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A Brief History of West New York

By Estela Longo, Reference Librarian, West New York Public Library
And Patrick Cullen, Historian, Town of West New York

Before West New York was settled, and long before it became incorporated in 1898, Native Americans of the Lenni Lenape Tribe, known locally to Dutch settlers as Hackensack and Tappan tribes, were the first known peoples to live here. The first known European in the area was Henry Hudson in 1609, an English explorer employed by The Dutch East India Company. In 1658, Peter Stuyvesant, the last Director-General of New Netherlands, purchased the land of North Hudson from the Hackensack and Tappan Native American Tribes. In 1661, he conveyed lands of what would much later be known as West New York to various freeholders (landholders) of Bergen, New Jersey's oldest settlement. In 1664 these lands were ceded to the British.

The oldest known land conveyance involving a specific parcel that would much later become a part of West New York might be a waterfront lot, #211 that extended to the Bergen Line – present day Bergenline Avenue – that was granted by Phillip Carteret, first colonial Governor of New Jersey, to Ide Corneliese Van Vost (alternate spelling Van Vorst) on March 30, 1668. The earliest (but not confirmed) settlement in West New York may be that of Jacob Brower. He purchased 14 acres of land from lot #316 from John Sickles on April 29, 1786. Two historical maps (Map of the City of New York and Surrounding Country, by John Randall, Jr., 1821; Topographical Map of Hudson County by Robert C. Bacot, 1854) refer to 'Brower's Point', with the earlier map also referring to very proximal land as 'Brower' and the later map inserting under Brower's Point 'or Gregory's Dock.'* The respected historian and Memorial High School teacher, the late Walter Eickmann, Ph. D., in his seminal work, History of West New York, New Jersey: In Commemoration of Its Golden Jubilee (1948) demonstrated by way of an overlay of the Bacot map that Brower's Point - which the author affirms is named for Jacob Brower - is definitively within the city limits of West New York. It is reasonable to conclude that the West New York Port Imperial places of Jacob's Ferry and Brower Court, in very close proximity to the historical location of Brower's Point are probably named for Jacob Brower.

In 1798, the lands of the future West New York became part of Bergen Township. In 1840, Hudson County was formed from part of Bergen County. In 1841, Thomas J. Dobbs, son of Frederick F. Dobbs and Leah Carling, was born on March 7th near the Hudson River in what would become West New York. In 1843, the future West New York became part of North Bergen Township. In 1853, Conrad Bickhard, a carpenter and cabinet maker, settled in the future West New York west of Bergenline Avenue. He was a member of West New York's first fire department, Friendship Engine Company and planned and built the original School No, 1 in 1866. The origin of West New York as a geographical reference has been traced back to 1854, where it appeared on Robert C. Bacot's Topographical Map of Hudson County. In 1861, Guttenberg, Union Hill (later to become part of Union City), and West New York became Union Township. In 1864, Union Hill withdrew from Union Township, followed in 1878 by Guttenberg (formalized the following year by a petition of Union Township citizens, freeholders and taxpayers to the New Jersey Assembly, which sanctioned the move). This action left only West New York in Union Township until July 8, 1898, when its request to change its official name to West New York was formally recognized by the State of New Jersey.

On August 27, 1898, at a gala parade and celebration of the newly incorporated West New York, one of our schoolteachers, Matilda 'Tillie' Brill, dressed as the "Goddess of Liberty" and holding the American flag, gave a rousing speech. The first mayor of West New York was John E. Otis, who served from 1898 to 1903. West New York's form of government was mayor/town council until 1931, when it became governed by commissioners (who select a mayor) under the Walsh Act. After the Dutch, Germans began coming to the area in the mid 19th century. In the early 1880's when a tunnel was built through The Palisades at the West New York Town Line to New Durham in North Bergen, the railroad played an important role in the economy, offering employment and attracting more settlers (most of them Irish) looking for work related to the railroads. After the Dutch, German, Swiss and Irish came Italians, Swedes, Slavs, Jews, and Armenians, among other groups. Many of our older one and two family homes, as well as numerous walls that boarder our parks on Boulevard East and elsewhere are made from bluestone, an abundant rock that was mined from several quarries in and near West New York.

In the early 1900's Swiss immigrants began bringing the embroidery industry to West New York. So numerous were the Swiss-American and German-American embroidery shops that opened in North Hudson, that by 1948, the 428 manufacturers constituted 90% of all embroidery made in America with the 183 such businesses in West New York comprising the largest share. America's entry into World War I in 1917 saw 1,622 West New Yorkers enter military service. These men are documented in a World War I Honor Roll that appears at the back of a booklet published in 1943 entitled: World War II Honor Roll, and well as approximately 600 of them in photographs in several binders, all of which is available for viewing at the West New York Room on the second floor of The West New York Public Library. At least 26 West New Yorkers died in service as a result, and are documented on a Roll of Honor on the outside of our Municipal Building steps, as well as the 1930's white stepped Veteran's Monument in Veterans Park, 54th Street and Boulevard East.

During World War II, well over 3,500 West New York men and women served in the military. Retired West New York Firefighter Alan Ballester has organized over 1,950 names of these men and women, and the newspaper articles in which their names have appeared, available for reading on this site. At least 164 of these men and women died in World War II. Four from West New York died in the Korean War and nine from our town died in Vietnam. At least one resident served in the Persian Gulf War. On September 11, 2001, West New York lost three residents: one on flight 93 and two at the World Trade Center. The 9-11 Memorial at Donnelly Park was built during the Mayor Sires Administration to pay homage to the tremendous loss suffered that day.

As a result of the post World War II prosperity that embraced America, many returning West New York veterans took advantage of their new GI Bill, obtained college degrees or technical diplomas, and started families. With the auto industry now retro-fitted to produce cars again, and President Eisenhower's ambitious highway construction under way, many West New Yorkers began to leave town for the rapidly growing suburbs. At the time of the Castro Revolution in Cuba, West New York had lost thousands of residents and had many vacant units for rent or sale. Thus began a massive Cuban exodus of refugees to Miami and points north. Thousands of Cubans came to West New York. Among the first to come was Albio Sires in 1962. Mr. Sires later became West New York's first Cuban-American mayor, (followed by fellow countrymen, Mayors Silverio "Sal" Vega and Felix Roque, M.D.) later, first Cuban-American Speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, and is currently our Congressman. The first three Cuban-American Commissioners for West New York are Mario Hernandez, Luis Suarez, and Sal Vega. Bergenline Avenue, known as the "Miracle Mile" in West New York is our main business hub, with over 300 businesses ranging from apparel, jewelry, beauty services, electronics, travel and real estate agencies, pharmacies, supermarkets, restaurants, medical services, banks, florists, cell phones, and many more. Over a dozen houses of worship, representing several faiths and a variety of denominations are active in the community. West New York has a robust public school system that includes: a comprehensive Early Childhood Program that is administered at Early Childhood School, P.S. No. 4 Annex, Public Schools No.'s 1-5, as well as at twelve childcare providers; six elementary schools for K-6th grades, a Middle School for 7th and 8th grades, and Memorial High School.

*Named for Dudley S. Gregory, the first Mayor of Jersey City, who owned 42 acres here

Notable West New Yorkers:

Oscar L. Auf der Heide: Mayor and Congressman

James J. Braddock: World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, 1935-7

Herb Perez: U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist, 1992, Barcelona, Taekwondo

John Mahnken: Memorial High School Basketball Star, First Team All-American, Basketball, Georgetown, 1943, NBL, 1945, NBA, 1946-53

Jackie Gilloon: Memorial High School Basketball Star and all time leading scorer at time of graduation, U. of South Carolina Basketball Scholarship and School all time leader in Assists per Game, second in Career Assists (533), received tryout from Denver Nuggets

Ed Lombardi: Memorial High School Football, broke State Season Scoring Record, 1946

Albio Sires: Mayor, New Jersey Assembly Speaker, Congressman

Caridad Rodriguez: First West New York female Commissioner, Assemblywoman, Freeholder

Teresina Del Rey Baxter: First female Cuban pilot

Patricia La Terra: Miss New Jersey 1984-85, Talent Winner at 1984 Miss America Pageant

William Mayer, Jr.: Architect, designed well over 250 buildings built in Hudson and Bergen counties. His buildings in West New York including: Municipal Building, West New York Public Library

Anthony M. DeFino: Longest serving Mayor, also Hudson County Surrogate Judge and Freeholder

Felix E. Roque, Mayor: M.D., Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve (Ret.)

Silverio "Sal" Vega: Mayor, Commissioner, Freeholder Chairperson, Assemblyman

Cosmo Cirillo: Youngest to serve as West New York Commissioner, Senior Advisor to New Jersey Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, former Deputy Town Clerk, Board of Education President, former Chief of Staff, New Jersey Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez

Alicia Diaz: Former Director, Hispanic Policy, Research and Development in the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, recipient, Elena Mederos Award by the National Association of Cuban-American Women

Francis Skelley: Former West New York Building Inspector, World War II Navy Lieutenant who later witnessed first Hydrogen bomb testing at Bikini Atoll, National Vice Commander, Catholic War Veterans

Michael Palmieri: Accordionist, pianist, music teacher, composer

Christina Soto: Writer, photographer, filmmaker

Carl Martin: Former director of Information and Publications for the New York Knicks, sports columnist, assistant sports editor for Hudson Dispatch

Phillip Payne: Former editor, Hudson Dispatch, New York Daily News, New York Mirror. Killed in 1927 Old Glory Plane Crash, namesake of West New York Public Library

Priscilla Leon: Inaugural participant in Teach For America, Bilingual Education Teacher

Arthur Einbeck: Pharmacist, World War I, Major, U.S. Army Reserve, Director, Town of West New York Civil Defense and Disaster Control, founding member, the West New York Historical Society

Camille Capozzi, Caridad Carbo, Dennis Guyre, Jeneen Piccuirro and Janet Warnock, authors: West New York-A Great Town 1980

Theresa Borrelli: Pitcher, Memorial High school Softball Team which won first County Championship ever played; professor, author: I Am Myself, Faithful Expressions: Prayers for Inspiration and Hope; A Mountain Always Climbed

Lorraine Gibney: Educator, author: In through the Out Door

George Imperatore: APA Trucking, author: Fire in the Belly

Arthur Imperatore: President, APA Trucking; former owner of land that became Port Imperial in Weehawken, West New York, and Guttenberg

Joseph A. Cannizzo: Poet, author: First Feelings: a Collection of Poetry by Joseph A. Cannizzo

Luis Suarez: West New York's Second Cuban-American Commissioner, Veteran of Cuban Brigade 2506, Bay of Pigs 1961

Mercedes Nunez: Memorial High School Varsity Baseball Pitcher, first female in Hudson County baseball history to start and win a varsity baseball game

Vincent J. Dellay: Congressman

April Jeanette Mendez "A. J. Lee": Retired professional wrestler

Gene Prebola: Gym Teacher, P.S. #6, Boston University Hall of Fame, drafted by Detroit Lions, 1960, played for Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos

Armando Vilaseca: Commissioner of Vermont Department of Education

Walter Eickmann, Ph. D.: Teacher, Memorial High school, author, History of West New York, New Jersey: In Commemoration of Its Golden Jubilee (1948)

Ed Roggerman: Former President, Hudson Democratic Club, Owner, West New York Playland (near W.N.Y. Little League)

Michael R. Parkes: Former Coordinator, West New York Urban Enterprise Zone, former president, West New York Chamber of Commerce, longtime West New York jeweler

Joseph Coviello: Retired as winningest New Jersey H.S. football coach. His teams won 48 straight games, once a state record and still a county record. His 1946 Memorial High School squad, our school and county's best ever is also considered to be the best New Jersey high school football team in history from 1946-77 according to The Star Ledger

Marie Volpe, Ed. D.: Teachers College, Columbia University, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Adult and Continuing Education. Co-author (with Linda Dale Bloomberg) Completing Your Qualitative Dissertation: A Road Map from Beginning to End, vol. 3.

Frank Cumisky: Three time Olympian in Gymnastics, 1932 Silver medalist, 24 time AAU National Champion, President, National Gymnastics Judges Association, author: The History of Gymnastics

Hector Maisonave: Member, famed 65th Infantry Regiment ("Borinqueneers") of United States Army and Puerto Rico that served in Korean War. Private First Class Maisonave fought in the Korean War Battles of: Pork Chop Hill, White Horse, Jackson Heights, and Outpost Kelly. For his actions he was personally presented on August 27, 2016, by Congressman Luis Gutierez of Illinois and Congressman Robert Brady of Pennsylvania District Director Thomas Blackwell, a special reproduction of the Congressional Gold Medal which his regiment received and now is on display at The Smithsonian Institute. In the music industry, Mr. Maisonave managed Tito Rodriguez, Ismael Rivera, La Lupe, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Luis Enrique, Jerry Rivera, Grupo Mania, and others.

Note: More names may be added as necessary

Notable Sports Teams

1988 Memorial High School Varsity Baseball Team

In addition to winning the League, County, and State Championships, this Anthony Ferrainola coached team was ranked by Collegiate Baseball Magazine as The Number 1 Baseball Team in the country. John Stark and Jose Gonzales, assistant coaches PLAYERS: Robert Montalvo, John Rivera, Juan Llanes, Ralph Perdomo, Rom Camejo, Ramiro Orellano, George Mendoza, Frank Borbon, Sonny De La Rosa, Luis Garcia, Juan Carlos Cueta, Ron Franco, Carlos Garlaza, Henry Codena, George Garcia, Willie Bernal, Gabe Infante, Felix Garcia, Iram Cabellero, Alex Del Rosario, Ralph Bermudez, Steve Quagliani, Carlos Rodriguez, Al Guillen, John Cueto, and Ulises Calliero.

1966 West New York Americans Little League Team

This team made it all the way to the final game of the 1966 Little League World Series, losing to Houston 8-2. This team was managed by Rollie Sabatini and coached by Norval Wilson. PLAYERS: Ike Alonso, John Bruno, Jim Tricarico, Ken Wilson, Robert Newcombe, Mario Ruiz, Bob Mohr, Bruce Sabatini, Joe Gambardella, Jim Supples, Jim Stephens, Mike Briganty, Steve Maggi, and Alex Szuch.

1946 Memorial High School Varsity Football Team

According to The Star Ledger, this team, which was coached by Joe Coviello, assisted by Gene Luongo, Jack Kotlow, with team managers Robert Coppo and Rocco Giacumbo, was the best New Jersey high school varsity football team in history, at the time of their legendary season, and held that distinction until 1977. They are currently considered the third best New Jersey public high school football team all-time, and 5th best overall NJ high school team all-time. PLAYERS: Herb Haas, Jack McDonald, Jack Raisch, Bob Carlucci, Bill Meresca, Vinnie Egizi, John Rinaldi, Alex Saraceni, Mike Licameli, George Markisello, Ed Lombardi, Farby Giacumbo, Carl Raparelli, Rino De Nardi, Bob Wilson, Joe La Greca, Ara Iskanian, Al Pantellere, Joe Mancino, Albie Zink, Joe Casavino, Frank Zitz, Sam Martinolich, Willie Morro, Frank Messina, Gene Mancino, Charlie Apkarian, Dom Di Nino, Ed Purtill, Joe Kassou, and John De Raclio.

1978 Memorial High School Varsity Cross-Country Team

According to Aron Taylor of XC Legacy, in his article: "XC Legacy: 1978 Boys National XC Rankings", the New Jersey State Champion Memorial High School Varsity Cross-Country Team was ranked 15th in the Country that year. Coached by the late Dr. Robert Van Zanten, this team featured Al Solano, and others.

1980 Memorial High School Softball Team

This Matt Sinisi coached team won the first ever Hudson County Softball Championship. Its members included: Theresa Borrelli, Jo Ann DiBiscegli, Maurilla Rodriguez, Barbara Garc, Mercy Poro, Barbara Valencia, Karen Flicher, and others.

Timeline

The following is a brief timeline of significant historical events.
1609Henry Hudson anchors the 'Half Moon' in Weehawken Cove as first known non-Native American in area.
1658Peter Stuyvesant purchases land that includes future West New York from Native Americans.
1661Governor Stuyvesant conveys lands including future West New York to Freeholders of Bergen.
1664All lands of New Amsterdam (including future West New York) ceded by Stuyvesant to British.
1668Oldest known land conveyance in future West New York issued by Carteret to Ide Corneliese Van Vost (aka Van Vorst).
178614 acres sold by John Sickles to Jacob Brower (aka Brouwer) in future West New York. That land included 'Brower's Point' on two historical maps, and now includes Brower Court and Jacob's Ferry.
1798Future West New York becomes part of Bergen Township.
1821Map of the City of New York and Surrounding Country by John Randall, Jr., refers to several homesteads (including Brower, Brower's Point) in future West New York.
1840Hudson County created from part of Bergen County
1841Thomas J. Dobbs born near Hudson River, in future West New York.
1843Future West New York becomes part of North Bergen Township.
1853Conrad Bickhard settles in future West New York.
1854West New York first appears as an historical reference, on Robert Bagot's Topographical Map of Hudson County.
1861Guttenberg, Union Hill, and West New York leave North Bergen Township to become Union Township.
1864Union Hill leaves Union Township; later becomes part of Union City.
1866Original P.S. #1 built near 62nd and Maacken's (Madison) Street.
1870'sTheodore Ristow builds the first group of frame houses on Maacken (Madison) Street.
1878First West New York Committee Meeting held.
1879Guttenberg officially leaves Union Township, which now only includes future West New York.
1883Completion of a railroad tunnel through the West New York Palisades to New Durham, North Bergen.
1889Under the name Niagara Hose Company (which existed at least ten years prior) Empire Hook and Ladder Company Number Two organized May 23rd.

Hickory Engine Company Number One organized November 9th.

1894First electric trolley cars on Bergenline Avenue.
1896Taurus Post Office on Bergenline Avenue.
1898Union Township changes its name to West New York. Mayor/Town Council format.
1900'sSwiss immigrants begin bringing transformative Embroidery Industry to West New York.
1914Cornerstone of the new Municipal Building is laid to replace the old Town Hall.
1915Prosperity Week celebrates the dedication of the Municipal Building.
1916State of New Jersey officially issues Certificate of Incorporation of Board of Trustees of the West New York Free Public Library.
1917West New York Free Public Library opens on second floor of Municipal Building.
1917West New York sends the first of 1622 to serve in military in World War I; at least 26 die in service.
1922Cornerstone laying of the new West New York Free Public Library; Jennie Thompson, Librarian.
1923115 business enterprises in West New York: embroidery, textiles, jewelry, handbags, woodcutting, quarrying, piano making, soap manufacturing, and many more.
1928Memorial High School is dedicated "To Those Who Made the Supreme Sacrifice."
1931West New York switches to Commission form of Government under the Walsh Act, where the five elected Commissioners choose the Mayor.
1942Well over 3,500 men and women from West New York begin serving in World War II, which would conclude in 1945 with at least 164 of our men and women dying in service.
1948West New York Celebrates 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee. 20,000 attended keynote speech by New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer outside Municipal Building. The Jubilee Parade had 36 bands, 10,000 marchers, and 250,000 spectators. Commemorative Golden Jubilee booklet: Official Program: West New York, N.J. 1898-1948 Golden 50th Jubilee, patches, stamps, and History of West New York: In Commemoration of its Golden Jubilee, by Memorial High School Teacher Dr. Walter Eichmann issued. 14 carat gold Golden Jubilee Committee cards presented to President Truman and General Eisenhower.
1952The West New York Free Public Library is officially dedicated as the Phillip Alan Payne Memorial Library in memory of a newspaper editor of the Hudson Dispatch who died in his attempt to be the first passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight from Maine to Rome, Italy in 'Old Glory.' It was reported lost in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff. A wheel recovered from the plane wreckage is now part of an exhibit in the library.
1955Beginning of Mayor John Armellino Administration (to 1971) Achievements: extensive creation of affordable housing for families and seniors, creation of Community Health Center (current Board of Education site), construction of original annex to Memorial High School (gym), initiated construction of Overlook Terrace ( moderate income housing) and (new) Public School #2. Mayor Armellino was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross "…for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Commanding Officer , Company L, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944…" (on Utah Beach, Normandy, France on D-Day.)Major Armellino, who was a Captain at the time, lost his leg in that battle and also was awarded The Purple Heart. In 1971, Mayor Armellino pleaded guilty to conspiring with an organized crime boss to protect mob gambling activities.
1960'sArrival of Cuban refugees to the area. West New York's population, previously depleted by the 1950's suburban housing boom, increases dramatically.
1971Beginning of Mayor Anthony M. Defino Administration, who would serve until 1995, becoming West New York's longest-serving Mayor. Achievements: Completion of new Public School #2, West New York Pool, refurbishment of Memorial Park and Field, first Cuban American Town Commissioners: Mario Hernandez, Luis Suarez, Silverio "Sal" Vega, rededication of the West New York Public Library after undergoing extensive renovations. A large plaque hangs in the lobby commemorating the occasion.
1973West New York celebrates 75th Anniversary Diamond Fiesta. The North Bergen/Guttenberg/West New York Parade route attracts 10,000 spectators. Memorial High School Band and Chorus perform Diamond Fiesta March by Dr. Ezekiel Levy. Former Mayors Wilbur McGowan and John E. Otis attend festivities. Commemorative Diamond Jubilee booklet: West New York, N.J. Diamond Fiesta: 1898-1973, written by Historians Dora Lobel and Nathan Richman, edited by Leon Raphael; and 45 rpm audio recordings of Diamond Fiesta March by Memorial High School Supervisor of Music, Dr. Ezekiel Levy, with Memorial High School Band (and Chorus under direction of Ms. Mildred Dockstader), and remarks by Mayor Anthony M. DeFino.
1981Arthur E. Imperatore buys 400 acres of land at the Weehawken and West New York Waterfront for $7.75 million.
1985400 condominiums and a marina proposed for West New York.
1986Ferry service begins between Port Imperial and Manhattan, shuttling more than 3,000 passengers daily.
1995Albio Sires Administration begins (to 2006.) Achievements: development of West New York Waterfront as Port Imperial with areas known as Bulls Ferry, Jacob's Ferry, the Landings, Riverbend, Riverwalk; established Urban Enterprise Zone, Middle School built, construction on new Public School #4 (named after Albio Sires) begun.
1998West New York celebrates 100th Anniversary Centennial. West New York Parade route attracts more than 6,000 spectators. Town issues three types of Commemorative Medallions: gold plated silver, silver, and bronze, as well as a booklet: Town of West New York: Looking Back/Looking Ahead 100 Years of History, written by Estela Longo. Mayor Sires establishes Official Town of West New York website, which later becomes:

www.westnewyorknj.org

West New York Free Public Library ushers Town Centennial with comprehensive exhibit (put together by Director Weiliang Lai, Reference Librarian Estela Longo, and volunteer Frank Pizzichillo) of photographs and artifacts of West New York History, which can be seen with more recent acquisitions in the Library's second floor West New York Room, operated by Town Historian Patrick Cullen.

2006Silverio "Sal" Vega Administration begins (to 2011.) Achievements: 2.25 miles of road reconstruction, Miller, Donnelly, and Verrazano Park reconstructed with new dog park at Verrazano Park, sidewalk corner handicapped ramps installed, construction on new Public School #3 (named after Robert Menendez) begun.
2011Felix Roque, M.D. administration begins. Achievements: reduction in crime rates, establishment of Youth Police Academy, creation of comprehensive Noise Ordinance, establishment of Health Fairs, reconstruction of Washington Park and refurbishment of Veterans' Park.

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