Two teachers from Bayonne High School got the idea back in 2000 that they wanted to combine their resources to expand the way students learn about history, art, architecture, and culture.
Varda Wendroff, currently the director of world languages, English as a second language and bilingual education, was teaching the German language at the time and wanted her students to explore Bayonne to look for German influences here.
In pre-American Revolution Bayonne, some of the city’s earliest settlers, and some of the most historic buildings in the city, had German influences.
Meanwhile, Terri Graham, a teacher of ceramics and culture, thought it would be a great idea to combine this search for cultural roots with artistic endevors.
Led by Pricilla Ege – an expert on local history – the students toured the city, taking photographs of some of the more historic buildings, and of sites where they could conduct research on some buildings that no longer existed, such as the Central Railroad train station once located on Eighth Street.
“Bayonne had two German-American mayors.” – Dr. Joseph Ryan
The students took note of building features, such as mansard roofs and stained glass windows, and found signs of the past in areas where cobblestone still showed through the road surface.
Architecture as history
Although the students looked for the influence of German achitecture within the town – which they found in such things as the mural at Hendrickson’s Restaurant or the stained glass windows at St. Andrew’s Church – they also learned important aspects of Bayonne’s history.
St. Henry’s Church is a Roman Catholic Church on Avenue C between 28th and 29th streets. It was founded in 1889 by 50 German immigrant families from Bavaria, and was named after Emperor Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire. It is one of the first Catholic parishes in Bayonne. The first church building, a wooden structure, was built in 1890 on the northeast corner of Avenue D (now Broadway) and 26th Street (site of the current Bayonne Post Office). The first pastor was the Reverend Alois Heller.
St. Henry’s merged with St. Thomas’ Church when the latter closed in 1892. This caused a controversy in Bayonne over what language should be spoken at mass. It was decided by Bishop Wigger in favor of the German-Catholics.
“Bayonne had two German-American mayors,” said Dr. Joseph Ryan, who gave a short lecture to the students during a lunch.
Mayor John Farr, who served in the late 1800s, was born in Germany. As a building contractor in Bayonne, he was responsible for the construction of a number of houses throughout the city.
The second German-American mayor was Charles Heiser, who served during late 1940s.
Ryan said most of the German immigration into Bayonne took place between the 1840s and the 1880s.
Along with St. Henry’s, the First Federated Church is also an example of German-influenced architecture in Bayonne.
The ‘reconstruction’ in ceramics
After their tour, the students then set about reconstructing some of these structures using ceramics. With existing buildings, the students made their models based on what they saw and photographs they took. But with some buildings, such as the original St. Henry’s Church and the Eighth Street Railroad Station, they used historic photographs.
Recently, the Town Center showed a collection of miniature buildings in its window, drawing a lot of interest. So the teachers decided, “Why not display these models, too, which are solidly based on history of the city?”
This retrospective, of course, has stirred up a possible new revival, which could include an additional future study of some other aspects of Bayonne history or its environment.
One odd feature in this collection, however, is a ceramic model created in 1997 by a Bayonne High School student, who made a model of a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship.
“This was years before anyone knew that Royal Caribbean would be sailing cruise ships out of Bayonne,” Graham said.
The display will remain in the windows of the Town Center on East 22nd Street until the end of September, said Town Center Executive Director Mary Divock.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.