Dudley S. Gregory, the first mayor of Jersey City, served three interrupted terms, 1838-1840, 1841-1842, and 1858-1860. Perhaps the most influential of Jersey City's mayors, he contributed to many of the city's economic, political, and social developments. Gregory used his training and ambition in the founding of "modern" Jersey City. He guided the small community into an industrial and transportation center on the Hudson River.
Background and Influences
Born in Redding, Connecticut, on February 5, 1800, Gregory spent his early years in Albany, New York, where he attended public schools and was chief clerk of the Erie Canal Company. He then worked for Archibald McIntyre, Comptroller of the State of New York, who became his mentor. As McIntyre's chief clerk, Gregory mastered the operation of state lotteries. He also followed McIntyre as an agent for Yates and McIntyre, a lottery management firm. In 1832, Gregory left New York for the firm's office in Jersey City.
Dudley started his own lottery management business that extended to states outside of New Jersey. The lottery firm of Dudley S. Gregory and Company played a significant role in Jersey City's finances through its loan certificates. Most biographies of Gregory relate a widely-held opinion that he visited Jersey City in 1824 to participate in the honor guard for Revolutionary War hero Major General Marquis de Lafayette's return visit to the United States.
In 1834, Gregory permanently moved to Jersey City. He hoped to make his fortune from the ferry service between the city and New York. Historian Barbara Petrick writes, "One of the first services he performed for the town was to persuade the Associates of the Jersey Company to run a regular night ferry to New York" (65).
Gregory also wished to invest in the steam railroad industry in New Jersey. Over the years, he fulfilled that goal. He became a director of sixteen railroads, including the New Jersey Railroad, which had train service to Newark, and the Erie Railroad Company, for which he became president. The expanded railway service coincided with the extension of the Morris Canal from Newark to the Jersey City waterfront in 1836.
Enter Jersey City
Gregory chose a prominent, centrally-located site for his home with his wife, Anna Maria Lyon, and their ten children. The Greek Revival-style brick and brownstone structure was at the northwest corner of Washington and Sussex streets. The building became Jersey City's main post office and is now the site of the Cornelia Bradford Public School No. 16. With friend and business associate David Henderson, Gregory purchased fourteen acres in Harsimus for the city's future expansion.
Gregory's economic interests and role as a selectman favorably positioned him to be the first mayor of an independent Jersey City in 1838. That year, the "City of Jersey" was chartered on February 22nd. On April 16th, Mayor Gregory and the common council held their first meeting at Buck's Hotel at 68-70 York Street.
The new municipal officials received no salary. They had to face the fiscal realities of the insufficiency of tax revenues to lay out the city's foundation. The challenges of installing utilities, street paving, and lighting lay ahead. The construction of waterfront wharves, filling-in marshes, and the development of police and fire safety and education were wanting for their attention. To finance the city improvements, Gregory initiated a local lottery--with which he was familiar. It allowed him to raise revenue and issue loan certificates. The merits of the lottery system, however, were debated. Critics deemed it immoral, responsible for "fiscal instability," and even "worthless 'blanks'" (quoted. in Petrick 69, from Telegraph, March 23, 1852).
Dudley Gregory's presence in Jersey City politics and civic activities was ubiquitous for the next four decades. He served three terms on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders (now Commissioners) and was appointed to the Board of Water Commissioners in 1851. A Whig, Gregory represented his congressional district to the Thirtieth Session of the US House of Representatives (1847-1849). Here, he served with Illinois-elected Abraham Lincoln. It seemed to influence his support of the founding of the Republican Party. In 1861, Lincoln arrived at the ferry in Jersey City on his way to his inauguration. He recognized Gregory, his former colleague, among the well-wishers.
Church and Schools
A staunch Protestant and Presbyterian, Gregory involved himself with several church-related projects in the city. In 1844, he and David Henderson arranged for the Presbyterian Church's relocation from Wall Street, New York City, to Jersey City. The First Presbyterian Church was rebuilt across the street from Gregory's home at Washington and Sussex Streets. Gregory participated with the local chapters of the American Bible Society and American Tract Society to distribute Bibles and the Missionary and Colonization Society.
Gregory's religiosity often overlapped with his civic interests. He supported the local temperance movement. It was already popular among the working-class poor against the number of local drinking establishments. The Jersey City chapter of the Washington Temperance and Benevolent Society, begun in 1840 in Baltimore, MD, was granted the use of the local schoolhouse and money by the city council. Afterward, Gregory spearheaded the construction of Temperance Hall, or Washington Hall, for the society's meetings, lectures, and concerts. It was also the startup site for the Provident Savings Bank.
In the Protestant tradition of his time, Gregory supported public education for "all classes." When he became mayor, the city's only public school was on Sussex Street. It was the old schoolhouse on a lot set aside for education by the Associates of the Jersey Company in 1807. Petrick reports, "It was Gregory's idea to get a permanent deed from the Associates to the old schoolhouse in 1835. This opened the way for the city to exchange the site for a larger on York Street so that a new school building could be erected in 1848" (Petrick 66). The old schoolhouse became a "colored school" for the city's African-American children.
Albeit his support of public education and Jersey City's public school system founding in 1846, Gregory responded to the overcrowding of children at St. Peter's Roman Catholic school. After receipt of numerous petitions, Gregory rented Washington Hall in 1848 to educate the growing number of the city's Catholic children.
In 1858, Gregory campaigned for another public school in the third ward and appointed William L. Dickinson as the first superintendent of schools in 1859. He also served as one of the founding commissioners for the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
In 1837, Gregory and Henderson collaborated for the founding of the Jersey City Lyceum, a cultural center for concerts, lectures, and debates. The Lyceum, approved by the Jersey City Board of Aldermen, was at a meeting hall in the Classical Institute building at 109 Grand Street. The Institute, with Vermont-born Dickinson as a schoolmaster, offered "a proper New England type of education" (Petrick 25). It was the private school rather than the city's public schools that Gregory, Henderson, and a few community leaders sent their sons to be educated until it closed in 1858. The Lyceum Hall was also used for town council meetings and became the first Hudson County courthouse.
With his financial acumen, Gregory set the pace for commercial development in the city. His most enduring financial investment was the founding of Provident Savings Bank, the city's first banking institution in 1839, which continues today. Gregory served as its president for 33 years, starting in 1841. The bank's purpose was "to show that he encouraged thrift among the sober, hardworking poor" (Petrick 70).
Gregory associated himself with several industries. He purchased and became president of the Adirondack Steel (Manufacturing) Company in 1864, invested in Henderson's American Pottery Manufacturing Company, encouraged Joseph Dixon to found the Dixon Crucible Company, and brought the Cunard shipping line to Jersey City for waterfront development. He backed the founding of local newspapers, the Jersey City Gazette and Bergen County Courier, the Jersey City Advertiser of Henry Holt, and Zebina Pangborn's Evening Journal, which seemed to advance his political agenda against dissenting newspapers to his leadership.
Gregory was heavily invested in Jersey City real estate and developed numerous properties. One was the Darcy House, at the southwest corner of Montgomery and Hudson streets, among the city's first major hotels. Later called the Fuller Building, the hotel was the residence of his artist brother-in-law George Caitlin (1796-1872). Caitlin became one of the foremost painters of Native Americans and the Far West.
Gregory died in Jersey City on December 8, 1874. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY. His estate was estimated at $1 million.
No municipal facility is named in honor of Jersey City's first mayor. Gregory Street once ran parallel to Newark Avenue from Henderson Street (now Marin Boulevard) to Warren Street. It was eliminated as a public thoroughfare during an urban renewal project in the 1950s. The 1960s modernistic box-design Gregory Park Apartments, at 280 Marin Boulevard, named for Gregory, is now the renovated Metropolis Towers. A portrait of Mayor Gregory hangs in the Council Chamber at City Hall, among those of the city's past mayors.
"Obituary: Dudley S. Gregory." New York Times 9 December 1874.
Petrick, Barbara. Church and School in the Immigrant City: A Social History of Public Education in Jersey City, 1804-1930. Metuchen, NJ: The Upland Press, 2000.