In his story about the Constable Hook Cemetery, Bill Hastings makes an unfair criticism of the City of Bayonne. Mr. Hastings writes, “Many towns and cities take great pride in the upkeep of their old cemeteries, and some even claim historical status for them. The City of Bayonne seems to have done nothing for this cemetery.”
As the City of Bayonne’s staff person for our municipal Historic Preservation Commission, I would like to point out that the commission spent two years attempting to document the cemetery’s history and to achieve historic designation for it.
In order to have a legally proper process for historic designation, the City of Bayonne’s Historic Preservation Commission needed to give due notice to the property owners. The commission also needed to be able to specify the boundaries of the property. During the two-year process, the City of Bayonne’s Law Department went to great lengths attempting to clarify issues of ownership and property boundaries. Just as Mr. Hastings points out in his story, the sale of cemetery plots complicated the chain of title necessary for historic designation. Mr. Hastings states accurately, “It is not known who the legal owner of the cemetery is.” The City of Bayonne’s research unearthed conflicting boundary descriptions of the size of the cemetery. Various deeds had differing answers. Mr. Hastings also deals with the confusion over the size of the property by referencing a larger “original” area, a smaller area marked off by a white picket fence, and another cemetery area outside the fence.
After a two-year struggle with title issues, under legal advice, the Historic Preservation Commission concluded that it could not continue with the historic-designation process, because the issues of ownership and boundaries could not be resolved. Fortunately, the adjoining property owner, IMTT, has kept a watchful eye on the cemetery, and has been a very responsible neighbor and friend to the cemetery.
Preservation of the Constable Hook Cemetery is important, because the property offers a glimpse into Bayonne during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, some of the headstones are written in German. These markers are reminders of the German community on the Hook that had a newspaper and a Lutheran church.
As a result of refinery fires in the early 1900’s, Standard Oil decided that the village of Constable Hook could not coexist with the petro-chemical industry. Consequently, the Hook’s homes were either razed or moved westward. Industry expanded into the area where the village used to be. The cemetery is just about all that is left of the village of Constable Hook.
Preservationists must bear in mind that official historic designation of the property proved to be a legal dead end. However, the City of Bayonne has and will always maintain an interest in the preservation of the cemetery that is rich in the history of this city’s past.
JOSEPH E. RYAN
Bayonne Historic Preservation Commission
Public Information Director,
City of Bayonne