldest working stoplight in the United States, installed between 1925 and 1935. The manufacturer is the defunct Horni traffic signal company. The stoplight can’t be retrofitted with bright LED signals, and the lamps appear dim in bright sunlight. The stoplight was removed and placed in the uptown Hoboken Historical Museum, but I can’t vouch for the pole.
Tucked in at Hoboken’s north end, at 1313 Washington is the Romanesque Revival Engine Company #2, which is still active and has been since 1890 when it replaced an earlier firehouse that burned down. A hallmark of Romanesque and most architecture from the pre-1925 period is attention to detail and ornamentation. The firehouse has a peaked tower, a peaked cornice, and arched window on the third floor, a trio of square windows on the second floor, and intricate yellow brick stonework overall. The original architects were French, Dixon and DeSaldern, with tasteful modifications by Dean Marchetto and James Caulfield on its centennial in 1990.
Hoboken’s Lackawanna Terminal, Hudson Pl. and River St., is there and will likely be for decades. The exterior, rendered in copper that’s marvelous in a bright shade of green, provides reminders of its status as both a railroad and ferry terminal. This was where the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company (merged with the Erie Railroad in 1960 to form the Erie Lackawanna) lines pulled up short at the edge of the Hudson River and discharged passengers to ferries ran by the NY and Hoboken Ferry Company, whose boats were comparable in size to the still-extant Staten Island Ferry. The height of the NY&H came before World War I. After that the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, bearing cars and buses, greatly diminished ferry traffic, and the NY&H’s ferries last ran in 1967. Today, smaller ferry companies such as NY Waterway runs smaller boats.
The photo was taken from Warrington Plaza, named for longtime New Jersey Transit executive George D. Warrington. The Lackawanna Tower is a 2007 reconstruction copied as closely as possible from the original tower that was demolished in the 1950s.
Eat your heart out Penn Station: here’s the interior of Hoboken’s Beaux-Arts Lackawanna Railroad terminal, designed by Kenneth Murchison in 1907. Though almost 110 years old, it was preceded on this site by four previous railroad terminals. With the return of ferries in the 2010s it’s again one of the region’s few combined railroad-ferry terminals, as well as a bus and light-rail depot. Hoboken’s streetcars used to stop here too, and their tracks are still visible on Hudson Pl. The terminal’s great size, which includes a grand staircase with intricate scrolled staircases, was built for a practical means. Ferries were often delayed by foggy weather, so the interior was built to accommodate large crowds awaiting the boats’ arrival.
Between 1997 and 1999, Hoboken Terminal was renovated. The colorful skylight was blacked over. The benches, clock and chandeliers are faithful reproductions of the 1907 originals, with added heating under the intricately carved benches. The upstairs ferry waiting hall remains vast and mysterious; I was up there once, but I imagine security is tighter today.
You used to be able to catch a train to Buffalo from here, but you can still get as far as Trenton or Port Jervis from the terminal. 50,000 commuters use the terminal daily.
At 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, September 29, 2016, a New Jersey Transit train on the Pascack Valley Line arrived in the station at full speed instead of the five MPH speed prescribed by the railroad. The train jumped the end bumper, became airborne, and came close to the waiting room doors. Over 100 commuters were injured and falling debris claimed one passenger who was standing behind the doors.
In the middle of Hoboken is a high hill called Castle Point, surmounted by the Stevens Institute of Technology. A road forms a crescent along the shoreline at the bottom of the point between 4th and 11th Sts., a former horse and wagon route shared with railroad tracks, but now the vehicular Frank Sinatra Drive. At the edge of the crescent’s bow you’ll find a carven stone entrance, accompanied by an iron fence and some park benches.
This is the man-made entrance to a short tunnel under Castle Point excavated in the 1830s by Col. John Stevens III, for whom the institute is named. The tunnel was built to access a freshwater spring and, combined with a stone-carven entrance, it became a tourist attraction. It was named Sybil’s Cave because in the Roman classical era, pilgrimages were made to female seers called sybils.
Tragedy struck Sybil’s Cave in 1841 when the body of a missing young woman, Mary Rogers, washed up near the cave from the Hudson River. The incident was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s detective story “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” This did not stop aficionados from traveling to the spring, which they thought had recuperative properties. Finally, in 1880 the spring and the cave were closed and abandoned because of water pollution fears. Sybil’s Cave lived on only in legend until the early-2000s, when Hoboken mayor David Roberts reopened the cave as a public park. He hired architect Dean Marchetto to design a new stone arch reminiscent of the old one from the mid-1800s.
Though Hoboken’s easily approached by the PATH train, Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and by boat from the east, north and south, getting there from the west is another matter. The Mile Square City is separated from Jersey City on the west by a high bluff and railroad tracks. Only a few roads traverse the bluff, among them Paterson Plank Rd. (which used to be made of planks) which intersects twisting, turning Mountain Rd. and further north, the 14th Street Viaduct. In the north, Hoboken is connected to Weehawken by two viaducts and to Jersey City in the south by just Newark St. and Marin Blvd.
—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)