Hoboken {TBT}: The History of Hoboken’s Transportation Systems

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If there’s anyone you should be thanking for getting you to literally everywhere you have to go in Hoboken {well, besides UBER}, it’s Colonel John Stevens. Heard of him before {probably from our last few TBTs…}? If not, you’ll never forget him after this read.  This infamous engineer played a HUGE role in the Mile Square’s history, from building a tavern and hotel, creating the River Walk, Elysian Fields, and many more monumental buildings — to arguably most important: creating many of our transportation methods. Next time you’re on your way to work or you’re en route to bottomless mimosas, give some praise to this smarty pants. Here’s how it all went down.

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Let’s start with the Hoboken Ferry. According to Railroad Ferries of The Hudson, transportation in the Hudson began in 1661 with Jensen’s Communipaw Ferry {recognize the name of the street from Jersey City?}. It’s known as the first ferry to complete a commercial route on the North River.

Enter Colonel Stevens, who was doing some very important research about propeller-driven boats in the U.S. and Europe, which would eventually lead to some groundbreaking innovations {more on that in a second}.

According to Thirteen.org, Hoboken was becoming a hot getaway destination — thanks to, you guessed it, its convenient transportation system.

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Here’s how Col. Stevens got Hoboken on the map:

In 1802, Stevens built his first 25 foot boat, which consisted of a flat-bottomed 5 foot beam.  Stevens launched this boat and called it Little Juliana, after his daughter. Then a connection to New York came into the picture — and all of a sudden our little mile square was on the Manhattan map.

In 1811, Stevens launched the first steam ferry service that ran regularly between the Mile Square and the Big Apple, according to Thirteen.org, and Hoboken was never the same. As if that’s not enough of an accomplishment alone, it was also the first ferry service in nation. This little engine that could {actually not small, but we’re just punny} made 16 trips that carried approximately 100 passengers per trip. 

Years passed, and in 1825, and Stevens created the first locomotive AKA rail transportation {this dude was seriously on it}. Although this was the first form of rail transportation, the little train only ran in circles on a miniature round track.

At this point, everyone wanted to join the party.

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In the late 1800s, great Delaware,  Lackawanna, and Western Railroad joined forces with the Hamburg-American and North German Lloyd shipping lines on the Hoboken shoreline, where passengers were shuttled back and forth on the ferry across the Hudson River.

Then, the PATH Train was born — providing service between Hoboken and NYC starting in 1908. According to the Path Rail History, The PATH had many names {and a potential identity crisis}: it was first known as the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad and then the H&M Hudson Tubes.

Just think about how insanely chaotic your life would be if you didn’t have any of these transportation methods and the traffic happening in the Lincoln Tunnel, for realz. Truthfully, Hoboken and Jersey City wouldn’t be the thriving, popular cities they’ve come to be if it weren’t for Colonel Stevens’ genius innovations {although we must say the views and restaurants/bars don’t hurt, either}. And even though there’s really nothing we can do to thank Colonel Stevens for contributing to our city’s success now, we think he’d be satisfied knowing he’s often dubbed the Father of the American Railroad — and featured in our latest TBT 😉

Have a fun vintage photo or Hoboken story you’d like to submit for consideration in our #HobokenTBT? Email it to: hello@hobokengirl.com!

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Aida is a full-time reporter for the Town News, a part of North Jersey Media Group, and she received her Bachelor’s in Journalism from NJCU back in 2012. When she isn’t out investigating sources and digging up interesting Hoboken history, she is training at CKO kickboxing in Hoboken. Aida is Instagram and food-obsessed {and you can see her love of both by searching the hashtag #adamandaidatakethecity}. Aside from eating her way around town, Aida spends time shopping in NYC, reading actual books {no e-books to be found}, and spending quality time with her boyfriend, parents, older brother, and cocker poodle, Benji.


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