By the time the name “New Brunswick” (named in honor of English King George I, the Duke of Brunswick) appeared in court records in 1724, this settlement on the southern bank of the Raritan River had already gone through two names - Prigmore’s Swamp and Indian’s Ferry (that was John Indian's ferry). This is the deepest penetration boats can easily make on the tidal Raritan River and New Brunswick soon developed as a trading town and agricultural port.
During the American Revolution the town was occupied for seven months by British general Sir William Howe, although “hosted” might be a better word for it. George Washington openly complained about the lack of local support he received “from the Jerseys” for his campaigns around New Brunswick. Help did come, however from the town rivermen whose boats feasted on British vessels around New York harbor.
The coming of the railroad harpooned the Raritan River as a vital shipping lane and from 1850 out the city switched over to manufacturing. A steady stream of modern conveniences poured out of New Brunswick brick factories - carriages and new rubber products and the first harmonicas in America. Most notably, in 1886 the Johnson brothers began making medicinal plasters to aid in the recovery from surgery in New Brunswick. They would shortly be joined in the pharmaceutical battles by the arrival of E.R. Squibb and Sons.
The factories attracted European immigrants, especially Hungarians and Germans, and they worked hard and played hard. The city’s saloons once enjoyed such steady business that temperance reformers declared, “It would be an injustice to the devil to condemn him to live in New Brunswick.”
The city has been an enthusiastic embracer of urban renewal and many vestiges of those days are gone. But buildings still reman from the 1800s and even the 1700s. Although they aren’t concentrated on the streetscape we will encounter them on our walking tour without using up too much shoe leather and we’ll begin where thousands coming to New Brunswick do every day, at the train station...
New Brunswick Station
Albany Street, Easton Avenue and French Street
The Pennsylvania Railroad invested $50,000 to build this Colonial Revival brick station in 1903 and when it was completed railroad men gushed that no town of New Brunswick’s size on the Pennsylvania system had a handsomer building. One hundred years later it is still in use by New Jersey Transit.
IN FRONT OF THE STATION, WITH YOUR BACK TO THE RAILROAD, TURN LEFT ON ALBANY STREET. MAKE YOUR FIRST RIGHT ON SPRING STREET.
124 Church Street
New Brunswick was once a college town filled with rock clubs. The Court Tavern began booking acts in this location in 1981 and is the last of a dying breed. Over the years, the club helped launch Jersey bands like Bouncing Souls, Screaming Females and the Gaslight Anthem and hosted rock and alternative acts such as Pavement, The Replacements, Ween, The Flaming Lips, Henry Rollins and The Smithereens.
WALK TO THE END OF THE STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON BAYARD STREET.
New Brunswick Savings Bank
70 Bayard Street
The New Brunswick Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1851. Its last headquarters was this Georgian Revival-influenced brick vault constructed in 1919. The brick facade was laid in Flemish bond with glazed headers.
78 Bayard Street
Scottish-born Alexander Merchant was born in 1872 to a father who worked as a purser on the National Line sailing between Liverpool and New York City. The family settled in Queens before the boy’s school years which lasted until he was 16 and he began an apprenticeship in shop of architect D.D. Williamson in New Brunswick. When he obtained his license ten years later he set up his practice across the Raritan River in Highland Park where he became the most influential designer in town in the first decades of the 1900s. He was the architect for hundreds of public and commercial buildings in central New Jersey and his interpretation of an early Colonial town hall was executed in 1927.
Main Post Office
86 Bayard Street
As part of Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to life America from the Great Depression he went on a federal building spree and especially desired to bring “significant architecture” to towns and small cities. Wesley Sherwood Bessell won the commission for this Georgian-inspired building of brownstone and brick. As part of Roosevelt’s New Deal artists were hired to create locally-themed paintings and sculptures for nearly 1000 post offices around the country. The plan was encouraged by Philadelphia-born George Biddle, a school friend of Roosevelt’s and he contributed three murals here depicting George Washington’s time in the area dueling with British generals Howe and Cornwallis during the American Revolution. Another work of art, The Dispatch Rider, was carved in red stone by Ruth Dickerson.
Bayard Street Presbyterian Church
Bayard Street and Joyce Kilmer Avenue
This Romanesque-inspired church building with brownstone pylons at its corners was constructed by the St. James Methodist congregation and dedicated on November 11, 1866. The price tag was $75,000 a debt which the church struggled to retire. In 1908 the building was nearly consumed by fire and the following year the property was exchanged for that of the Magyar Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church at the corner of Easton and Hamilton streets. The Presbyterians have now worshiped here for over a hundred years and Methodists’ new property has worked out for them as well.
TURN LEFT ON JOYCE KILMER AVENUE AND STAY ON IT AS IT BENDS TO THE RIGHT AFTER CROSSING NEW STREET.
Joyce Kilmer House
17 Joyce Kilmer Avenue
Alfred Joyce Kilmer was born in this house in 1886 and lived here until 1892. It was originally a Dutch farmhouse built in 1780, with Greek Revival additions coming a half-century later. It is considered one of the oldest remaining structures in New Brunswick. His father, Fred, was Scientific Director for Johnson & Johnson who distributed Italian talc to the customers who complained of irritation when using some of the company’s medicated plasters - a practice that led to the introduction of Johnson’s Baby Powder in 1893. The younger Kilmer was a promising writer and poet whose work appeared in magazines and books of verse. His money came from writing definitions for Funk and Wagnalls’ The Standard Dictionary. With the publication of his short verse “Trees” in 1913, Kilmer found sudden fame and demand as a lecturer. Joyce Kilmer enlisted in the National Guard after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant. He sought increasingly hazardous duty and during a scouting mission in the Second Battle of the Marne, he was shot thought the head and killed at the age of 31. The combination of one wildly popular poem and a promising life cut short have led to far flung memorials to Joyce Kilmer including many in his native state of New Jersey, parks in New York and Chicago, a forest in North Carolina and a fireplace in Minnesota. The Philolexian Society of Columbia University, a collegiate literary society of which Kilmer was vice president, holds the annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest in his honor.
TURN LEFT ON WELTON STREET OPPOSITE THE JOYCE KILMER HOUSE.
Nativity Of The Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church Place
80 Livingston Avenue at Welton Street
This eye-catching stone building of turrets and gables anchoring the corner was constructed in 1893 for $49,500 as the Livingston Avenue Baptist Church. The congregation had split from the First Baptist Church two decades earlier and prospered quickly. Their Troop 1 of the Boy Scouts of America, chartered in November 1910, was one of America’s first uniformed troops.
TURN LEFT ON LIVINGSTON STREET.
New Brunswick Free Public Library
60 Livingston Avenue
Books were being circulated in New Brunswick through the Union Library Company in 1796. The present library company was incorporated in 1890 and in 1903 used a grant from Andrew Carnegie to build one of the 2,509 such libraries funded by the steel magnate all over the world. Patrons entered the Beaux Arts library beneath a classical carved tympanum and inside were greeted by stained glass skylights.
Henry Guest House
58 Livingston Avenue
Henry Guest operated a successful tannery in New Brunswick in the mid-1700s. He built this substantial house of stone blocks in 1760 and lived here until 1815. After his death the Guest family put the property up for sale describing it as “one of the best stone houses in the State of New Jersey.” In 1924 the house, then located a block away on New Street, faced demolition and was moved here for safety. The recipient of a recent exterior renovation, the Guest House is still actively used by the library.
Elks Lodge #324
40 Livingston Avenue
The New Brunswick Lodge #324 organized in 1895 and moved into this monumental lodge, another contribution to the streetscape by Alexander Merchant, in 1926. The New Brunswick Elk was a creation of Laura Gardin Fraser and erected in 1930 as a memorial to the lodge members who gave their lives in World War I. Fraser was known for her work with medals and was the first woman to design an American coin, the Alabama Centennial Half Dollar in 1921. She became associated with animals and executed a reclining elk for the national headquarters in Chicago and at least two elk in New Jersey.
17 Livingston Avenue
The State followed the typical arc of downtown American theaters from opulent movie palace through decline to an adult movie house to vacancy to multi-million dollar restoration. Show business impresario Walter Reade, the “Showman of the Shore,” hired the biggest name in theater design, Thomas Lamb, to create his State Theatre for vaudeville and silent films. Movie lovers filled the more than 1,800 seats for the grand opening on December, 26 1921 that featured the 64-minute silent Western White Oak, an orchestral performance, a nature film, a newsreel, and five vaudeville acts. The State closed in 1979 but reopened as a state-of-the-art showplace for live performances in 1988.
George Street Playhouse
9 Livingston Avenue
Founded in 1974, George Street Playhouse is one of New Jersey’s preeminent professional theaters committed to the production of new and established plays.
George Street and Livingston Avenue
The memorial to New Brunswick’s fallen Civil War soldiers was dedicated on Nov. 15, 1893.
TURN LEFT ON POWER STREET.
United Methodist Church
323 George Street at Liberty Street
The stirrings of Methodism in New Brunswick dip back into the 18th century but “The Methodist Episcopal Church, Shiloh, New Brunswick” did not organize until 1811. This was the first site for the new congregation, purchased for $528 from the Trustees of Queens College, today’s Rutgers. A two-story brick meeting house was erected. It was blown apart by a tornado in 1835, crushing pastor W. H. Bull. The wooden church that replaced it was in turn usurped in 1876 but it would take a full 20 years to complete the present Gothic-style church.
TURN RIGHT ON LIBERTY STREET. TURN LEFT ON NEILSON STREET.
Congregation Poile Zedek
145 Neilson Street
Immigrants from Russia and Poland came together as the Independent Laborers’ Benefit Association in 1901. When this meeting house, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was dedicated in 1924 the congregation changed its name to Poile Zedek, which means “doers of righteousness.”
First Reformed Church
9 Bayard Street at Neilson Street
The Reformed Church in America was founded by the Dutch in 1628 in New Amsterdam and came to New Brunswick in 1717. The city’s oldest congregation came to this site in 1765 and a stone church erected. Leaders of the church made sure that a charter was granted for the education of Dutch Reformed ministerial candidates. Thus was born Queens College, which later became Rutger’s University. The charter was signed by King George II and dated November 10, 1766. When the British occupied New Brunswick during the Revolutionary War the pews were stripped and the church was converted into a stable but it was not burned. It would later be dismantled by the congregation in 1811. The building that replaced it, the current sanctuary, was one of the largest buildings in New Jersey when completed the following year. In 1828 the New Brunswick Town Council requested that a clock be placed in the steeple for the benefit of merchants and shoppers and after that it became known around town as the Town Clock Church.
5 Paterson Street at Neilson Street
The town’s Episcopalians came together to form the church in 1742. The meeting house was finished in 1745. In 1776, the third public reading of the Declaration of Independence was made from the foot of the church tower. Despite that brazen act of rebellion the British didn’t destroy the church during war-time occupation. That task would be left to the congregation 70 years later in 1852 when their original church, save for the tower, was taken down stone by stone and rebuilt into the present structure with all the historic stone utilized.
The Old Bay Restaurant
61-63 Church Street at Neilson Street
This Italianate-styled building was the home to the National Bank of New Jersey when it was constructed in 1857. It is the oldest commercial building in New Brunswick still in use, in this case by a New Orleans-style restaurant since 1987.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO GEORGE STREET.
People’s National Bank
southeast corner of Church Street at George Street
The People’s National Bank was organized in 1887 with a capital of $100,000. By 1895 they were able to occupy this prominent downtown corner with an ornate three-story headquarters of rough stone, golden Roman brick and terra cotta.
National Bank of New Jersey
390 George Street at Church Street
The first banking in New Brunswick was transacted in 1808 as the Bank of New Brunswick, which was succeeded by the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank and in turn by the Bank of New Jersey, which received a national charter in 1864. The bank was anchored in its building a block away at Neilson Street until 1910 when it moved here. The eight-story low-rise skyscraper faced in white masonry was typical of the early belief that high-rise buildings should resemble classical columns with a defined base (the decorative first two floors), a relatively unadorned shaft in the form of the middle floors and a decorative cornice to represent the capital.
TURN RIGHT ON GEORGE STREET.
Johnson & Johnson
northeast corner of George Street and Albany Street
A man laid out on a 19th-century operating table faced a worse chance at survival than a man riding in a cavalry charge. Germs and sterilization were unknown when Robert Wood Johnson left the Pennsylvania countryside as a 16-year old in 1861 to apprentice in a Poughkeepsie apothecary. Johnson worked in new York as an importer and salesman of drug products until 1873, when he entered into a stormy partnership with George Seabury. The relationship was strained further when Johnson brought his younger brothers, James and Edward Mead, into the Brooklyn pharmaceutical firm. By 1886 the three brothers were ready to start their own medical products company, specifically selling medicated plasters that were ready-to-use, contaminant-free surgical dressings. On a train ride through New Jersey, James Johnson spied a “To Let” sign on a four-story red brick building while passing through New Brunswick. Johnson & Johnson, with 14 employees, sprouted into one of the world’s largest companies from the fourth floor of that old wallpaper factories. The complex would eventually grow to include 51 red brick buildings along 20 downtown acres along the river. In 1983 lead designers Henry N. Cobb and W. Stephen Wood of I.M. Pei & Partners created the current World Headquarters for Johnson & Johnson by linking seven four-story pavilions around a slender 16-story tower.
AFTER WALKING UNDER THE RAILROAD TRACKS BEAR LEFT ONTO THE CAMPUS OF RUTGERS UNIVERSITY.
Old Queens Campus
Class of 1883 Memorial Gates
Henry Rutgers was a Revolutionary War officer and a large landowner on Manhattan Island but what really earned him notoriety was that he lived into his 80s as a bachelor with no apparent heir to his fortune. Queen’s College, founded in 1766 as the eighth institution of higher learning in the country, was struggling in the early 1800s and had actually suspended classes for a dozen years for lack of funds. They did have a tenuous tie to Henry Rutgers, however. His pastor, Philip Milledoler, had been president of Queen’s College. The trustees made an appeal to Henry Rutgers and received a draft of $200 to buy a bell. This morsel was enough to name the college for Colonel Rutgers in the hope that real life-sustaining funds might be forthcoming. Rutgers donated a bond for $5,000 but when he died there was no mention of the college in his will. These gates, at what is considered the main entrance to Queens Campus, were installed in 1904 by the Class of 1883. The gates were designed by class member Frederick P. Hill and constructed for $2,000.
WALK THROUGH THEGATES AND UP THE SLIGHT RISE AND BEAR RIGHT INTO THE PARKING LOT BEFORE THE FIRST BUILDING. ON YOUR RIGHT, OVERLOOKING GEORGE STREET IS..
Daniel S. Schanck Observatory
Daniel S. Schanck was not a student of astronomy, never attended Rutgers. He was born in Middletown, New Jersey but moved to New York City early on and spent his entire life there making his money importing glass. Nonetheless, he funded the construction of this octagonal two-story brick observatory in 1866. Designed by Willard Smith and one of the last major Greek Revival structures to appear in New Brunswick, it was built to accommodate the study of astronomy in the Rutgers Scientific School, which was established as a department of Rutgers College in 1862. But no one knows why Daniel S. Schanck bankrolled the project. It was rumored that he was smitten with one of the wives of a tutor on campus and built his monument to impress her. He died in 1872 at the age of 60 and his unrequited spirit still dwells in the tower.
ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE PARKING LOT IS...
Henry Janeway Hardenbergh would design some of the most famous apartments and hotels in America - the Dakota Apartments, the Plaza Hotel, the Willard Hoteland many more - but in 1873 he was a 26-year old architect with nothing on his resume. But he was a Rutgers legacy of the first order - his great-great grandfather, Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, had been the first president of Rutgers College from 1785 to 1790. So when Sophia Astley Kirkpatrick, widow of Littleton Kirkpatrick, wanted to built a chapel and library for the school, Hardenbergh got the commission. New Brunswick-born Littleton Kirkpatrick had been a lawyer in town before turning to politics and becoming mayor of New Brunswick and a United States Congressman. The interior walls of the old European-styled brownstone church have traditionally displayed portraits of the presidents and other prominent leaders of Rutgers.
CONTINUE WALKING AROUND THE CHAPEL TO...
John McComb, who was busy designing some of the most important buildings in New York City in the first decade of the 1800s, City Hall and Castle Clinton among them, came to New Brunswick to design Old Queen’s in 1808-09 and delivered one of the finest examples of Federal architecture to be found on any college campus. McComb used ashlar brownstone on the side facing the city and everyday fieldstone on the elevation on the backside - the side that faces a campus that was only a dream at the time. In fact, the building was Queen’s College - it was the sole building for academic instruction for the college, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and the Rutgers Grammar School. In 1825 when Henry Rutgers’ gift of a bell arrived a cupola was constructed, courtesy of Stephen Van Rensselaer, to hold it.
WALK AROUND TO THE END OF OLD QUEEN’S AND TURN LEFT TO WALK BETWEEN BUILDINGS OUT TO THE FRONT OF OLD QUEEN’S. THE BUILDING ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
Here is another contribution to the campus by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, giving him bookends around Old Queen’s. Completed in 1872, the Gothic brownstone served as home to the departments of physics, military science and geology. The Rutgers Geological Museum, housed on the second floor, has included important collections of minerals, fossils, Native American artifacts, modern shells, and, most famously, a 10,000-year-old mastodon acquired by Professor George H. Cook in 1870.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK ALONG THE SEMI-CIRCULAR DRIVEWAY. TUCKED AWAY TO THE RIGHT, BESIDE THE REAR OF GEOLOGY HALL, IS...
Van Nest Hall
Peter Pieterse Van Nest arrived in New Netherlands in 1647, founding one of the oldest families in the New York City area. Born in 1777, Abraham Van Nest was president of the Greenwich Savings Bank and an officer in other financial institutions. And he was a devoted trustee of Rutgers College for the last 42 years of his life. Nicholas Wyckoff designed a two-story academic building in 1845; in 1893, Van Nest Hall was remodeled and a third floor and porch were added.
CONTINUE MOVING ALONG THE DRIVEWAY.
Garret E. Winants, son of a sea captain, sailed before the mast at an early age and built a fleet of his own but made his real money in Jersey City real estate. He spent most of his later years traveling the world and writing about his experiences. In 1889 he presented a sketch for a proposed dormitory and gifted the university $100,000 to build it. He died the following year as he was preparing the school to pick out furniture for his dormitory; it would be the only housing on campus for another 25 years.
EXIT OLD QUEEN’S CAMPUS AND TURN LEFT ON SOMERSET STREET.
St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church
94 Somerset Street
St. Peter The Apostle Church was designed in 1856 by Patrick Keeley, the de facto house architect for the Catholic Church in the latter half of the 19th century. This grand, Gothic Revival, brownstone church, convent, and rectory, face the historic lawn of Old Queens.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON SOMERSET STREET TO COLLEGE AVENUE.
northwest corner of Somerset Street and College Avenue
This is the second oldest building on the Rutgers campus, designed by Nicholas Wyckoff in 1830 to provide a home for the Rutgers Preparatory School and two student literary societies, Philoclean and Peithesophian. It picked up the two-story wing to the north in 1870s and a third floor was added for a gymnasium. It wasn’t Johnston Hall until 1964 when it was renamed for Alexander Johnston, Class of 1870, who taught in the building and wrote tirelessly on American history.
CONTINUE ONE BLOCK TO EASTON AVENUE AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TRAIN STATION AND THE BEGINNING OF THE TOUR.