Before there was a Jersey City or a Hudson County, the village of Bergen – the first European settlement in New Jersey, founded in 1660 by Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant – had its origins in what is now the Journal Square area of Jersey City near Academy Street.
Now, 350 years later, the village will be commemorated when the Hudson County History Fair takes place this coming Saturday, Oct. 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Hudson County Community College’s Culinary Conference Center on Newkirk Street in Jersey City.
One of the highlights of the fair will be to cut a ceremonial cake to honor the village’s 350th anniversary. Another highlight will be to honor the oldest families living in Hudson County. The organizers have tried to find a family to represent each of the 12 towns in the county.
The fair will also feature a variety of discussions and presentations on subjects ranging from muskrat hunting in the Meadowlands to how the railroads transformed Hudson County. Among the groups offering display tables will be the Bayonne Historical Society, the Hoboken Historical Museum and Save Ellis Island, the organization helping to restore the island, located within Jersey City’s borders.
Another highlight will be to honor the oldest families living in Hudson County.
Cynthia Harris, the director of the New Jersey Room, the historic archive based in the Jersey City Free Public Library, is looking forward to the fair. Harris, also a member of the Hudson County Genealogical Society, which meets once a month at the Secaucus Public Library, will give a lecture about how to research the history of your home. Harris hopes to have enough time to see everything at the fair.
“I will be a very tired person Saturday night because of the things happening that I will try to catch,” said Harris, who grew up in Jersey City and Union City.
Coming home to history
The subtitle for the fair is “Come Home to History.” Harris hopes people from not only Hudson County but across the state come out for the occasion.
“I run into people from across the state or get calls from those who have roots in Jersey City or Hudson County,” Harris said.
Harris also said the fair will give people the opportunity to “look back into their roots.”
She is looking forward especially to those families that researched their roots and found that they may be the oldest families continuously residing in their hometowns. Those families include those from Hoboken and Weehawken, tracing their roots in their respective municipalities to the 1840s.
And while she commends the support of so many different institutions as well as government agencies, the fair still needs more participation from some Hudson County towns where the search is still on for the oldest families from Secaucus, Guttenberg, East Newark, Harrison and Kearny.
One of the towns that will have a presence at the fair is Union City. Longtime resident Kathie Pontus, also a member of the Hudson County Genealogical Society, will be on hand to help out. She also won’t mind answering questions about Union City’s history, because she has spent much of her time the past eight years doing research on her hometown.
She will tell anyone interested about how Union City was formed in 1925 after the merger of the towns of Union and West Hoboken. Those who lived there include a woman who was nominated for sainthood and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
But Pontus believes people should come to the fair to learn how rich Hudson County history is, from the Lenni Lenape Indians whom the Dutch first met when they settled this area, to local involvement in the Civil War.
“I just think they should be made to understand that they live in such a wonderful historic area, and that sometimes gets lost in current times,” Pontus said.
The fair is sponsored by Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise; the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders; the Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs and Tourism; the City of Jersey City, Jerramiah T. Healy, Mayor; the Jersey City Municipal Council; the Jersey City Division of Cultural Affairs; Hudson County Community College; Hudson County History Advocates, and the Jersey City Historical Project.
Admission to the fair is free. Visit http://www.hudsoncountynjgenealogy.org/historyfair2010 for more information.
To find out more about the oldest family search, call the New Jersey Room by Wednesday at (201) 547-4503.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.