Old Bergen

Chapter LI.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

AT Hoboken was the "Elysian Fields," the fashionable pleasure resort of the day, and crowds daily wended their way thither from New York to enjoy its shady walks and quaff the refreshing beer dispensed in this vicinity. It was here that P. T. Barnum instituted a buffalo hunt in the Forties. He chartered all the boats plying to Hoboken on the day appointed, and by judicious advertising, of which art he was a past master, attracted a great crowd to see the sport. Unfortunately for the seekers after excitement, the sedative qualities of Hoboken's atmosphere produced such an effect on the "wild untamable" animals, that they refused utterly to be disturbed in their meditations, and the only real hunt that took place at the time was that for sufficient refreshment with which to regale the famished multitude.

This was likewise the scene of many hotly contested athletic games, and many barbecues were held here. It was in short the spot where all lovers of sport in those days were wont to congregate. Along the river bank, under the shade of Castle Point, was the Sibyl's Cave, where cool, refreshing water that bubbled from the spring located there, was sold to thirsty wayfarers at one cent a glass.

Of early Hoboken, Lawrence La Bree thus enthusiastically writes:

There was no lovelier spot dotting the bosom of the Mahakenaghtus than the little island known as Hoboken, or by the Indians called Hobuk. Its shores on either side were laved by the waters of the great river, and the beauty of its scenery made it one of the favorite haunts of the red man. Its most prominent point overlooks the waters of the bay, and commands an extensive view for some distance up the river, the entire scope of the island, and the cliffs and mountains to the westward and northwest. Here met the savages in council, and here arose their conical huts; here were chanted their war songs, and here each season were celebrated the festivities of the harvest feast. Here the swart chief, the leader of a thousand braves, recounted his victories, and exhibited the trophies of an hundred battles, and the young warrior stretching his lithe limbs upon the green sward, beneath the branches of the overshadowing oak, wooed the nut-brown maid and charmed her soul with his passionate declarations. Beautiful island, like an emerald set in the bosom of an Indian princess, there was no peer above thee in all the bright waters around that kissed thy shores as amorously, as ever the fondest lover breathed his adoration on the lips of his mistress. No foe could approach them unobserved, for watchful eyes scanned continually the surrounding waters. The fame of the braves had reached the great tribes of the west, and secured for them immunity from the raids and attacks of wandering bands.
As before stated, Nicholas Verlett received a grant of Hoboken from Gov. Stuyvesant in 1663. His granddaughter married one Robert Hickman, who sold the land, June 9, 1711, to Samuel Bayard. The latter erected a country residence at Castle Point, where he was wont to retire to escape the summer heats, and entertain his friends and acquaintances in the princely manner for which he was noted. Bayard was an enthusiastic royalist, and joined the English army at the beginning of the Revolutionary troubles. During the war his property was raided several times, and on August 24, 1780, his residence was burned by a foraging party of Patriots, who obtained considerable plunder, and carried off a number of cattle. Under the Act of 1778, this property was afterwards confiscated, and it was sold by the government to John Stevens on February 7, 1787, whose descendants still retain the ownership of a considerable portion of the territory.

To the energy, liberality and wise policy of the Stevens family, much of the present attractiveness and prosperity of Hoboken is due. Mr. Stevens, who was closely identified with the early history of Hoboken, was an engineer of wide reputation, as well as a natural practical machinist. He was far in advance of the times, and often promulgated his theories at the risk of ridicule and contumely; he was continually engaged in experiments tending toward the improvement and betterment of the human race, and was pointed at as one of those enthusiasts who had gone daft because of close investigation and study. When the Legislature of New York was considering the construction of the Erie Canal,

Col. Stevens of Hoboken astonished that body by announcing that he could build a railroad at a much less cost than the proposed canal, and on which the transportation by means of cars drawn by a steam locomotive could be carried at a much cheaper rate and at a much higher rate of speed than was possible on any canal.
He was laughed at and called a maniac, and some of his best friends thought he had lost his mental equipoise through experimental science. Even Chancellor Livingston, in a letter dated Mar. 2, 1811, says:
I had before read of your very ingenious proposition as to railroad communication. I fear, however, on mature reflection that they will be liable to serious objections. . . . In case of necessary stops or stays to take wood or water many accidents would happen. . . . Upon the whole, I fear the expense would be much greater than that of canals, without being so convenient.
Present results have proven the truth and wisdom of Col. Stevens' assertion.

The City was regularly laid out in 1804, but for some reason it did not commend itself as a place of residence for some years. In 1834 it was described as a place

built chiefly on one street. It contains about one hundred dwellings, three licensed taverns, and many unlicensed ones, four or five stores, and between six and seven hundred inhabitants. It is remarkable chiefly, however, as a place of resort for the citizens of New York during the hot days of summer. The bank of the river is high, and the invigorating sea breeze may be enjoyed at almost all hours when the sun is above the horizon.

In the walks along the river bank, over the grounds, and in the beautiful fields studded with clumps of trees and variegated by shady woods, the business man of New York finds a momentary relaxation and enjoyment in the `Elysian Fields,' and the gastronome, whether of the Corporation of New Amstel, or an invited guest, may find a less rural, but not a more sensual pleasure in the feast of Turtle.

Another description worthy of note because of its truthfulness is as follows:
On Sunday afternoon we stepped into a small steamboat bound across the river, where lie in all their natural and cultivated beauty the 'Elysian Fields,' meant to be, I suppose, a second edition of the Heaven of the Ancients, but judging from a description of the one, and the sight of the other, the modern scene is neither greatly improved nor enlarged. There are many hills and dales, winding walks, grass-covered plains, and shaded seats in great profusion, and altogether they do much credit to the taste of the proprietor and the public. There appears to be a considerable degree of levity amongst those who resort to this spot of Sunday recreation, which is but little in accordance with our Scotch Motion of Presbyterian propriety.
Rev. Dr. Abeel, who was stationed at English Neighborhood in charge of the Reformed Dutch Church at that place between 1825 and 1828, sometimes visited the territory of Hoboken and adjacent thereto. Finding at Hoboken several of the residents identified with the Reformed Dutch Church, who were wont to cross the river to New York to attend religious services, while others were connected with the congregations at Bergen, he urged upon them the advisability of establishing a church there. Hoboken at this time was sparsely settled, it being mainly considered a place of recreation and enjoyment for the pleasure-loving denizens of New York. On Sundays especially, multitudes thronged its borders, and the whole day was devoted to all manner of pastimes. There seemed no opportunity for the holding of public worship, but Dr. Abeel finally arranged with one of the hotel proprietors for the occupancy of his ball-room on Sunday evenings, for the purpose of worship. It was not deemed judicious to attempt services until after the crowds had departed, and accordingly the time of assembling was to be determined by the ringing of the last ferry bell. The boats left Hoboken for their last trip at eight o'clock, and it was the custom to ring the ferry bell vigorously-at that hour so that the belated traveller would hasten his steps. Consequently it was full half an hour later before the services commenced.

These services were held intermittingly until 1828, when Dr. Abeel was succeeded at English Neighborhood by Rev. Philip Duryea, and he, in connection with Rev. Dr. Taylor, of Bergen, alternated the Sabbath evening services twice in each month. These services were held in the old schoolhouse, and continued until about 1830, when the Protestant Episcopal Church was erected through the liberality and cooperation of several families belonging to that denomination. On account of the then existing conditions, it was not possible to sustain more than one religious enterprise, and the Dutch Reformed services were discontinued, several of the congregation worshipping at Bergen and New Durham. With occasional attempts, no permanent result was secured until Sept., 1850, when an application was presented to the Classis for establishing a Reformed Dutch Church. This request was granted and the church organized Oct. 27th the same year.

Hoboken was likewise noted as the home of the "Hoboken Turtle Club," that coterie of Epicureans, who rivalled the old Romans in the variety and abundance of the feasts they prepared.