Hamilton Park
680 Jersey Avenue
At Jersey Avenue and East Hamilton Place
Pavonia Avenue, McWilliams Place and Ninth Street
Hamilton Park Historic District
National Register of Historic Places
New Jersey Register of Historic Places

 

Hamilton Park

Hamilton Park is at the center of the Hamilton Park Historic District in downtown Jersey City. Over the years it has maintained its bordering tree-lined streets with rows of Victorian brownstones from the post-Civil War era; Hamilton Square Condominiums, the former Saint Francis Hospital complex, faces the park's east side. The 5.4-acre "residential square" park is not far from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel to the north and the Newport Mall to the east.

The park is named after Alexander Hamilton. He was the aide-de-camp of General George Washington during the Revolutionary War and later the nation's first secretary of the treasury under President Washington. Hamilton, the head of the Federalist Party, lost his life in a duel with Aaron Burr, the first vice president under Thomas Jefferson. The duel was fought on the Palisades at nearby Weehawken, NJ, on July 11, 1804. It was John B. Coles, a Federalist from New York, who initiated the plan for a public park in Jersey City to be named for Hamilton. 

A flour merchant, Coles served in the New York senate (1799-1802) and was one of the thirty-five investors in the Associates of the Jersey Company.  In 1804, he purchased the northern half of Harsimus Island where he laid out the city's first blocks of what became downtown Jersey City.  Development of the area progressed slowly, and so the park project languished. In 1827, Coles laid out plans for a park on a map in the northern center of the Harsimus area, but he died shortly thereafter. In the meantime, a large section of Harsimus separated from Bergen Township and was incorporated as Van Vorst Township in 1841. It was a year after Hudson County became separate from Bergen County, and three years after Jersey City became an independent municipality.

In 1848, the heirs of John Coles laid claim to the park property for their personal use. Their interest in the property may have been from positive indicators about the economic development in the vicinity of the park location. The Coles family heirs held that the Township of Van Vorst had neither the deed to the property nor verification of acceptance of the park property from Coles.  The township, advised by legal counsel to show some possession of the property, planted four trees and built a wooden fence around the site.

When the Coles family heirs continued to press for control, the township's attorney brought the case to court and secured the public testimony of two elderly associates of John B. Coles (Grundy 35). They corroborated that back in 1804 Coles wished for the development of a park for public use.  The testimony thereby resolved the dispute, and the park was conveyed to the township.  However, by the time of the decision, the Van Vorst Township was no longer a separate political unit; it joined the new municipality of Jersey City in March of 1851.  The park remains not only as a memorial to Alexander Hamilton but also as a reminder of the legacy of John B. Coles to Jersey City. 

Today the park has a large gazebo, basketball court, children's playground, and tennis court.

The boundaries of the Hamilton Park Historic District are Sixth Street, Bay Street, Manila Avenue (formerly Grove Street), and Coles Street. The district includes McNair Academic High School and Cordero Elementary School. Saint Francis Hospital had a presence on the park from 1864 when the Society of the Sisters of St. Francis purchased a house on East Hamilton Square. They laid the cornerstone for a hospital building in 1870. Preservation of the park and its environs is the mission of the Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association founded in 1975.

References:

"Laying of the Corner-Stone of a Roman Catholic Hospital in Jersey City." New York Times 5 September 1870.

McLean, Alexander. The History of Jersey City, N.J. Jersey City, NJ: F.T. Smiley and Co., 1895.
Grundy, J. Owen. The History of Jersey City, 1609-1976. Jersey City, NJ: Progress Printing Co., Inc. 1976.

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub