Liberty State Park is the largest urban park in New Jersey. Opened on Flag Day, June 14, 1976, it has more than twelve hundred acres that includes approximately three hundred acres of developed space for active and passive recreation.
The western edge of Liberty State Park was once the waterfront home of the Lenape and later Dutch settlers of New Netherland, who started a ferry service to Manhattan in 1661. The northern edge of the park follows the line of the old Morris Canal whose barges carried Pennsylvania coal to the expanding industrial and urban markets surrounding New York Bay in the early nineteenth century. The eastern edge of the park was filled in by the railroads starting in the mid-nineteenth century as the tidal flats along the Jersey City waterfront were transformed into vast expanses of railroad yards, and passenger and cargo transportation facilities.
Located at the north end of the park, the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CRRNJ) operated the terminal complex from 1849 to 1967. The present terminal was completed in 1889 and received the stream of immigrants entering America from Ellis Island off the Jersey City coastline. The new arrivals proven "clearly and beyond a doubt entitled to land" could board barges for the mainland, which for more than fifty percent, was the CRRNJ terminal in Jersey City. Thousands of workers and travelers also arrived daily at the terminal to board the ferries or trains for parts elsewhere. The decline of the use of railway transportation resulted in the bankruptcy of the Central Railroad in 1967 and the close of the terminal. The complex gradually fell into disrepair and was strewn with debris.
Some local residents, believing the site had the potential to be a public natural resource, sought support from the state and federal governments to transform the facility into a waterfront park. In 1958, community activist and former City Councilman Morris Pesin wanted to increase public awareness of the remarkably close proximity of Liberty Island to Jersey City. Accompanied by a reporter from the Jersey Journal, Pesin canoed between the two locations, a journey of only eight minutes.
Other early advocates for the creation and preservation of the park were Audrey Zapp and Ted Conrad. With growing community support, these activists succeeded in obtaining Green Acres Bond Funds, and Land and Water Conservation funds. Jersey City donated 156 acres for the initiation of the park. The Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers joined to clear the harbor for the park. A restoration of the terminal and present day waterfront property was undertaken under the supervision of the National Park Service in 1976, and the firm of Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham drew up the architectural plans for the park.
As one enters the park on Morris Pesin Drive, there is a presentation of the flags of the fifty states by their admission to the union. Flag Plaza in front of the Park Administration Building and Visitors' Center has thirteen American flags for each of the original states of the union; to the right are flags that were flown during the Revolutionary War era. Nearby at the southern end of the park there is a plaque commemorating the Black Tom explosion of 1916.
An imposing Holocaust memorial statue stands before the flag plaza in the South Overlook Field. The twenty-foot, two-ton bronze, cast at the Tallix foundry in Peekskill, NY, rests on a black marble base and was dedicated on May 30, 1985. It was designed by sculptor Nathan (Natan) Rapoport (1911-1987) and is named Liberation Monument. The statue depicts a World War II concentration camp survivor being carried to freedom by an unarmed American soldier. Its placement opposite the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island forms a triad of symbolism for liberty and freedom. Born in Warsaw, Poland, Rapoport is known for his Holocaust-related monuments, including Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, erected in Warsaw in 1948.
The Environmental Educational Center on Freedom Way, designed by Princeton architect and artist Michael Graves, was opened in 1982. The setting is the park's thirty-six acre natural area, a tidal marsh of the Hudson River estuary. Its location provides a prominent view of the State of Liberty, Ellis Island and the southern end of Manhattan Island. The post modern-style center is a two-story stucco-glazed timber building; one approaches the center through a colonnaded entrance that joins two pavilions. The interior features an auditorium and exhibit space for educational programs about the environment. The design effectively integrates the purpose of the interior of the pavilions with the unique external landscape. According to New Jersey journalist Gordon Bishop, the center "resembles a Roman cathedral with a natural beauty" and "was inspired by the Madonna de Villa in Italy" (Bishop 13).
In 1986 a two-mile promenade along the Hudson River, known as Liberty Walk, was opened. It extends from the Statue of Liberty Overlook to the CRRNJ Terminal and offers a panoramic view of New York harbor. From it one observes the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Verrazanno Narrows Bridge. The promenade is a segment of the eighteen-mile Hudson River Walkway.
Liberty Science Center on Phillip Drive and Communipaw Avenue was opened in 1993. The three-story not-for-profit educational facility with a 170-foot tower offers permanent and rotating science exhibits. It features multimedia and interactive exhibits to promote science education, featuring the environment, health and innovation and covering 60,000 square feet of space. There is also a 180-degree Kodak Omni Theater to show feature films designed for the IMAX dome screen. The Center closed in 2005 for a renovation and expansion of 125,000 square feet of new floor space; it reopened in 2007 with a Center for Science Learning and Teaching. In March 2017, the Jersey City Municipal Council transferred approximately 17 acres to the Center for the $280 million SciTech city project. It will include a K-12 school, conference center and Scholars Village.
La Vela di Colombo, or "The Sail of Columbus," Monument at North Cove is at the center of the circular Christopher Columbus Plaza. Designed by Italian sculptor Gino Gianetti, the two-story sail-shaped bronze monument commemorates the 500th anniversary of the westward journey of Christopher Columbus to America in 1492. The National Italian-American Foundation and the Christopher Columbus Citizens Foundation in 1998 dedicated the sculpture from the Italian government and the City of Genoa at the park. The architect for the project was John Maiorano of the RBA Group.
The Columbus monument is located within the view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island--other symbols of immigration to the nation's foremost gateway to America. "The Sail of Columbus" is atop four bronze mooring posts mounted on a stone base in the shape of a ship. The waterfront side of the sail depicts scenes of the explorer's travels. The inland side includes a scene with Columbus at the helm of his ship.
On April 25, 2003, Arbor Day, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and volunteers planted trees at the "Grove of Remembrance," south of cobblestone Audrey Zapp Drive. The 150 trees that were planted are the beginning of a memorial of 697 mature trees to each of the New Jersey residents who lost their lives during the September 11, 2001, tragedy at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The trees are a variety of species, such as birch and dogwood, which were selected for their environment. Two walkways allow visitors to travel the 10.8 acres in the park. At the center is a Memorial Circle of weeping cherry trees and sitting benches for reflection by visitors.
At the waterfront of the park, opposite Ground Zero, is the Empty Sky monument, named after a Bruce Springsteen song. It was added to the park and dedicated on September 10, 2011, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack. It honors the 749 New Jersey residents and those associated with New Jersey who died at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center site. Architect Frederic Schwartz, with Jessica Jamroz, designed the $12 million monument sponsored by the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey, State of New Jersey and New Jersey Building Authority.
The names of the deceased are etched in random order into the two parallel 30-foot high panels of brushed reflective stainless steel that are illuminated from the base of the walkway. The memorial's outside walls of exposed concrete span 208 feet,10 inches and replicate the width of the fallen towers. It is on a 10-foot grassy mound surrounded by weeping cherry trees. A steel remnant from the towers was also placed at the memorial site.
Frederic Schwartz, who lived in Manhattan and witnessed the collapse of the towers, also designed the 9/11 memorial for Westchester County at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. It is named The Rising for the commemorative song also produced by New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen.
Liberty State Park today is noted for its free open space, cultural events sponsored by state and local government funding, wildlife refuge, and outdoor recreation. Its undeveloped acres have been reclaimed to allow for wetlands and wildlife habitation. The interior of the part includes 250 acres that were once used by the railroads and are now undergoing ecological restoration. For example, the area along a section of Freedom Way has become the site of freshwater wetlands. The Division of Parks and Forestry supervises the refuge. Other recreational features include picnic areas, playgrounds, boat launch, one hundred acre Green Park, and Liberty Landing Marina (1998). Ferry service from the CRRNJ terminal in the park takes visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
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Martin, Douglas. "Frederic Schwarz, 63, Dies; Designed Sept. 11 Memorials." New York Times 30 April 2014.
Hack, Charles. "746 Names on New Jersey Memorial Opening Today."Jersey Journal 10 September 2011.
Liberty Science Center: http://www.lsc.org/
Liberty State Park: http://libertystatepark.com
Martin, Douglas. "Frederic Schwartz, 63, Dies; Designed Sept. 11 Memorials." New York Times 30 April 2014.
Lovero, Joan D. "From Urban Blight to Urban Delight." Yesterday Today in New Jersey. June/July 1993: 4-6, 9.
New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, State Park Service, "Liberty State Park" (October 2002).
McDonald, Terrence T. "9/11 Memorial Brings Solace and 'A Religious Experience.'" Jersey Journal 12 September 2011.