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The Story Behind the ‘Hoboken Firsts’ Utility Boxes in the Mile Square

Residents of Hoboken have undoubtedly noticed new art installations along Washington Street. But it isn’t just any art, this art specifically highlights the history of the Mile Square, touching on inventions and moments in history that took place in our little town of Hoboken. To learn more about this initiative, how it came about, and who the artist is, keep reading.

This utility box project initiated by the Hoboken Business Alliance was taking place during the town’s other utility box beautification project that was initiated by the Hoboken Arts Advisory Committee that chose designs from 15 local artists. However, the two initiatives were independent of each other. The Hoboken Business Alliance worked hard to preserve and place the town’s history at the forefront with this amazing project.

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

How the Project Came To Be

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

This was the brainchild of Carol Swift, owner of Swift Morris Interiors and board member of the Hoboken Business Alliance. “It started with The Much Larger Goal to revitalize Hoboken and make it an attractive city.  It used to have beauty and historic distinction, both disappearing in recent years.  Being very interested in how cities like Newport RI and Charleston SC have re-invented themselves by returning to their history, I urged the HBA to use our unique stories as concepts for the Utility Boxes,” Carol told Hoboken Girl.

Carol reached out to SallyAnne Santos, a talented graphic design artist to research and create the designs for ten utility boxes. Each utility box has two designs, one on each side, and all of the utility boxes have the same theme, “Hoboken firsts”.

Crystal Plaza

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

“Although I am not a Hoboken resident {I now reside in Newport, Rhode Island}, I am intrigued by Hoboken’s unique history and impressed by the number of firsts and “fun facts”! From 1984-2001, I lived and worked in Manhattan, including at World Financial Center. While there, I raced J-24 sailboats on the Hudson River between NY/NJ-Hoboken,” SallyAnne told us.

Read More: “Every Mask a Blank Canvas”: The Hoboken Historical Museum’s Newest Exhibition

Carol explained what inspired her to pursue this project, saying “I personally have lived in Hoboken quite a while, and loved the ship chandlery shops that were still in business in the 1980s. Going into those places made you so aware of the centuries of business long before you came here and I’m lucky enough to have watched Bob Foster successfully collect and save memorabilia of all sorts, crafting it into a museum to tell the story of Hoboken. The goal was to inspire residents to have an interest and connection to their city, not just consider Hoboken as a good real estate transaction. But to know it, know things about it, realize its earned place in history.”

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

They teamed up with the Hoboken Historical Museum to source a number of original photos from the museum’s archives. Carol explained, “This was strictly a Hoboken Business Alliance project, which nicely connected the Museum to our goals. The Hoboken Historical Museum, for years, has published and sold a book titled ‘Hoboken Firsts’ – which I also sold in my shop. It has fascinating facts, all unique to this city.”

“The Hoboken Historical Museum assisted with a number of the images, and it was my pleasure to work with them on this project. Other images were sourced from the Library of Congress’ digital archives while researching Hoboken history,” Sally Anne said.

Bob Foster, the Hoboken Historical Museum Director, was thrilled to be a part of the historical project. “This was a great history project for the city and the Hoboken Historical Museum was proud to supply the historical information and most of the visual files used to illustrate the designs. Most of the information came from a museum publication titled 100 Hoboken Firsts and the author is Jim Hans, the Museum founder. The book illustrates 100 firsts in Hoboken which are laid out in chronological order. The book is stocked in the museum’s gift shop and is still one of our best sellers. We would love it if the history utility box project was expanded since there are 80 more “Hoboken Firsts” to go… full speed ahead!”

They also teamed up with Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon. He printed and installed the images onto the utility boxes, and took the photos of the final products. “He was so great to work with and did a really nice job with the installations,” SallyAnne said. 

The Utility Boxes

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

“Didn’t we all move here because it felt charming, personal, attractive in a special way, different from anywhere else?” Carol points out. “Bob Foster would like to expand this idea and have tours from one to another Utility Box. Each box has a whole story.” Wouldn’t that be something!

See More: How Hoboken Got Its Name

As for the artist behind the designs, SallyAnne, “I really enjoyed working on this project and I am thrilled to see it come to fruition! I hope that residents will enjoy learning about the special history of their city. My goal was to convey the information in an eye-catching, fun, engaging, and hopefully memorable presentation.” 

It’s safe to say that we are grateful for the opportunity to walk down Hoboken’s Main Street and be educated and reminded of how lucky we are to live in a small town with such rich history.

The addresses of the utility boxes are:

  • CVS, 59 Washington Street
  • Paper Source, 501 Washington Street
  • Giovanni’s, 603 Washington Street
  • Dunkin’, 700 Washington Street
  • Residential, 900 Washington Street
  • Peper & Parlor, 938 Washington Street
  • Smart Cleaners {2 boxes}, 200 12th Street
  • Hudson Tavern, 51 14th Street
  • TD Bank, 76 Hudson Street

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

hoboken firsts utility boxes

{Photo credit: Chris O’Shea of Manhattan Neon}

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Written by:

Victoria is HG's Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Hoboken Historical Museum + Fire Department Museum. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.