The Hilton-Holden House is one of the remaining "safe houses" associated with the Underground Railroad in New Jersey.
Located opposite the Medical Center Complex/The Beacon, the house was built in 1854 by David Le Cain Holden, a banker and an amateur astronomer. The house is a four-story frame, eighteen-room building, once called the Holden Mansion. A gilded dome astronomical observatory was later added atop the house.
Holden's cousin, Edward Singleton Holden, Ph.D., also occupied the house in the 1850s and 1860s. Edward Holden, a director of the Lick Observatory and the Washington Observatory, used the rooftop observatory in Jersey City to record his findings. He also used the mansion's cellar to give refuge to fugitive slaves traveling to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Professor Holden was a colonel in the US Army and trained Union soldiers in the area for the Civil War. In the 1870s, he became one of the founders of the first Universalist Church in Jersey City and treasurer of the Universalist Society. Having no meeting place for services, members of the new congregation regularly gathered at the Holden Mansion.
Consistent with his sense of civic pride and duty, Holden served as president of the Board of Education and as an alderman under John Hilton (1837-1931), the first mayor of the City of Bergen (1868), now Jersey City. David L. Holden's daughter, Matilda, married John A. Hilton, the son of the mayor. It led to the renaming of the house for the two families. The house was also formerly occupied by Holden's great-grandson, John T. Hilton.
"Jersey City Was Hub for the Underground Railroad." The Catholic Advocate 20 February 2013.
Stuart, Bruce. "Holden Mansion Historic Site." The Jersey Mirror 5 May 1939.
Zinsli, Christopher. "Jersey City's Underground Railroad History: Thousands of Former Slaves Sought Freedom by Passing through Jersey City." Jersey City Magazine 23 March 2007.