Part of the American History and Genealogy Project


Newark Essex County, New Jersey

Newark leads all the other cities with a population, in 1905, of 283,289. Founded in 1666, less than half a century after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, it is one of the oldest towns in the country. When the little band from Connecticut put up their huts on the marshy lowlands, New Jersey was a wilderness, through which roamed wild animals and equally wild Indians.

One of the first things done by those pioneers was to build a small church which stood nearly opposite the present First Presbyterian Church. Two men with loaded guns kept watch in the cupola during service for the Indians who never came, and one fourth of the male adults brought their weapons to church, just as they had been accustomed to do in New England.

If the village grew slowly, it was prosperous from the beginning. At the end of ten years, it had, in addition to the church, an inn, a grist mill, and a staunch boat which carried the produce to Elizabethtown and New York and brought back the purchases made in those places. Governor Carteret wrote home glowing praises of the Newark cider. John Catlin opened a school in 1676. The parents of those who attended had to pay for the privilege. Although new settlers came from Connecticut, the malaria from the marshes kept others away. One hundred years after the first cabin was put together, Newark contained less than a thousand people. The first charter was granted in 1712.

The awakening came early in the last century. The little town was well known for its excellent shoes, harnesses, wagons, and carriages, all of which were in wide demand. Moses Combs was the first manufacturer in Newark. His boots and shoes were popular in the South, and he grew wealthy. Then Seth Boyden arrived at the close of the War of 1812, and did a service for the town and for the country itself, which will always be remembered with gratitude. He was a genius in the way of invention. His foundry produced the finest of tools and machines. He invented a method of casting malleable iron. He discovered that electricity not only descends from the sky to the earth, but often passes from the earth to the sky.

Seth Boyden was the first man to make patent leather. He also experimented with the little wild strawberry, until he evolved the big, luscious delicacy that is a delight to everybody.

While on the high tide of prosperity, Newark was smitten by the "hard times" of 1837. It looked for a while as if the town were doomed to ruin. Men who were wealthy one day dropped to the depths of poverty the next day. Gaunt, famishing workmen tramped up and down the streets, vainly looking for the means to earn the price of a loaf of bread. It was years before Newark recovered from the staggering blow. When it did rally, however, its prosperity was greater than before.

The first step had been taken in 1813 to furnish free public schools for the children of the poor. In 1833 legislative permission was obtained to divide the city into four wards, and in 1836 the present school system was established. It was in April of the latter year that Newark became a real city, and began lighting its streets with oil lamps. Ten years later gas took their place. In 1840 the population was 17,000. It doubled in the next ten years, and in the following ten years doubled again. At the opening of the War for the Union, its inhabitants numbered 75,000. In 1905 they had increased to 283,289, and in 1910 to more than 300,000.

The coming of the thread manufactories, varnish factories, chemical manufactories, jewelry and electrical shops added to the wealth of the city. The leather industry had much to do with Newark's growth, and the making of machinery, wearing apparel, and small metal articles was largely carried on. The manufacture of jewelry naturally caused that of silverware and watch cases. Newark supplies a large part of the world's watch cases.

Emperor William of Germany pronounced the silverware made at the Newark plant of Tiffany and Company the finest exhibition of workmanship of its kind ever produced in any country in the world. It was in Newark that Thomas A. Edison established his first large workshop, although his later experiments were conducted at Menlo Park, N.J. The 765 manufacturing plants of 1860 have become 1600, and the capital invested in industry has grown from $14,000,000 to nearly $120,000,000, while the value of the yearly marketed product has increased from $28,000,000 to more than $150,000,000.

The schools of Newark are among the best in the Union, its houses of worship are so numerous that it has been called the "City of Churches," and its public buildings are beautiful and impressive. Among them is the Free Library, one of the finest in the State. Its principal charitable institutions are the City Reform School, the Orphan Asylum, the Home for the Friendless, and St. Barnabas and St. Michael hospitals.

New Jersey AHGP

Source: A Brief History of New Jersey, by Edward S. Ellis, A.M. and Henry Snyder, American Book Company, 1910.

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