Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Union City Mayors

John F. Boylan (1925 – 1927)

Charles A. Mohn (1927 – 1929)

William Rannenberg (1929 – 1932)

Lewis B. Eastmead (1932 – 1939)

Harry J. Thourot (1939 – 1962)

William V. Musto (1962 – 1970)

William J. Meehan (1970 – 1974)

Willian V. Musto (1974 – 1982)

Robert C. Botti (1982)

Arthur Wichert (1982 – 1986)

Robert Menendez (1986 – 1992)

Bruce D. Walter (1992 – 1998)

Raul “Rudy” Garcia (1998 – 2000)

Brian P. Stack (2000 - present)
Commissioner Maryury A. Martinetti
Commissioner Lucio P. Fernandez
Mayor Brian P. Stack
Commissioner Christopher F. Irizarry
Commissioner Tilo E. Rivas

Union City 15th Street Branch Free Public Library

Union City Free Public Library, circa 1911
The Builders

One of the most prominent names in the history and development of West Hoboken and Union Hill (in 1935 the two towns merged to become the City of Union City) is that of the Cranwell family. Arriving penniless from Ireland in 1857, George Cranwell as a young man studied and learned the building trade. He founded a construction firm and became one of the most prolific and respected building contractors in what would become the City of Union City. Joined by his son James, the firm of George Cranwell & Son erected many of the most notable buildings in Union City. Many of these buildings still stand today and are a testament to a hard working immigrant family that attained the "American Dream" of success in Union City. Some of the notable structures erected by the firm of George Cranwell & Son are the Union City Town Hall, Union Hill Middle School (formerly Union Hill High School), the St. Michael's Monastery, Hudson Elementary School, St. Michael's High School, and the Carnegie endowed West Hoboken Free Public Library. The newly renovated Union City 15th Street Branch Free Public Library West Hoboken Library (West Hoboken Free Public Library) is now the William V. Musto Cultural Center, housing museums, art galleries, a concert hall, and rooms for community activities. The legacy of the building skills and talent of George and James Cranwell continues, now spanning three centuries. It is of special note that the direct descendants of George and James Cranwell, spanning many generations, still reside in Union City, a city built in part by their family.

George W. Cranwell, a prominent builder and contractor of West Hoboken, was born in Ireland on Christmas Day, December 25, 1836, and is the son of Edward Cranwell and Elizabeth, his wife. Coming to this country with his parents when very young, he received his education at the Christian Brothers’ school in Utica, New York, and in 1857 removed to West Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1866 he returned to Utica, where he resided until about 1886, when he again returned to West Hoboken, which again became his home. Mr. Cranwell became identified with the building and contracting business while yet a mere youth, and during a period of nearly thirty-five years followed that vocation with uninterrupted success, becoming one of the best known contractors and builders in the country of his era. He learned the trade of mason and builder in Utica, and there erected the German Catholic Church, the Wheeler, Kiernan & Company’s Stove Works, St. John’s Protectory (then St. John’s Orphan Asylum), and many other buildings of importance. He also built the north wing of Hamilton College in Oneida County, New York, St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Cooperstown in the same State, many well known structures in Little Falls, and a large part of the buildings erected by Alfred Dolge at Dolgeville, New York, during a period of twenty years, and the large public school edifice in that town. These are only a few of the contracts executed by him in a number of towns and cities, including the City of New York. In New Jersey he was also active in contracting and building. He erected the original part of the Hoboken Monastery in West Hoboken, the new town hall in the Town of Union, and numerous other private and public buildings in the town of Weehawken and the City of Hoboken. Mr. Cranwell’s work shows great skill and ability, and stamps him as one of the ablest members of his vocation. Active and energetic, honest and upright in his dealings, thorough and exact in the work committed to his care, and faithful in the discharge of every trust, he was highly respected and esteemed. In politics he was an ardent Democrat. He married Miss Margaret Fullerton of Jersey City, NJ. His son James became a partner in his father’s business under the firm name of G. W. Cranwell & Son.

James W. Cranwell - Few men have contributed more to the growth and prosperity of the Town of West Hoboken than James Cranwell, during his era, one of the foremost builders and contractors in the county. Associated with his father under the firm name of George W. Cranwell & Son, he erected many buildings of historical significance in the town of West Hoboken.  His work however was not confined to West Hoboken alone, but also extended over the whole State of New Jersey as well as New York State. The Union Hill Town Hall, the Union Hill High School, St. Michael’s Parochial Grammar School, Public Schools Nos. 6 and 7, Free Public Library of West Hoboken, St. Joseph’s R. C. Church of Bayonne, Public Service Commercial Building in Union Hill and hundreds of factories, loft buildings, large apartment houses and private residences were erected by his firm. 

George W. Cranwell erected the original part of the Monastery in West Hoboken, and numerous churches and structures of all kinds throughout the States of New York and New Jersey. When he retired from active life, his son James W. Cromwell conducted the business.

Like his father, James became one of the most conspicuous builders and contractors in the State. His work demonstrated great skill and ability and stamped him as one of the ablest men of his vocation. He was thorough in every detail, conscientious and practical in carrying out his contracts. He achieved an eminent reputation for his foresight, sound judgment and his capacity for business. He was a public - spirited and enterprising citizen and was universally respected for those virtues that make up the loyal friend and honest man.

James W. Cranwell was born in Union Hill in 1866. His parents were George W. and Margaret (Fullerton) Cranwell. He was the oldest of five children and the only son. His father’s parents were Edward and Elizabeth Cranwell, natives of Ireland, where George W. Cranwell was born on December 25, 1836. The family immigrated to this country and settled in Utica, New York, and in 1857 moved to West Hoboken. A short time later James was born and the family returned to Utica, where James received his early school education. The family moved back to West Hoboken in 1886.

After finishing his early education, James Cranwell started to learn the building and contracting business of his father, and was later taken on as a member of the firm. While always interested in the welfare of his town, James never sought nor accepted any political office, with the exception of that of Tax Collector, which office he held for some years. James married Katherine McConan in 1894. They had ten children, five boys and three girls. His wife died in 1913, and two years later James married Katherine’s sister Minnie.

Andrew Carnegie and Union City

Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on November 25, 1835. He was the first son of William Carnegie, a linen weaver and local leader of the Chartists (who sought to improve the conditions of working-class life in Great Britain), and of Margaret Carnegie, daughter of Thomas Morrison, a shoemaker and political and social reformer.

An Émigré at Age 13 
William Carnegie's handloom business dwindled in the wake of industrialization, and in 1848 the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. There, at the age of 13, Andrew began his career as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory. A voracious reader, he took advantage of the generosity of an Allegheny citizen who opened his library to local working boys. Books provided most of his education as he moved from being a Western Union messenger boy to telegraph operator and then to a series of positions leading to the superintendent of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Young Entrepreneur 
While still employed by the Railroad, Carnegie invested in a new company to manufacture railway sleeping cars. From there, he expanded his business ventures to encompass the building of bridges, locomotives and rails. In 1865, he organized the first of his many companies, the Keystone Bridge Company, and in 1873, the first of his steel works.

In Partnership with His Workers  
Carnegie's companies were founded not as stock corporations but as partnerships, in line with his philosophy that “it shall be the rule for the workman to be Partner with Capital, the man of affairs giving his business experience, the working man in the mill his mechanical skill, to the company, both owners of the shares and so far equally interested in the success of their joint efforts.” As associates, Carnegie attracted young men with exceptional talent for organization management. His steel company prospered, and when Carnegie sold the company to J.P. Morgan in 1901, the Carnegie Company was valued at more than $400 million.

The Birth of a Philanthropist 
Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic career began around 1870. He is best known for his gifts of free public library buildings. His first such gift was to his native Dunfermline in 1881, and it was followed by similar gifts to 2,509 communities in the English-speaking world.

The Rich as 'Trustees'
In 1889, he wrote “The Gospel of Wealth” in which he boldly articulated his view that the rich are merely “trustees” of their wealth and are under a moral obligation to distribute it in ways that promote the welfare and happiness of the common man. Carnegie was a prolific writer, but the quotation for which he is most famous comes from “The Gospel of Wealth”: “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”

Full-Time Philanthropist  
When Carnegie retired from business in 1901, he set about in earnest to distribute his fortune. In addition to libraries, he provided hundreds of church organs to local communities.  Carnegie's wealth helped to establish numerous colleges, schools, nonprofit organizations and associations both in his adopted country, as well as in Scotland and throughout the globe. His most significant contribution, both in terms of money and in terms of enduring influence, was the establishment of several endowed trusts or institutions bearing his name.

By the time of his death in 1919, Andrew Carnegie had given away about $350 million, but the legacy of his generosity continues to unfold in the work of the trusts and institutions that he endowed.

The Union City 15th Street Branch Free Public Library
The industrialist turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had little formal schooling, but he educated himself. He prized books as the means to his self-education. As part of his charitable efforts, Carnegie endowed many libraries in the United States. The West Hoboken Free Public Library was one of his beneficiaries. He gave $25,000 for the construction of a new library building and the enlargement of the collection. The new library was erected in 1903 on the north side of High Street - now 15th Street - between Clinton Avenue and Spring Street - now New York and Bergenline Avenues.  A similar donation was given to the Town of Union Hill in 1905 for the creation of their Free Public Library, now the Main Branch of the Union City Free Public Library on 324- 43rd Street, Union City.

Cultural Center
The historic building received a major renovation, and on Saturday, June 11, 2011 Mayor Brian P. Stack & the Union City Board of Commissioners, rededicated the historic building as the William V. Musto Cultural Center.  The building is now home to the Union City Museum of Art; Union City Art Gallery & Concert Hall; Union City Police Museum; Union City Museum of History; and Union City Senior Citizen Center.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brief History of Union City

Compiled by Gerard Karabin

Eighty-five years ago on June 1, 1925, the Town of Union (colloquially known as Union Hill) and the Township of West Hoboken joined together and became one, the City of Union City. Today with a population of approximately 80,000 residents the city is experiencing an unprecedented period of economic, cultural, and artistic growth needed to remain vital and prosperous in the 21st century. As Union City looks forward and embraces the future it is also proper to pause and reflect on its past. In 2010, the City commemorated its 85th anniversary, but eighty-five years only marks the incorporation of the City of Union City. Its history is far older.
The original inhabitants of the area where Union City is now situated were the Native Americans. An Algonquian group, the Munsee speaking branch of the Lenni-Lenape, wandered the vast area of woodlands Henry Hudson encountered during his voyage of exploration (1609-1610) in service of the Dutch. Of the many European countries colonizing North America, the Dutch claimed this area, which would include the future New York City, and named it New Netherland. Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Netherland, purchased the part of land that would one day become Hudson County from the Hackensack branch of the Lenni-Lenape in 1658. The deed is preserved in the New York State Archives. The deed describes the boundaries of the land purchased: “The tract of land lying on the west side of the North (Hudson) River. The tract beginning at the Great Clip or Great Rock of Wiehacken (Weehawken) through lands above the Islandt Siskakes (Secaucus) from there to the Kill van Kull and along the channel side to Constables Hook. From Constables Hook once again to the Great Clip in Wiehacken.” The tract of land was purchased for the price of “80 fathoms of wampum, 20 fathoms of cloth, 12 brass kettles, 6 guns, one double brass kettle, 2 blankets, and one half barrel of strong beer.”
The relationship between the early Dutch settlers and the Native Americans was an uneasy one. Disputes over property and land claims frequently led to skirmishes and war between the two groups. In seeking a way to protect the defenseless farmhouses in the newly acquired area, Peter Stuyvesant in 1660 ordered the building of a fortified village. The village known as Bergen was the first permanent settlement in New Jersey, now Jersey City. In 1664 the English captured New Netherland from the Dutch. At that time the boundaries of Bergen Township encompassed the area we know as Hudson County. To the north of Bergen Village was a largely unpopulated area known as Bergen Woods that would slowly be claimed by settlers. Some streets in Union City still retain the names of the early settlers. Yet the area that would one day become Union City remained sparsely inhabited until the early part of the nineteenth century.
The English granted a new town charter to the Town of Bergen in 1668. Then in 1682 Bergen County was created with its county seat in Hackensack. The new county comprised all of present day Hudson, Bergen, and Passaic Counties. In naming the new county Bergen, the English recognized and honored its earliest Dutch origins. Although sparsely populated during the 17th and 18th centuries, by the early part of the 19th century the population of the southeast section of Bergen County had increased to a point where it was deemed necessary to organize it as a separate county. In 1840 the New Jersey State Legislature created Hudson County. In 1843, the newly created County of Hudson was divided into two townships – Old Bergen Township and North Bergen Township. Old Bergen Township through the consolidation of its various communities eventually became Jersey City. North Bergen Township was gradually partitioned into the various municipalities of present day North Hudson. In 1849 the future City of Hoboken severed its ties with North Bergen Township. The next separations were the Township of Weehawken and the Town of Guttenberg in 1859. Union Township was created in 1861. From it, developed the Town of West Hoboken in 1861 and the Town of Union in 1864. The northern section of Union Township was finally incorporated as the Town of West New York in 1898.
The city that would one day become the City of Union City grew as two separate entities for over 60 years until 1925. From these two towns Union City derives a rich heritage of cultural diversity that continues to this day. For example, in the 1890’s a small five- block area of West Hoboken running on Central Avenue from 23rd street to 27th street was known as the “Dardanelles” section. It was here more than nineteen different nationalities were represented. From the earliest Dutch, English, and French settlers a steady stream of immigrant groups would come to live in Union City. In 1851 Germans began to settle the area that would become known as Union Hill. The progression of immigrants would continue throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Swiss, Belgian, Italian, Irish, Armenian, Greek, Chinese, Polish, Syrian, Jewish, and Russians all found a home in Union City.
Today that same cultural diversity can be seen throughout Union City, especially in the stores and restaurants along Bergenline Avenue. Various nationalities are represented, but dominated mostly by people from Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Beginning in the early 1950’s Cubans began to settle in Union City. Many found work in factories and embroidery mills. By the early 1960’s, when it became clear that Castro had embraced Communism, the trickle of Cuban immigration became a flood of Cuba’s middle and upper middle class. They quickly assimilated with American society helping revitalize the local business areas such as Bergenline Avenue. In addition, as the Cubans were mostly well-educated professionals, Cuban-Americans became very influential in the social and political landscape of the City.
Union City takes pride in all its houses of worship and the many religions they represent. Many of the churches are more than one hundred years old and are admired for their architectural beauty. The former Saint Michael’s Monastery Church, (today the Hudson Presbyterian Church), is perhaps the most notable. Its cornerstone was laid in 1869 and it was completed in 1875. The octagonal dome piercing the sky could be seen for many miles and once was the focal point for travelers on trains and ocean steamers.
Union City has also been home to many noted artists. William Ranney, Antonio Jacobsen, James Buttersworth, and Andrew Melrose all resided in the city. Interest in art and sculpture has not abated, as there are many talented artists living in Union City. In fact the city has been undergoing an artistic renaissance. Recently Mayor Brian P. Stack & the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution creating the Union City Artist Collective, a committee dedicated to promoting the arts. The “UC ART Sculpture” designed by artist Lucio Fernandez was dedicated in September 2009 on Bergenline Avenue between 30th and 31st Streets at the location of the Plaza of the Arts that held its ribbon-cutting ceremony in December 2010. September has been officially designated Celebrate Art Month in Union City with numerous exhibits and performances held throughout the City. The Union City Art Gallery At City Hall, under the direction of Art Curator Amado Mora, hosts a new art exhibit each month; and the Union City Museum of Art located in the William V. Musto Cultural Center is the gem of the Union City art scene.
Writers and poets have always found Union City to be a source of inspiration. These include Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin and the famous American author Pietro di Donato, author of “Christ in Concrete”. The city is the home of two Public Libraries to serve the needs of its many residents.
The performing arts have always been an integral part of Union City. The new Union City Performing Arts Center, a modern state-of-the-art 960-seat theatre, inaugurated in 2009, offers top-notch performances. The historic Park Theatre is world-famous for its annual production of the “Passion Play”, first performed in 1915. The equally renowned play “Veronica’s Veil” debuted in 1914 at the St. Joseph’s Parochial School Auditorium and played annually until 1999 when the school was rebuilt to become Veteran’s Memorial School. Theatres such as the Hudson, Lincoln, Capitol, and Roosevelt were well known. Vaudeville and burlesque were theatre staples in Union City, and stars such as Harry Houdini and Fred Astaire performed here. The performing arts still thrive in the City. The Grace Theatre Workshop, Inc. is dedicated to promoting theatre in Union City and new and exciting theatrical groups such as the Donovan Ensemble, The Union City Opera Company, and the TapOlé Dance Company are also making an impact. The City parks hold weekly performances of drama, comedy, and poetry during the summer months, as well as concerts of classical, jazz, rock, salsa and merengue music. Celia Cruz Park was dedicated in 2004 in honor of the legendary entertainer, and every spring notables from the entertainment industry are recognized there with a “star” in what has become Union City’s Walk of Fame.
Under the administration of Mayor Brian P. Stack and the Board of Commissioners the building of new parks and public plazas and the improvement of existing parks is a top priority. Firefighter’s Memorial Park was dedicated in August 2009 and has an Olympic sized swimming pool. Juan Pablo Duarte Park opened in 2004 on the site of the old Indian Pond Park. Its large wading pool and playgrounds make it a popular summertime stop for families, especially those with young children. War Memorial Plaza situated on 46th Street and Broadway is a beautiful area dedicated to all veterans. Liberty Plaza located at 30th Street and Palisade Avenue is dedicated to the victims of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Both plazas offer residents open spaces for rest and contemplation.

Another top priority is the school system. The City and Board of Education put the children of Union City above all else. To better serve the educational needs of the community, its two high schools, Union Hill and Emerson, were consolidated into one. In 2009, on the property where Roosevelt Stadium once stood, the City opened the new Union City High School and Athletic Complex. It proudly features a football stadium built on an elevated section of the high school with views of the New York City skyline.
Union City is a city with a rich and interesting history and this brief overview is by no means a definitive one. To aid in the recording and preservation of the city’s history Mayor Brian P. Stack and the Board of Commissioners appointed a Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. Historical markers are being erected to honor note-worthy residents of the city. A History Museum along with a Fine Arts Museum and Concert Hall is housed in the former 15th Street Free Public Library, a Carnegie endowed building, itself more than one hundred years old. The statues that stand in the parks of Union City are works of art designed by famous sculptors. The architectural qualities of many buildings in Union City still exist although you may not recognize them at ground level. Sometimes all you have to do is look up to see the beauty that is the City of Union City and its people, the human monuments that continue to make the city prosper and grow.