Dudley S. Gregory was the first mayor of Jersey City, serving three interrupted terms, 1838-1840, 1841-1842, and 1858-1860. Gregory, perhaps the most influential of Jersey City's nineteenth-century mayors, participated in a broad spectrum of important economic, political, and social developments. From his training and ambition, Gregory was responsible for the founding of a "modern" Jersey City, guiding its transformation into an industrial city and transportation center along the western shores of the Hudson River.
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 moved on to work for Archibald McIntyre, Comptroller of the State of New York, who became his mentor. As chief clerk for McIntyre, Gregory learned about the operation of state lotteries; he also followed McIntyre to work as an agent for Yates and McIntyre, a lottery management firm. Gregory left New York in 1832 for the firm's office in Jersey City and later started his own lottery management business that extended to states outside of New Jersey. The lottery firm of Dudley S. Gregory and Company later played a major role in the finances of Jersey City through the issue of loan certificates. Most biographies of Gregory relate a widely held opinion that he visited Jersey City earlier in 1824 as part of an honor guard on the occasion of Major General Marquis de Lafayette's visit to the United States.
In 1834 Gregory permanently moved across the Hudson River hoping to make his fortune in waterfront community with ferry service between Jersey City and New York. According to local historian Barbara Petrick, "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 began train service to Newark, and the Erie Railroad Co. of which he eventually became president. The expanded railway service coincided with the completion of the extension of the Morris Canal from Newark to the Jersey City waterfront in 1836.
Gregory chose a centrally located and prominent site for the construction of his home in Jersey City. The Greek Revival styled brick and brownstone structure where he resided with his wife Anna Maria Lyon and their ten children was situated at the northwest corner of Washington and Sussex streets. During the late nineteenth century, the building served as the main post office in Jersey City. Today, the Cornelia Bradford Public School No. 16 stands on the site of the Gregory homestead. Along with his friend and business associate David Henderson, Gregory purchased fourteen acres in Harsimus or Van Vorst as an investment in the future expansion of the city.
With his growing financial involvement in the community and service as a selectman, Gregory was favorably poised to become the first mayor of an independent Jersey City in 1838. That year, the "City of Jersey" was chartered on February 22; on April 16, Mayor Gregory and the common council held their first meeting at Buck's Hotel at 68-70 York Street. The new municipal officials, who received no salary, had to face the fiscal realities of a dearth of tax revenues to lay out the foundation of the city. Ahead of them were the requirements of the installation of utilities, street paving and lighting, construction of wharves, filling-in marshes and development of public services of police and fire safety and education. Gregory's approach to the problem was to employ the use of the lottery system with which he was familiar. Through the local lottery Gregory was able to raise revenue and issue loan certificates to finance the municipal projects. The merits of the lottery system, however, were debated and regarded by some as immoral, responsible for "fiscal instability" (Petrick 69) and even "worthless 'blanks'" (qtd. in Petrick 69, from Telegraph, March 23, 1852).
Gregory's presence in the Jersey City politics and civic activities was ubiquitous for the next four decades. He served three terms as a member of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders and was appointed to the Board of Water Commissioners in 1851. Gregory represented his congressional district as a Whig to the Thirtieth Session of the US House of Representatives (1847-1849). During his term in the Congress, he served with Illinois-elected Abraham Lincoln that no doubt influenced his support of the founding of the Republican Party. When Lincoln arrived at the ferry in Jersey City on his way to his inauguration in 1861, he recognized Gregory, his former colleague, among the well wishers. He served as one of the commissioners for the founding of Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
A staunch Protestant and Presbyterian, Gregory became involved with a number of church related projects in the city. One of his more dramatic accomplishments with David Henderson was the arrangement for the removal of the Presbyterian Church at Wall Street in New York City to Jersey City. The structure (First Presbyterian Church) was relocated to Jersey City in 1844 and 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 to the public and the Missionary and Colonization Society.
Related to his church activities, Gregory supported the local temperance movement that had already taken hold in the city in response to the number of working class poor and drinking establishments. So popular was the reform movement that 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 an appropriation by the city council. Afterwards, Gregory saw to the construction of Temperance Hall, or Washington Hall, used by the society and its affiliates for meetings, lectures and concerts. Gregory also utilized the hall for the startup of the Provident Savings Bank of which he became president in 1841.
As a civic leader in the Protestant tradition of his day, Gregory was a proponent of public education for "all classes" in the city. When he became mayor, the city's only public school was the old schoolhouse on Sussex Street on a lot set aside for education by the Associates of the Jersey Company in 1807. According to Petrick, "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; Gregory later campaigned for another school in the third ward in 1858. Jersey City's public school system began in 1846 and Gregory appointed William L. Dickinson the first superintendent of schools for Jersey City in 1859. Gregory also faced the controversy of public support to relieve 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 1837 Gregory and Henderson collaborated for the founding of the Jersey City Lyceum, a cultural center that held concerts, lectures and debates. Approved by the Jersey City Board of Aldermen, the Lyceum was located in a meeting hall in the Classical Institute building at 109 Grand Street. The Institute, with Vermont-born Dickinson as schoolmaster, offered "a proper New England type of education" (Petrick 25). It was the private school, rather than the city's public school, to which Gregory, Henderson and other 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 the city's first banking institution in 1839, the Provident Savings Bank, which continues as a financial institution. Gregory served as president of the Provident for 33 years staring in 1841. The purpose of the bank was "to show that he encouraged thrift among the sober, hardworking poor" (Petrick 70).
Gregory was associated with several important industrial establishments. Gregory purchased and became president of the Adirondack Steel (Manufacturing) Company in 1864, with which it was previously affiliated. Gregory 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 with the development of the waterfront. He backed the founding of local newspapers, including 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. The Darcy House, at the southwest corner of Montgomery and Hudson streets was one of 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 known as one of the foremost painters of Native Americans and the Far West.
Gregory died in Jersey City on December 8, 1874, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.
Surprisingly, no public 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, but was eliminated as a public thoroughfare during an urban renewal project of the 1950s. Now known as Metropolis Towers, the former Gregory Park Apartments continue to occupy the now prime location but no longer bear the first mayor's name. A portrait of Gregory hangs in the Council Chamber at City Hall along with those of all the city's past mayors.
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.