Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Weehawken some eight decades ago, Edward Fleckenstein took a liking to history.
"It was always important to me, all through my school years," said the 82-year-old Fleckenstein, Weehawken's foremost renowned historian. "I really enjoy it. When I was young, I used to listen to the stories of people in their 60s and 70s and sort of remember those stories. A lot of those stories I heard back then still live with me today."
While no one knows more about the history of Weehawken and the town's illustrious past, there is another facet to Fleckenstein's life that isn't widely known - his intense interest in the history of German-Americans in the area.
"I've always spoke two languages, both English and German," said Fleckenstein, who still practices law after 55 years. "I've written historical articles for a German newspaper located in Buffalo, called Der Volksrivund (in English, it's The People's Friend), a two-language newspaper, since 1994, when it was re-founded. I've studied German-American history dating back to the 1500s. So I have a lot of information."
With that in mind, Fleckenstein will take off his hat as Weehawken's resident historian and become a German-American historian when he gives a free lecture on German-Americans in Hudson County, to be held at the Hoboken Historical Museum & Cultural Center, located at 1301 Hudson St., today (Sunday, Aug. 4) at 4 p.m.
In his lecture, Fleckenstein will feature some of the knowledge he has collected and stored in that personal computer called his brain over the last 80 years. He will speak of how those of German descent have been in Hudson County since the 1600s, right after the Dutch and English settled here.
"Most people don't realize that Hoboken was once two-thirds German-American," Fleckenstein said. "Germans settled throughout North Hudson, in the part of Union City that was called Union Hill, the northern end of Jersey City, West New York and of course, Hoboken. Germans were pretty much the founders of North Hudson."
Fleckenstein said that at the turn of the 20th century, many Germans chose to settle in Hoboken because it was geographically close to the shipping lines, where many Germans found employment.
"In 1910, Hoboken was predominately German, before the Italians started to come," Fleckenstein said.
Traced his own
Fleckenstein said that he has traced his German ancestry in Hudson County back to the 1850s, where his relatives settled in Jersey City. His grandparents moved to Weehawken in 1886 and he was born in the bedroom where he currently sleeps in his home on King Avenue.
The jovial Fleckenstein, who was a real estate and corporation attorney for many years, joked that he has been in Weehawken almost as long as the historic Weehawken Water Tower has graced Park Avenue.
"Sometimes, it feels that way," said Fleckenstein, who is on the committee to preserve the Water Tower and has been the chairman of the town's Historical Society.
Fleckenstein said that there are several prominent people of German-American ancestry who had a gigantic impact on the history of Hudson County.
"William Hexamer was the engineer who inspired the Bergen Turnpike, which we now know as Hackensack Plank Road, in 1869," Fleckenstein said. "He was the one who laid down the road which had been a trail, stretching from Hackensack through Weehawken, from 1718. The road still exists, including part of Tonnelle Avenue and 32nd Street in Union City, as well as Hackensack Plank Road in Weehawken."
Added Fleckenstein, "John Bonn was the person who built elevators that enabled traffic from lower Jersey City to the Heights and to Weehawken. He built the Eldorado elevator, which was named after the amusement park that was in Weehawken at the time."
Eldorado Place, a street in Weehawken, was named after that amusement park. A German-American from Hudson County designed the elevators.
The last person of prominence was someone dear to Fleckenstein.
"John E. Grumbach was the person who introduced the Christmas tree to Jersey City in the 1850s when he arrived here," Fleckenstein said. "He was my maternal great-grandfather."
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner believes that Fleckenstein is a valuable tool for the historic preservation of the town.
"His memory is astounding," Turner said. "He remembers things that no one else ever knew. We have a tremendous history and we want to do everything we can to preserve it. With that in mind, Ed is a resource that we have to continue to tap. Ed has such a wealth of knowledge that I'm sure his lecture would be very interesting."
Turner said that there is a plan underway to have Fleckenstein present lectures in town as part of an oral history program.
"We have to take full advantage of his knowledge," Turner said.
Fleckenstein said that he enjoys sharing his stories with people who want to learn about their roots.
"I really enjoy it," Fleckenstein said. "It keeps me young."
Edward Fleckenstein's lecture, "German-Americans in Hudson County," will be held at the Hoboken Historical Museum and Cultural Center, located at 1301 Hudson St., beginning at 4 p.m. There is no charge. For more information, call (201) 656-2240 to reserve seating.