The Abandoned Bergen Arches
In Jersey City, abandoned explorers have their fun on a mile-long railroad line that once connected the Erie Railroad’s main line to the Pavonia Terminal on the Hudson River (now demolished); from there, travelers would connect to a ferry to Manhattan or transfer to the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad. The project’s construction in the early 20th century was an expensive engineering feat, but trains stopped running here by 1957. The adjacent Long Dock Tunnel is still in use for freight.
The Summit/Newkirk house in Jersey City is one of the oldest homes in America. Built around 1690, it sits atop a ridge of bedrock that goes through Jersey City called the Palisade Sill. The originally one-story building was discovered in 1979 during a renovation. Today, it stands a good example of a seventeenth century Dutch colonial, made from sandstone, brick and clapboard with a gabled roof. Eight inch wooden pegs, rather than nails, were used in the timber beams in the basement (the Wyckoff house in Brooklyn used similar wood pegs for its construction).
The land—in the township of Bergen, and later consolidated into what is Jersey City today—was granted to John Berry from Barbados and sold to Mattheus Cornelisson Newkirk in the 1670s or 80s. It was owned by the Newkirk family for about 200 years before they sold the property in 1889. Following that, it served as an orphanage until 1928, and in the past century, it has housed different retail businesses.
It is currently vacant and looks abandoned, but feel free to walk around the property as it’s surrounded by public parking lots. Sanai, a restaurant that once occupied the building, closed down in 2014. Since 2005, it’s been owned by retired NBA player and Jersey City native Terry Dehere. A new business may arrive soon, given the construction of the nearby 53-story residential tower, Journal Squared, and the revitalization of Journal Square itself with a new pedestrian friendly plaza.
Location: Take the Path train from New York City to Journal Square, walk east on Sip Ave to Summit Ave and go left. Located at 510 Summit Ave.
Van Wagenen/Apple Tree House
The Van Wagenen/Apple tree house is one of the oldest houses in Jersey City. Built in the 1740s, the site was supposedly a legendary meeting place for General George Washington and Major General Marquis de Lafayette, who dined and discussed strategy under an apple tree during the Revolutionary War between August 24th and 26th, 1780. According to correspondences, the two were in Bergen at this time, but no mention is made of a meal or a tree. This local legend has been passed down but not proven.
The actual site dates back to the 1600s, when it was part of the Dutch settlement of Bergen, originally established by the Dutch West India Company. After the English took over New Amsterdam, English Governor Philip Carteret granted land to the Dutch left living in the Bergen area. The land surrounding the house was granted to Gerrit Gerritsen in 1688; some time after, he changed his family name to Van Wagenen to reflect where he was from (the town of Wagening in Holland). The Van Wagenen family owned the house for 259 years. Its other name—the Apple Tree house—drives from the presence of an apple tree orchard and cider press on the property.
The rectangular Dutch colonial house, originally a one-store room farmhouse, was built in two sections over four phases of construction and consists of locally cut sandstone. One apple tree was left on the property and cherished by locals because of its connection to Washington, but it came down due to a storm in September 1821. When Major General Lafayette came back to New York for a visit, he was presented with a cane made from the wood of the apple tree. That cane is now on permanent display at the Louvre museum in Paris.
The building was landmarked by the National and State Register of Historic Places in 2006; it’s fully restored and owned by the city, but there’s no public access at this time. The restoration process took 11 years, 5 administrations, and approximately 3 million dollars to complete. Keep your eyes peeled for an original gaslight street lamp on the property next door – it’s one of the only ones left in the city.
Location: When traveling from New York City take the World Trade Center or 33rd St. Path train to Journal Square. Located on 298 Academy Street, just a few blocks southwest from train station.
Jersey City Cemetery
The historic Jersey City and Harismus Cemetery contains a literal treasure trove of American history. It was the site of Revolutionary war skirmishes and holds a munitions bunker from the War of 1812 (leftover boxes of munitions are still there today). Military usage of the grounds occurred up until World War II, and many artifacts have been found since then.
Incorporated in 1831, it’s one of the very first landscaped garden-style graveyards, pre-dating Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn. It contains an unmarked infant burial ground from a cholera epidemic, the remains of a Viennese Count and the remains of hundreds of soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. There are tunnels and crypts that one can access via tours from one of the keepers of the cemetery who lives on the property.
You can make arrangements for tours, but they will take walk ups during normal hours of operation as long as you have a small group. These tunnels were even used for transport as part of the Underground Railroad. Officially abandoned in 2007, it was eventually saved by Ellen Markenstein and a team of restoration volunteers who care for the property today.
Location: Take the Path train to Grove St. Located at 435 Newark Ave.