|Title||The Rededication and History of Church Square Park, Souvenir Booklet, Hoboken Historical Museum, May 1986.|
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|Collection||Hoboken Historical Museum Archives|
|Scope & Content||
The Rededication and History of Church Square Park, Souvenir Booklet. Hoboken Historical Museum, May 1986.
Special edition limited to 25 [unnumbered] copies. Oblong format; nine 8-1/2" high x 11" wide photocopied leaves (one side only);  pages plus covers (front only printed); stapled left margin. Large and small PDF on file.
Hoboken Historical Museum
Church Square Park
Text by Jim Hans (founding member of Hoboken Historical Museum, 1986) on four pages; main text is in notes.
Cover includes a photo view of park in 1893.
The Rededication and History of
CHURCH SQUARE PARK
By Hoboken Historian Jim Hans
For six months now, the activity in Church Square Park (or 4th Street Park, as some people call it) has been increasing. Many improvements, such as new walkways, are in evidence, awaiting the rededication ceremony which will take place on Saturday, May 31st. The all-day festivities, funded by the Hoboken Community Development Agency and the Neighborhood Preservation Program, will come just one day after the 95th anniversary of the Firemen's Monument. This statue of a fireman holding a child and a lantern is located on the west side of the park. It was "erected by the citizens of Hoboken in honor of the Volunteer Fire Department, May 30, 1891." Today the old iron fence circling the monument remains, but the fireman's lantern is missing.
The Hoboken Public Library will hold a Book Fair at the rededication. And along with exhibits by contemporary artists, photographers, and craftspeople, there will be a display of old original picture postcards of the park and the immediate neighborhood, presented by the newly incorporated Hoboken Historical Museum.
The renovated and somewhat reorganized 138,000-square-foot park has taken on a much more spacious and orderly look with its restored playgrounds, new park lighting, pruned trees, and newly planted trees and shrubbery. The low railing fences placed throughout are a particular improvement over the previous arrangement. Although I miss the stone chess tables and seats, I was told by Pierre Maneri, coordinator for physical development for the CDA [Community Development Agency], that "picnic-type" tables and benches would likely be forthcoming.
The park, lying between Fourth and Fifth Streets and between Willow Avenue and Garden Street, was originally dedicated as a "Public Square" by John Stevens, the founder of Hoboken, in 1804. Not until 1873, however, was the 465 x 300 foot public land finally laid out as a park. Chief Engineer Otto F. Wagener planned and directed the work, which included "flagging foot walks, setting curbstones, and planting trees."
In 1911, a committee was formed to look into ways of improving the conditions of all the parks in Hoboken. "Although I have done my best to show some improvement in the park department," said Mayor George Gonzales at the time, "I am afraid very little can be seen." He blamed the employees, saying they were "under the impression that the positions of park keepers and so forth are really only sinecures to pay political debts."
White Uniforms for Park Keepers
One idea for improving conditions was to dress the workers in white uniforms. Mayor Gonzales wrote that although "my recommendation iiiade last year (1910) that park employees be compelled to wear a white uniform has not been adopted as yet, the street department has uniformed its men, and I doubt if there is a person in the city who does not say it is an improvement." Indeed, photographs of Hoboken from the period show street sweepers in white uniforms. The Mayor continued to criticize the park department, saying: "Our parks are kept in the most deplorable condition of any city I have ever visited."
Throughout the years, park improvements have been slow in coming. It was not until the spring of 1962 that brighter lights replaced the old incandescent fixtures in the park. On the suggestion of Arthur F. Marota, Mayor Grogan's public safety director, new 21,000-lumen mercury vapor lamps were installed.
In the summer of 1969, a telephone was installed in the park to aid citizens in calling the police when they observed something out of the ordinary going on. Parks Director Anthony F. Damato told the Jersey Journal at the time, "I'm happy to report that acts of vandalism in Church Square Park seem to have tapered off somewhat since the phone became operational."
The newly-painted, graffiti-free (for how long?) bandstand was erected in the late 1930s under the auspices of the federal Works Projects Administration. The gazebo, as it is sometimes called, replaced the fountain which appears prominently in old photographs of the park.
John De Palma of the Sixth Ward Block Association was brought up in the neighborhood and has used the park since he was a kid. John says the bandstand was often called the "Sun House." He recalls fondly the music in the park on Wednesday nights during the summer months not so long ago. He is, along with the Block Association, largely responsible for the return of music to the park. Starting this June 25th and continuing through September 3rd, local bands will again play every Wednesday night for the enjoyment of the public, old and young alike.
It is not known how far back music was played in Hoboken parks, but outdoor bands entertainment was much more common years ago than it is today. As late as 1914, private bands furnished music in the parks, billing the city $70-$80 for their services.
It is uncertain when the fountain was erected, but a drawing of it appears in a bird's-eye view of Hoboken published in 1881. In 1902, a bill for $108.45 was presented to the City for "cleaning and repairing cesspools, sewers, water pipes, closets, and fountain in Church Square Park." In 1906, an ornamental iron railing around the fountain was erected.
In 1913, the Fagan Iron Works of Hoboken had the contract for repairing the iron benches at the city parks, turning in a bill for $57.05 for repairs at Church Square Park.
The Marconi Monument
A monument honoring Guglielmo Marconi, "father of the wireless" (radio), was erected in Church Square Park as a gift of John Minervini. Originally it was planned to honor Marconi by erecting a 12-ton, 17-foot high statue which had adorned the Italian Pavilion (compliments of Mussolini) at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. According to Hoboken historian John Heaney, "the statue depicted "Wireless Holding the Heart of the World'." After the fair closed, the Italian Pavilion officials were not eager to ship it back, and it ended up in Hoboken. The statue was supposed to return to Italy eventually, but it remained unnoticed on a Hoboken pier for more than a decade. Heaney writes: "In the attempt to have it transported to its destination in the park, the statue broke in half. After donating more than $10,000 to have it repaired, it was declared unsafe and Minervini turned his plans to the present monument."
According to the Fontana brothers, Joe, Iggy and Paul, Hoboken electricians, the original huge statue was a "voluptuous white female nicknamed 'Mini' (after Minervini, no doubt". They say that "while trying to place the statue, it became top-heavy, topped over, and broke off at about the knees." They said the damaged statue was buried in a workman's yard at Jefferson and Fourth Streets. A building now covers the site.
The original pedestal, though much too large for the present monument, is still used. Above it are depicted the heads of four clergymen who sacrificed their lives, going down with their ship, the U.S.S. Dorchester, during World War II.
The Beginning of "Church" Square
In the early days, when the site was designated as a "Public Square" but had not yet become a park, the New Jerusalem Church stood in the northeast corner. The congregation of the First Baptist Church, like several others which were formed in the early years of Hoboken, first met on Church Square. At this time (c. 1845), a small schoolhouse known as the Hoboken Institute was located on the Square at Fourth Street and Park Avenue (then called Meadow Street). In 1846, an attempt was made to build a meeting house on the northwest corner of Fourth and Park. The walls of this edifice were leveled by the great gale of November 23rd, 1846, and an attempt to rebuild was abandoned. The Baptists later built a structure on the southwest corner of Third and Washington Streets.
Two years later, in 1848, the First Methodist Episcopal Church's original building in Hoboken, on the northwest corner of the Square, was also blown down.
Our Lady of Grace Church
Facing the park at 400-408 Willow Avenue is Hoboken's largest church, Our Lady of Grace. At the time of its construction in 1875, it was the largest Roman Catholic Church in New Jersey.
This magnificent church, in thirteenth-century Gothic style, was designed and built by the famed architect Francis G. Himpler, who had moved to Hoboken in 1869. Other Hoboken buildings designed by Himpler include the Academy of the Sacred Heart on Seventh and Washington Streets; City Hall, at Newark and Washington; and the old firehouse on lower Bloomfield Street. The prominent stone mason John McDermott secured the contracts for Grace Church; he also worked on a number of other public and private structures in the city, including the Martha Institute building at Sixth Street and Park Avenue. When Our Lady of Grace was dedicated in 1875, gifts of paintings and ceremonial vessels were donated by King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, Emperor Napoleon III of France, and other Italian and French royalty.
It was more than twenty years earlier, however, in July of 1851, that the parish of Our Lady of Grace really began, in a public school facility in Church Square Park. It was here that the first recorded baptism in the parish, then known as St. Mary's, took place, on July 24, 1851.
Although plans to construct a church on the Square were well-received and a lot, seventy-five feet by one hundred feet, was donated by the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, it was soon discovered that the Square was designated for public use only. Fortunately, construction of the proposed church was terminated before major expenses were incurred. The Methodists and the Dutch Reformed congregation suffered a more serious fate. The former already had a church erected on the Square, and the latter had a building foundation installed. Both churches were ejected by court action. The City did, however, finance the construction of a Methodist church at another site.
The Hoboken Academy
On the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Willow Avenue, facing the park, stood the historic Hoboken Academy, a private school which for many years gave a broad and thorough liberal education to boys and girls alike. Organized in 1860, the Hoboken Academical Society began building in September of that year, and the first day of school was February 11, 1861.
First Kindergarten and
Physical Culture Class in the U.S.
Dr. Adolph Douai, the Hoboken Academy's first director, was founder of the first American kindergarten (children's garden" and physical culture class here. President Humphreys of the Stevens Institute, visiting the Academy in 1911, put it this way: "I was interested to-night to learn that this [the Hoboken Academy] is the first school in the United States to introduce the kindergarten and physical culture, in connection with the regular course. I congratulate you."
"The Hoboken Academy was built on Fifth Street facing what was planned to be Church Square Park," wrote "M.H. ," an anonymous female graduate of the Class of 1863. "At that time few believed that the hope would ever be realized, as the Square was in awful condition; ashes and garbage were thrown there and pigs were often seen."
To give the reader some idea of the conditions of development in the city during those years, we quote an amendment to a city ordinance "to prevent cattle from encumbering or stopping upon the streets of Hoboken." It reads: "The Mayor and Council of the City of Hoboken do ordain as follows: Section 1. That hereafter droves of cattle, horses, sheep, swine, or other animals shall not be driven through the streets of Hoboken between eight o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the evening, under a penalty of ten dollars for each and every offense." The amendment was passed on September 18, 1867.
And so, gradually, over a great number of years, Church Square Park came to be what it is today.
Damato, Anthony F.
Marotta, Arthur F.
Wagener, Otto F.
|Year Range from||1986.0|
|Year Range to||1986.0|
Church Square Park
Firemen's Memorial, Volunteer-Church Sq. Park
First Baptist Church
First Methodist Church
Hoboken Fire Department
Hoboken Public Library
New Jerusalem Church
Our Lady of Grace Church
Saint Mary Church
Government & Politics
Monuments & Statues