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Van Vorst Park: Van Vorst Park

Van Vorst Park - Images

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Courtesy, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park, Jersey City NJ

Courtesy, RF Smith

Van Vorst Park


Van Vorst Park Sign
Photo, A. Selvaggio, 2003
 

Van Vorst Park


Above: Detail from the 1928 Plat Book of Jersey City showing the outline of Van Vorst Park and the surrounding brick and brownstone homes. Credits: New York Society of Model Engineer's Library, Rich Taylor Collection and Historical Maps of New Jersey site of Rutgers University
 

Van Vorst Park

Detail of M. Dripps Map of Jersey City circa 1850 showing the area surrounding Van Vorst Park. Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Looking South towards the viewing fountain and York Street brownstones.
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2003.

Van Vorst Park

Looking Northeast from Van Vorst Park towards the children's playground and Barrow Street.
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2003.

Van Vorst Park


Looking Northwest from Van Vorst Park towards the rowhouses on Montgomery Street near Barrow Street.

Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2003.
 

Van Vorst Park

The gazebo or bandstand in the center of
Van Vorst Park
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2003.

Van Vorst Park

Looking West alog Montgomery Street from Barrow Street.
Brick and brownstone row houses are visible facing Van Vorst Park on
York Street (left) and on Jersey Avenue (center)
Postcard circa 1905
Courtesy, R.K. Smith

Van Vorst Park

Postcard view of Van Vorst Park looking northwest towards Montgomery Street and Jersey Avenue.

Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Van Vorst Park

Van Vorst Park Plaque
Photo, C. Karnoutsos, 2006

Van Vorst Farm near Jersey Avenue

The Van Vorst Homestead depicted in the lithograph above stood for many years near the intersection of what is today Wayne Street and Jersey Avenue. It was taken down in the 1830'sby the Van Vorst family partly because it did not align with the new grid plan devised for the area.
.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Peter Henderson


Peter Henderson (1822-1890).
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library
 

Location: Van Vorst Park

Van Vorst Park

Van Vorst Park
281 Montgomery Street
Montgomery Street and Jersey Avenue
Van Vorst Park Historic District

National Register of Historic Places (1980)
New Jersey Register of Historic Places (1978)

Van Vorst Park is the centerpiece of the downtown Jersey City historic district that bears the same name. Landscaped by horticulturist Peter Henderson in 1851, it was called "one of the most formal of Jersey City's parks." The park has been described as an example of a town square similar to Washington Square Park in lower New York City. It occupies the entire rectangular city block between Montgomery Street, York Street, Jersey Avenue, and Barrow Street, whose streets are lined with ornate brick and brownstone rowhouses of varying Victorian architectural styles from the late 1800s.

In 1909, the park was renovated for $2 million through the efforts of the Friends of Van Vorst Park (FVVP). The park includes a gazebo, viewing fountain, and playground. Plantings and trees contribute to a small verdant oasis along the walking paths. According to Clifford S. Waldman of the FVVP, the association renovated the park according to the goals of its benefactor Cornelius Van Vorst: "Van Vorst wanted a passive, Victorian park at the center of a rapidly growing neighborhood that would honor the centuries the Van Vorst family owned and developed this area, and perhaps he also wanted to honor the soon to be vanished open land itself" ("Friends of the Van Vorst Park: A History" website).

The name Van Vorst refers back to the region's Dutch colonial heritage. The Van Vorsts were among the earliest settlers of the area and for generations were among its most notable citizens. Descendants of the first Cornelius Van Vorst farmed large landholdings along the Hudson River waterfront known as Harsimus. There, a later Cornelius Van Vorst (1728-1818) operated the Paulus Hook ferry and owned most of the surrounding property.

In 1835, another descendant, also named Cornelius Van Vorst (1794-1852), donated 1.8 acres of his extensive properties for a public space to be called "Van Vorst Square." It established the footprint of the future Van Vorst Park. The park did not materialize for some time, however, as Van Vorst's foresight for reserved open space was yet to be appreciated in the largely rural Van Vorst Township of the 1840s.

In 1848, Cornelius Van Vorst expressed renewed concern about the potential of commercial development in the area and began a dispute with the township over the park's measurements. He eventually negotiated with the township commission, of which he was a member, and agreed to pay $1500 for grading the property's hilly ground if the township planted trees and constructed a fence around the site. The agreement was formalized in a contract on February 7, 1851. A month later, on March 18, 1851, an independent and expanding Vorst Township was annexed by the growing adjacent municipality of Jersey City to take advantage of its "public improvements" for firehouses, schools, and fiscal progress (Grundy 36).  

Peter Henderson (1822-1890), an established florist and gardener who emigrated from Scotland in 1843, was the original landscaper for Van Vorst Park. He and his brother James moved to Van Vorst Township in 1847 where they opened a florist shop called "Van Vorst Gardens." To celebrate his newly-adopted community and promote his trade, Henderson lent his efforts to the park for permanent open space.

Henderson became a prolific writer on all aspects of gardening. His company was nationally recognized for colorful seed catalogs distributed through the mail. A Jersey City resident, Henderson maintained large greenhouses and warehouses in the city. His retail and office operations were located at 35-37 Cortlandt Street, New York City, which later became the footprint of the Twin Towers.

In his design of the park, Henderson most likely was influenced by the Victorian-style parks popularized in the United Kingdom by John Claudius Loudon. Loudon and other landscape designers of the time fashioned public spaces for local industrial communities. Writing for GreenSpace of the United Kingdom, Jenifer White and Martin Duffy explain: "The promoters and champions of the first public parks ... saw them as a means to boost the local economy and civic pride by making towns and cities attractive places to work and live. These parks were conceived as special places where all sections of society could enter free of charge and mix freely. Many of the Victorian public parks were philanthropic gifts to the people of the local community by wealthy industrialists and landowners whilst others were created by public subscription" ("History of Parks," http://www.green-space.org.uk). The public park concept also seems to reaffirm the interests of Cornelius Van Vorst for the township.

The Van Vorst Park Historic District is located west of Paulus Hook and bound by Christopher Columbus Drive (formerly Railroad Avenue), Grand Street, Marin Boulevard (formerly Henderson Street), and Brunswick Street. The district includes notable sites like the Jersey City Free Public Library, Dixon Crucible Company, City Hall, and Barrow Mansion. Many of the familiar surviving brownstone and townhouses, which line the nearby streets, were constructed from the Civil War period to the 1890s. Brownstone houses on Montgomery Street facing the park are in the Italianate style with bracketed cornices, stoop balustrades of cast iron or stone, and double door entrances with transoms. Many of the homes were renovated with the gentrification of the neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s.

The legacy of the work of Cornelius Van Vorst and Peter Henderson with the Van Vorst Township was never more important as it is today. The park offers a public outdoor venue for cultural and arts events and an urban retreat for all to enjoy.

Van Vorst Park - References

Egan. Colin. "Van Vorst Park in Jersey." Yesterday Today in New Jersey. nd:19-22.
Githens, Herbert J. Houses in Time: A Walking Tour of Architectural Styles; The Van Vorst Park Historic District, Jersey City, New Jersey. ND, np.
Grundy, J. Owen. The History of Jersey City, 1609-1976. Jersey City, NJ: Progress Printing Co., Inc. 1976.
McLean, Alexander. The History of Jersey City, N.J. Jersey City, NJ: F.T. Smiley and Co., 1895.
"Van Vorst Square." Daily Telegraph 6 February 1851.
Waldman, Clifford S. "Friends of the Van Vorst Park: A History." http://www.vvpa.org
White, Jenifer and Martin Duffy. "History of Parks." http://www.green-space.org.uk/resources/aboutparks/history.php