The tour was part of an eight-day celebration of the city's heritage that encouraged residents to walk around different sections of Jersey City while a guide described their historic relevance. Created by the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy (JCLC), the annual event has now reached its third year. "We do these tours to educate people," said John Gomez, president of the JCLC.
Starting at the Newkirk House on Summit Avenue, one of the oldest existing structures in Jersey City, Murphy led the tour through the old Bergen village. The Newkirk House still stands, but it is now a Greek restaurant. Murphy, who teaches history at St. Peter's College, explained that Jersey City was first settled by Dutch settlers during the 17th century who originally clashed with the Native Americans inhabiting the area.
As a result, the settlers eventually purchased land from the Native Americans that would become Hudson County. Within this plot of land, the first permanent settlement was formed on four square blocks of real estate dubbed "Bergen," bound by bound by Vroom, Van Reypen, Newkirk streets and Tuers Avenue. A few families moved into this settlement that was merely 160 by 225 feet, with a central square.
The tour traveled eastward on Academy Street to the location of P.S. 11. That building stands in what was the location of the first school in New Jersey, established in 1664.
Aside from describing the historical background of each stop, Murphy read from texts he toted along, and amused the two dozen tourists with a dose of wit.
The tour also included the Apple Tree House on Newkirk Street, the Vroom Street Evangelical Free Church, built by a Norwegian congregation in 1907, the Speer Cemetery, created in 1857, and the Old Bergen Church and Cemetery on Bergen Avenue.
Stopping at the Apple Tree House, where it has been said that George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette once formulated Revolutionary War tactics, Murphy cringed at the site of the dilapidated structure. Although a high metal fence protects the house from trespassers, weather and neglect have seriously deteriorated the two-story building in the past several years. Murphy urged everybody to write a letter to Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham to help preserve it.
"I'm definitely going to write a letter to the mayor," said Patter Hellestrom, a resident on the tour. "It's terrible to see our heritage go down the tube."
Cunningham, a history buff, had pledged to restore the house a few months ago.
An example of a well-preserved chunk of history exists in the Old Bergen Cemetery. "Notice how many street names you can see on the head stones," Murphy said. Indeed, such names as Sip and Pryor appeared on the headstones alongside other names that resonated with Dutch heritage - like Van Wagenen.
The lengthy tour managed to keep everyone's interest as it paraded from site to site. "They give everyone an opportunity to celebrate Jersey City's heritage," said Maureen Crowley, a longtime resident. Since Preservation Week 2002 began, Crowley had been on three tours and intended to go on one tour more before the week ended. As for the two-hour walking excursions, Crowley said they provided a concrete way to learn about the past.
"You're seeing all the physical evidence of our history, which is incredibly exciting," she said. "Our historical architecture is one of the city's biggest assets, and we should work to preserve it."
Others tours during the week included Harsimus Cove, and a Palisades cliff walking tour in the Heights. "Every year, we try to come up with new tours," Gomez said. "And there are the popular tours we keep. Like the Powerhouse, and the Bergen Arches."