Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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.

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