When James Fisher talks about his new book “On the Irish Waterfront,” documenting the Irish domination of the Hudson River waterfront in the early- to mid-nineteenth century, his passion can hardly be contained.
“On the Irish Waterfront” is the fourth book Fisher published through Cornell University Press, and one that the Harrison, N.J. native is looking forward to bringing to Weehawken when he speaks at the library this month.
“Weehawken features prominently in the book,” Fisher said. “It was the second largest freight rail terminal in Hudson County – second only to Jersey City. So it was very important in the history of the waterfront.”
“Weehawken was one of the most progressive and modern port towns in America.” – James Fisher
Author loves Weehawken
For the self-described “quirky” and “a little A.D.D.” author, Weehawken is especially interesting because of the dichotomy of the landscape.
“Weehawken was especially dramatic down on the water’s edge,” Fisher said. “Topographically, it is completely separate from the rest of Weehawken. There was nothing down there like there is today. No housing, no apartments. Many of the people who lived in Weehawken at the time had nothing to do with the waterfront.”
Fisher gave a reading of his new book at the Hoboken Historical Museum, his only other Hudson County appearance, and is excited to show his work to the township of Weehawken.
“Weehawken is honestly one of the most beautiful communities in the U.S.,” Fisher said. “Really, all of Hudson County is so fascinating.”
Fisher visits the Weehawken Library, 49 Hauxhurst Ave., to give a lecture at 7 p.m. on March 10, followed by a book signing.
Strength in diversity
Weehawken’s ethnic diversity was one of the reasons for its lasting prosperity and made it one of the most advanced port towns in the nation, Fisher said.
Although former Jersey City mayor and political kingpin Frank Hague and his Irish political machine ran most of the Weehawken waterfront, Fisher said that it was the area’s increasing diversity that eventually led to the big boss’s demise.
“Weehawken was one of the most progressive and modern port towns in America,” Fisher said. “That is evidenced by the ethnic political coalitions that you see thriving today. In other areas at the time ethnic groups separated themselves. But not in Weehawken.”
And once non-Irish groups, like the Italians, felt disenfranchised by Hague’s organization, his was quickly ousted in 1947.
All over the country
Fisher has lived all over Hudson County, including Hoboken, and all over the country while working as a professor at St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution in St. Louis, Mo.
He is currently the professor of theology and American studies at Fordham University in Manhattan, and has published numerous essays and articles including “Clearing the Streets of the Lost Catholic Generation.”
“This is the book that brought me back,” Fisher said, who taught at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City in 1991. “The whole book just kind of unfolded and found a pretty good audience.”
Although Fisher was born in Harrison, he loves Weehawken for all of its rich history.
“My family and I always love walking and driving through Weehawken,” Fisher said. “With Alexander Hamilton and all of the historical sites, the beautiful views, the architecture, the Palisades. Weehawken is really a wonderful town.”
Although Fisher currently lives in Cliffside Park, the author said he has strong ties to the township on the cliffs.
“We’ve known people in Weehawken all of our lives,” Fisher said. “It’s a great place to live.”
For more information about the library event, call (201) 863-7823. For more information on the author, check out his blog at www.irishwaterfront.wordpress.com, or come down to the library on March 10.
Sean Allocca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org