Mapping the Territory: Hudson County in Maps, 1840-2013

January – September 2013

Click here to take an interactive tour of the exhibit.

Most of us use maps to learn how to get to where we need to go, but maps can also tell us a lot about where we have been and how we arrived at our destination. Maps can convey as much about a region as any unearthed artifact. For instance, an 1860 map of Hoboken shows boardwalks crisscrossing the undeveloped “meadows” in the western half of the city, where roads still called by their traditional names, Paterson Plank and Hackensack Plank, now run.

Maps are a form of universal communication, providing information not just about where people lived, but how they lived. In an exhibit titled Mapping the Territory: Hudson County in Maps, 1840 – 2013, the Hoboken Historical Museum uses maps to examine the development of the County from a group of small, agricultural townships to one of the most densely populated, as well as industrialized, counties in the state.

The exhibit features maps of all varieties: topographical, infrastructure, transportation, sea level and birds-eye views, from both the Museum’s own collections and borrowed from local libraries and historical organizations, including the Hudson County Archives in the Jersey City Public Library, along with digital versions. These maps show how the region evolved geographically from forests, marshes and towering granite cliffs populated by Native Americans; to farms, settlements and villages built and inhabited by the Dutch, followed by the British and the newly independent Americans; and ultimately into the diverse, vibrant communities we live in today.

At the time of Hudson County’s incorporation in 1840, it was primarily a sleepy agricultural area, thickly forested, with only a few settlements scattered around. The population totaled just over 9,000. In addition to farming, residents made their living from the bounty of the rivers and, in the case of enterprising Col. John Stevens, from developing his estate in Hoboken as a popular resort for New Yorkers, where clubs competed in cricket, boating and the loosely organized game of base ball, among other pursuits. Col. Stevens and his sons hastened the increasing industrialization of the area with their experiments and investments in railroads and steam-powered ferry services.

Following the Civil War, the County experienced a growth spurt. Each decade’s census from 1840 – 1870 would show that its population had more than doubled. Its original boundaries encompassed 46 square miles, which would grow by 75% before reaching present-day definitions in 1925. Its original borders stretched from the Hudson River on the east to the Passaic River on the west, down to the southern end of Constable Hook/Bergen Point to the northern border with Bergen County.

Along the way, towns and cities within its borders would merge and separate as citizens voted to incorporate or join other jurisdictions. Jersey City, already the largest and most commercial settlement, grew by absorbing neighboring communities and villages, such as Van Vorst Township, Bergen City, Hudson City and Greenville Township. In 1869, voters approved the consolidation of contiguous towns east of the Hackensack River, with the exception of the township of West Hoboken, which divided the Town of Union and Union Township from Hudson City.

Each of the 12 towns, townships and cities is represented in the exhibit, identified through their seal and flag. Digital frames display interactive maps so that visitors can study the development of each municipality in greater detail. Representatives from each of the municipalities will be invited to give talks about what makes their communities special, from the architecture, food, and cultural activities, to historic points of interest.

The schedule of talks will be announced by email and on the events page of this website. The exhibit, which runs through Sunday, September 29, is made possible through funding from the the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs/Tourism Development, Thomas A. DeGise, County Executive, and the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Additional support for this exhibit and programming comes from Applied Companies, John Wiley & Sons, and the Rockefeller Development Group.