Imagine if you can, the prospect of owning nearly an entire town before it existed. It was merely a dream for the Stevens family, but became a reality. In the year 1699 a young man, John Stevens, left England at the age of seventeen and became an indentured servant in New York. After he completed his seven year obligation, he traveled across the Hudson River and landed in what is now Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1714, John married Ann Campbell. Ann’s father owned a vast amount of land, and John and Ann inherited two thousand acres. This was the beginning of Stevens’ empire as with that ownership, John had the privilege of becoming involved in local government. During that era one had to own property to have a voice in politics. Through his political involvement, the family was instrumental in the development of steam travel, negotiating a Native American treaty in 1758, and involved in settling the dispute over the location of the New York-New Jersey border in the mid-1700s. But the greatest early accomplishment of the Steven’s family was through John Stevens Jr. who took part in the ratifying of the Constitution of the United States of America as a member of the Continental Congress.
Upon this political foundation the Stevens family, established the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company in 1838. Originally started as a means to manage the family interests, it was eventually used for greater things. The aim of the corporation was to turn the waterfront into an international shipping terminal and to develop Hoboken into an “exclusive residential area.” Making big plans is one thing; executing those plans are another. So, were those goals reached? The map to the right from several decades later, shows that by 1873 the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company did indeed own a vast amount of land along the Hudson River with docks stretching out to accommodate the ships bringing in commodities from all over the world. But what of the exclusive residential area?
The first public sale of real estate by the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company took place in 1839. The property between First and Newark Streets, running back to Washington Street sold for $450. Thirty years later it was worth between $12,000 and $13,000. The first house was erected by J. J. Benson who included a small drinking saloon on his property. While the press never described what the Stevens family meant by an “exclusive” residential area, the Jersey Journal gave a lot of credit to the company in 1867 by saying, “...but for the energy and enterprise of Mr. Stevens and Mr. Shippen, Hoboken wouldn’t amount to much.” Clearly they had put Hoboken on the map as a desirable place to live.
GROWING BY LEAPS & BOUNDS
By the close of 1868, the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company had built railroads, residences, and provided land to churches as well as to educational facilities. At that point the company’s real estate value amounted to nearly 20 million dollars and the water-front, at its lowest value was said to be worth 15 million; investments that realized a territory the size of Monaco. Hoboken, through the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, had seen a steady growth since its beginning and in November 1868 it was noted in the New York Herald that “The erection of dwellings of all kinds and stores is progressing with greater rapidity here than in any other part of Hudson county.”
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The Hoboken Land and Improvement Company continued developing the town for many years. With over 100 years of being the business of creating a town called Hoboken, it finally dissolved in 1949. But the building the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company called home for so many of those years still stands and is landmarked at No. 1 Newark Street.
Is your home a part of Hoboken’s early history? Find out. In future blog posts we will examine the details of some of the buildings that made up the beginning of Hoboken’s residential neighborhoods. Also, check out the stories of some of Hoboken’s homes up for sale or recently sold by logging on to Building Chronicles.