I have never been to Weehawken, New Jersey. Not once! And that’s fairly odd, since my visits to other urban New Jersey Hudson River-side locales, such as Jersey City and Hoboken, have been fairly frequent the last twenty years. It’s all about the PATH train. I can be in Hoboken and JC in minutes from midtown Manhattan, and even places like Newark and Nutley, accessible from Newark’s “City Subway” surface line. However, now that the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail has been extended through Weehawken these last couple of years, I might make it yet. I’m aware of its historical significance — it’s where Alexander Hamilton was shot by Aaron Burr, and I am aware it has a wealth of dead ends and picturesque step steets to explore, and fine Manhattan views.
By some accounts “Weehawken” is derived from a Lenape Indian phrase meaning “rocks that look like trees.”
The short lane, which runs between Christopher and West 10th Streets just east of West Street, stands on what, in the colonial era, was on the grounds of the Newgate State Prison. Nearby Charles Lane is a Belgian-blocked alley that used to run along the prison’s north wall:
…. Newgate Prison [stood] in the West Village between 1797 and about 1828 at the Hudson River shoreline, bordered by Washington, Christopher and just south of where Perry Street would later appear. Newgate was NY State’s first penitentiary, and pioneered radical correctional policies such as allowing prisoners light in their cells, water to bathe, no corporal punishment, visits from families, and rehabilitational training. By the late 1820s, the prison was no longer isolated and was surrounded by streets and businesses, and transferred to Ossining in Westchester County, the prison known popularly as Sing Sing (land on which the prison was built was called Sintsink by the Indians) from above link.
Above: The Newgate State Prison is depicted in the mosaics of the Christopher Street station on the IRT #1 train, on the 7th Avenue Line.
After Newgate’s prisoners were transferred to Sing Sing, NYC reserved the waterfront area between Christopher and Amos (later West 10th) for a public market. Weehawken Street owes its existence to this market, as it was laid out around 1830 to accommodate wagons bringing produce to and from the market, serving the small wholesalers built along its length. Christopher Street was also widened in this area to accommodate the market. Farmers from New Jersey locations — prominently, Weehawken — set up stalls in the market.
Despite its opportune location the Weehawken Market did not successfully compete with the larger Washington Market further downtown (in a plot now occupied by the Independence Plaza Apartments). The market was abandoned in 1844 and plots were sold off to private owners who proceeded to erect a variety of structures on the west side of Weehawken Street. Developers had already been busily constructing buildings on the east side of the street since it was opened in 1830.
Let’s take a look at Weehawken Street’s buildings…but before that, we have a memorial.
In 1999 I photographed a Type G wall bracket streetlamp on a large storage warehouse on West 10th just east of Weehawken street, but by the time I returned in 2013, the warehouse, and its lamp, were just about gone.
The southeast corner building on West 10th and Weehawken Street is among the younger buildings in the area. It was constructed in 1873 for brick manufacturer Charles Schultz as a tenement housing eight families and a store. By 1896 the ground flor was occupied by a saloon called the Plug Hat, and into the 20th Century the house was owned by brewers and saloon keepers. In 1961 the last saloon moved out and the ground floor was converted to a laundry.
Nos. 3-5 Weehawken, on the east side of the street, was constructed by architect Mortimer Merritt as tenements in 1876-1877, as tenement housing for the nearby Beadleston brewery, which had actually purchased part of the old Newgate prison and incorporated it into the brewery building. Prohibition took a toll and the brewery was demolished in 1937. The ground floor brickwork was added in 1928.
No. 7 Weehawken Street goes back to the dawn of Weehawken Street as it was built when the market was still open in 1830, for New York City Superintendent of Repairs Jacob Roome. In 1845 it was bought by Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, the grandfather of future President Theodore, and remained in that family until 1920. The building originally had a ground floor stable that was altered into a garage and auto repair shop in 1921. In the 1950s, the building and plot were acquired by Meier & Oelhaf Marine Supplies, which combined the #7 lot with their adjoining holdings in 1971.
#9-#11 Weehawken Street was constructed as a stable building in 1908 by Thomas Lynch, replacing two other Beadleston brewery tenements, and was converted to an auto garage in 1922. For most of its history it has been used as an auto garage, electrical contractor and as part of the Meier-Oelhaf marine repair operations. Like #7 the building is privately owned today.
A look north on Weehawken Street toward what was originally….
…the Holland Hotel, on the NE corner of West Street and West 10th, cosntructed in 1904 by German immigrant Albert Adler. It has been home to hotels, men’s haberdashers, coffee shops, food markets, barbershop, uniform wholesalers and gay bars over its long history. The building is comparable in appearance to when it was built.
185 Christopher, on the corner of Weehawken, stands on a plot originally developed by Stephen Allen, a former mayor of NYC, in 1829; Allen served from 1821-1824. Allen, a wealthy sailmaker and banker, recommended the closure of the Newgate Prison during his term. He perished in the crash of the steamboat Henry Clay in the Hudson near Rivedale in 1852. Allen first constructed a warehouse on his property here in 1837; after Allen’s death, wealthy Scottish merchant James Lee acquired the property, including the warehouse, and expanded it into the corner building seen here. The building has seen a variety of uses similar to its fellows along Weehawken Street. Until recently the ground floor was home to gay bar The Dugout.
The 2nd oldest building on Weehawken Street also fronts on West Street and is known as both #6 Weehawken and #392-392 West Street. By many accounts it is the only building left over from the old Weehawken Market and one of the few wood-frame buildings left in Manhattan. It had been in a row of similar buildings that had all been demolished by 1937.
Quoting from the LPC Designation Report (which is almost unnecessarily thorough on the Weehawken Street Historic District; q.v. for many more details on this historic building.
Helen Tangires, in Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (2003), described the prototype for this kind of market house:
The simple, freestanding shed was the most prolific type of market house, lending itself well to a street location. It had been a standard form in colonial America… Open or closed, it consisted of arches of stout timber or brick pillars supporting a low-pitched gable roof. Builders occasionally added wide projecting eaves to increase the space for marketing. Sheds provided minimal protection from the elements for the least cost, did not require an architect, and were quick to build…. In addition, the shed’s multiple entrances made the market attractive and accessible to patrons coming from any direction; its openness promoted air circulation and helped in unloading goods; and it was easy to wash down at the end of a market day.
The building is a one-of-a kind example of postcolonial architecture and a reminder of NYC’s maritime legacy.
One more venerable building wedged between West 10th, Weehawken and West Street is #394-395 West, built for oyster dealer William Forsyth in 1848. For most of its history it has been home to comestibles dealers, lunch counters, grocers and liquor stores, as well as The Ramrod in the 1970s and 80s.
A recent Weehawken Street casualty seems to be the four hand-lettered signs warning passersby and cabbies against urinating in the alley. After all, people live here.