Every February 12th since 1867, the Lincoln Association of Jersey City commemorates the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, assassinated on April 15, 1865. The association members currently hold a morning ceremony and place a wreath at the foot of Lincoln the Mystic or the Abraham Lincoln monument at the entrance of Lincoln Park. Later in the evening, the association continues the tradition of a celebratory dinner honoring the Civil War president, his legacy and accomplishments.
The Lincoln Association was founded in response to lingering controversy among some city residents regarding Lincoln’s policies during the Civil War, its purpose and conduct. City newspapers reflected the differing views on Lincoln's war leadership. For example, The American Standard (1859-1875) opposed Lincoln's presidency. Published by John H. Lyons, the Standard reflected the views of the "Copperhead" faction of the Democratic Party. It faulted the abolitionist movement for the Civil War and opposed Lincoln's candidacy in 1860. Hudson County was dominated by the Democrats and the newspaper was regarded as "Democratic." During the war, the Copperhead dissenters also opposed the draft and sought immediate termination of the war.
The Evening Journal (1867-1909), now Jersey Journal, founded by Major Z.K. Pangborn and his partners William B. Dunning and Joseph A. Dear, were pro-Lincoln. They called themselves "patriots" and referred to Lincoln as the Great Emancipator who struggled to save the Union and restore the status of the South within the Union. They held public meetings to demonstrate their loyalty to Lincoln against his detractors.
Jersey City had a special connection with the former president. Although Lincoln lost New Jersey in the elections of 1860 and 1864, the city gave witness to two noteworthy events at the beginning and end of Lincoln's presidency--one on route to his first inauguration in 1861 and the other as part of memorial services held for the president in 1865.
On February 21, 1861, the president-elect stopped in Jersey City. He was traveling by train from his home in Springfield, IL, to his inauguration (March 4, 1861) in Washington, DC. He arrived in Jersey City from New York City on the ferry John P. Jackson at the depot of the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company at Hudson Street and Exchange Place. Aboard the ferry to accompany him were the President of the Jersey City Board of Aldermen A.A. Hardenbergh, and Governor Charles S. Olden's representative NJ Attorney General William L. Dayton, the former Republican 1856 vice presidential candidate and Lincoln's future ambassador to France, among others. A reported crowd of 25,000 gave Lincoln an enthusiastic reception along with Jersey City's Mayor Cornelius Van Vorst, former Mayor Dudley S. Gregory and other dignitaries. Lincoln extended a special handshake to Gregory with whom he previously served in the US Congress. From Jersey City, Lincoln continued to Washington, DC aboard the special train Governor (William) Pennington constructed in New Jersey
Four years later, Lincoln's funeral train made its way to the Exchange Place station on April 24, 1865, transporting the president's body from Washington, DC westward to Springfield, IL, making several stops for American citizens to pay their respects to the slain leader. In Jersey City, the funeral railway car was placed on a barge and towed by the ferryboat Jersey City to New York City, where it lay in state at City Hall.
Two years later, on February 12, 1867, eight Jersey City leaders began meeting in Lincoln’s memory at the Zachau's Union House, then located at 146 Newark Avenue. On May 3, 1867, they formalized their gatherings as the "Lincoln Association of Jersey City" with the election of officers. Later that year the association held a banquet called "The Lincoln Ball" on Christmas Eve, December 24. It took place at Library Hall on the corner of (704) Grand Street and Ivy Place. The Bergen Library Associates built the hall to hold Bergen’s lending library and an auditorium.
The success of the Lincoln Association's first dinner started the tradition of the annual Lincoln day event. Over the years it has been held at various places: Taylor's Hall, now the site for the Commercial Trust Company at Exchange Place; the Washington Hotel, now St. Mary's Residence at 240 Washington Street; Jersey City Club, now the Masonic Club at Crescent and Clinton avenues; the Carteret Club, now Saint Dominic Academy at Kennedy Boulevard and Duncan Avenue; and most recently, Casino-in-the Park in Lincoln Park. One year the decorations for the event included a scroll "Abraham Lincoln, The Nation's Choice - 1865, The Nation's Loss."
According to local historian W.H. Richardson, Capt. Dunning was responsible for the tradition of the association's annual dinners. In his obituary, the Evening Journal (June 18, 1877) writes that he "...took great interest and pride in its patriotic cherishing of the memory and virtues of the lamented good President." He was known to be a Whig and then a Republican. Dunning served with the Second NJ Militia during the Civil War and rejoined the war with Company K, 11th NJ Volunteers. He helped found the Evening Journal (later Jersey Journal) with Pangborn and Dear, working as a printer and journalist.
Among the association's distinguished speakers to offer their appraisal and appreciation of Lincoln's legacy have been Ambassador Ralph J. Bunche of the United Nations, NJ Governor Edward Casper Stokes, Chief Justice Clarence E. Case, and Charles Osgood of CBS television.
In the 1920s, the Lincoln Association, with the assistance of school children, raised funds for the bronze statue of Lincoln at the Hudson (now Kennedy) Boulevard entrance of Lincoln Park . From their collection of pennies and nickels, the children contributed $3,500 towards the $75,000 total cost for the memorial. The association chose sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) to design and build the monument dedicated on June 14, 1930. He attended the dedication and was among the over 3,000 people in attendance. Fraser was noted for his design of the buffalo nickel and End of the Trail sculpture of an American Indian on horseback for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The statue is now in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.
Fraser's statue of the pensive, crisis-burdened Lincoln has become a local landmark. Its installation also began the association's morning ceremony to recite from Lincoln's best-known and significant speeches. The low wall surrounding the Lincoln statue bears excerpts from three of his addresses:
WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE AND CHARITY TOWARD ALL
[Second Inaugural Address, 1865]
THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE
BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE
SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH [Gettysburg Address, 1863]
LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT
AND IN THAT FAITH LET US TO THE END
DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT
[Cooper Union Speech 1860]
With the placement of the Lincoln Memorial on Hudson Boulevard in 1930, the Lincoln Association successfully obtained the renaming of the West Side Park for the president. The park was designed by landscape architects Daniel W. Langton and Charles N. Lowrie in 1905
The Lincoln Highway Project
James Earle Fraser's Lincoln Monument on Hudson Boulevard (now Kennedy Boulevard) played a small but meaningful role in the 2013 centennial of the Lincoln Highway project. The roadway was intended to be the first coast-to-coast rock highway for the "age of the automobile." It was proposed in 1912 by Carl G. Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his business associates who formed the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA). Fisher, like many of his generation, viewed Abraham Lincoln as his hero, and wanted to name the privately funded transcontinental road in his honor. The naming occurred on July 1, 1913--the fiftieth anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg--at LHA headquarters in Detroit. Jersey City named its new secondary school, Lincoln High School, the same year.
The concept of the highway was to connect already existing, but mostly local dirt and isolated, roads through twelve states. The private venture predated the present-day federal transportation system not operational until after World War I. It also came in advance of the completion of the Lincoln Memorial in the District of Columbia in 1922 as a national tribute to the president.
The LHA laid out the route to start at the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway in Times Square, New York City, and follow across the continent to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, CA., where Fraser's End of the Trail sculpture of Lincoln would be placed. The cross-country route was then considered the shortest, most direct route of approximately 3,400 miles. At the eastern end, the Jersey City section of the proposed highway, named the Essex and Hudson Lincoln Highway, turned west off Bergen Hill and crossed the Meadowlands into Newark and continued westward across the state and beyond.
By the late 1920s, however, New Jersey replaced the Lincoln Highway section in Hudson County with an alternate road that became US Route 1. Included in the highway development was the four-lane Pulaski Skyway built in 1932 as an overpass from the Holland Tunnel to the Meadowlands connecting Jersey City and Newark. By 1929, the association ceased its activities as federal and state governments took a larger role in highway construction.
However, on September 1, 1928, it left a lasting memorial to the project. Boy Scouts placed along the route approximately 3000 concrete markers with the letter "L" between a red and blue stripe and a bronze medallion of Lincoln and a directional arrow (Weingroff, "The Lincoln Highway"). These are considered the first road signs in many of the states and may be viewed today. The work of the association may have come to an end, but its promise to keep fresh in the minds of Americans the legacy of the sixteenth president had encouraged new monuments and places to be dedicated in his name. It made way for the city's own Lincoln Association to commission Fraser's Lincoln the Mystic on Kennedy Boulevard in the 1920s.
In 1992, after a long absence, the LHA was reformed for the purpose ". . . to identify, preserve, and improve access to the remaining portions of the Lincoln Highway and its associated historic sites" (quoted in Weingroff, "The Lincoln Highway"). It has fourteen state chapters including New Jersey.
The Lincoln Highway project for the nation never came to fruition, but 100 years later, a reenactment of the route, known as the Official Lincoln Highway Centennial Tours was celebrated at the Great Platte River Museum in Kearney, NE, on July 1, 2013. A caravan of vehicles set out eastward from San Francisco on June 21 and another westward from Times Square in New York City on June 22 to meet in Nebraska. The eastern caravan met travelers at the Weehawken Ferry Terminal and went through Union City and to Jersey City, as was originally intended for the highway. Here they entered Lincoln Park near the Lincoln Monument, before leaving via Communipaw Avenue for the journey west to the anniversary gathering.
Frassinelli, Mike. "Coast-to-Coast Lincoln Highway Turns 100." Jersey Journal 25 July 2013.
Grundy, J. Owen. "Lincoln Unit Faithful 104 Years." Jersey Journal 12 February 1971.
"Lincoln Association of Jersey City, 1865-2001." New Jersey Room, Jersey City Public Library.
Lincon Association of Jersey City: http://thelincolnassociationofjerseycity.com/
Marx, Rebecca Flint. "Cross-Country, by a Road Less Traveled. New York Times 7 July 2013.
"The Memory of Lincoln." Evening Journal 13 February 1885.
Richardson, W.H. "The Beginnings of the Lincoln Association, the 1873 Dinner." ts, 5 pp. New Jersey Room, Jersey City Public Library.
"William B. Dunning." Evening Journal 18 June 1877.
Weingroff, Richard. "The Lincoln Highway" in Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Highway History. 2013: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/lincoln.cfm