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Bergen Square: Bergen Square

Bergen Square - Images

Bergen Square

Courtesy, RF Smith

Bergen Square circa 1850

Lithograph looking north along Bergen Avenue
from the center of Bergen Square.

Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Cortelyou Map circa 1660

Map of Bergen and Buyten Tuyn - the 1660 Jacques Cortelyou plan of Bergen.
Source: Eaton, Jersey City and its Historic Sites (1899)

Woods Map Detail - 1855

Detail of the 1855 Woods Map of Jersey City, Bergen, and Hoboken
Note the four square block area in the center. These blocks mark the lines of the original fortified settlement of Bergen.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Bergen Square circa 1910

A map of "The Old Town of Bergen as Part of Jersey City in 1882"
This map shows the locations of many of the historic homes and sites in the area of Bergen Square.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Location: Bergen Square

Bergen Square

Bergen Square
The intersection of Bergen Avenue and Academy Street

The settlement of New Netherland by the Dutch West India Company (1621-1664) on the western side of the Hudson River contributed several locations and place names that would become part of present-day Jersey City. They were Pavonia, Communipaw, Harsimus, Paulus Hook and Bergen.

The village of Bergen, officially begun on September 5, 1661, is regarded as New Jersey's first permanent settlement and the state's first local civil government. It is now part of the City of Jersey City.

Bergen Square was established by the Dutch in 1660. It was laid out in a walled area of approximately 800 feet square. A palisaded fort was constructed of tall pointed wooden stakes, with a gate on each side. It surrounded the stockade fort at the two intersections of two Lenape trails, now Bergen Avenue and Academy Street, creating four quarters. A road south from the intersection led to the Kill van Kull at Bergen Point and another east to Communipaw. Eight plots were then drawn out in each of the quarters. The village's palisade lines are still visible in contemporary maps of Jersey City by locating Bergen Square and following the configuration created by Tuers Avenue (Southeast), Newkirk Street (Northeast), Van Reypen Street (Northwest), and Vroom Street (Southwest). Today's Bergen Square, the township's headquarters, is three blocks south of Journal Square.

The founding of Bergen Township may be credited to Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland. After the cessation of Indian hostilities in 1655, Stuyvesant negotiated with the Indian chiefs in the area (January 30, 1658) for the repurchase of lands "between the Hackensack and North (Hudson) rivers from Weehawken and Secaucus to the Kill van Kull" (Lovero 12). At Stuyvesant's request, the Council of New Amsterdam approved a hilltop site for a garrison-style town or village. Settlers throughout the Pavonia area were to move to the fort, where they could defend themselves with a militia against the Indians.

The site chosen was a former cornfield cleared by the Hackensack Indians on the "heights" and was referred to as "the new village on the maizeland." It was surveyed by Jacques Cortelyou and given the name "Bergen," the Dutch word for hill. It may have come from the capital of Norway or Bergen op Zoom in Holland, eighteen miles north of Antwerp. (Cortelyou also surveyed the Town of New Utrecht, now part of Brooklyn, NY, and Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn is named after him.) Settlers built homes on lots within the fort and established farms outside the fort, creating a defensive zone against the Indians. The town's location was favorable for settlers in other sections of present-day New Jersey to reach in the event of future hostilities. The palisade was dismantled by the Dutch with the cessation of Indian hostilities.

In 1661, Stuyvesant granted Bergen limited powers of self-government and a Court of Inferior Justice. Bergen may also claim the state's first established congregation, the Old Bergen Dutch Reformed Church, and the first elementary school; Englebert Steenhuysen, the church clerk, became the school's first schoolmaster in 1662.

After the English took over the colony of New Netherlands in 1664, a charter granted by Governor Philip Carteret recognized Bergen Township. It allowed for the continuation of the Dutch-founded church and free schools. On April 7, 1668, Carteret and his council of East New Jersey renamed the site "The Towne and Corporation of Bergen" that extended west to the Hackensack River. After the English took over New Netherland in 1664, Bergen County was established to include Bergen and Hackensack townships. The county seat was at Bergen Square until 1714 when it was removed to Hackensack until the formation of Hudson County in 1840.

Only a handful of landmarks remain to connect contemporary Jersey City with its Dutch origins. These historic sites include the Apple Tree House, the former Summit House, and the Old Bergen Church and Cemetery. The former village of Bergen is now in the Journal Square area. "Bergen" is retained in Jersey City with the community's Old Bergen Road, Bergen Avenue, and Bergen Square.

Bergen Township, which included the former village of Bergen, was founded in October 1693, during English colonization. Later, with part of the incorporation of the City of Jersey City in 1873, the name Bergen Township was discontinued.

Bergen Square References

Dievler, James A. Bergen Square 360: Changing Perspectives on New Jersey's Oldest Town Square. Journal Square Community Association. James A Dievler 2022.
Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration. New Jersey Guide to Its Present and Past. New York: The Viking Press, 1939.
John Fiske. The Dutch and Quaker Colonies of America. Vol. I. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903.
Harvey, Cornelius B., ed. Genealogical History of Hudson and Bergen Counties, New Jersey. New York: The New Jersey Genealogical Publishing Co., 1900.
La Rosa, William J. "Bergen" in Encyclopedia of New Jersey by Maxine N. Lurie and Marc Mappen, eds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Lovero, Joan D. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley. CA: American Historical Press, 1999.
Winfield, Charles H. History of the County of Hudson, New Jersey. New York: Kennard & Hay Printing Company, 1874.
Year Book of the Holland Society of New York. Vol. II. New York, 1914.