• Hoboken #TBT: The Willow Terrace

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    You’ve probably passed these streets several times and admired the beauty and the old school look it boasts, but now we’re giving you the history behind the Willow Terrace blocks of Hoboken. Dating between 1885 – 1886, Willow Terrace is a two-block private street, {technically three, including the south side of 7th Street} of cobblestone and three-story charm between Willow and Clinton Avenues. Read on to learn more about it and its history, right from the experts at the Hoboken Historical Museum:

    willow terrace hoboken

    Noticeable and adored for its petite scale and old world look, one wonders about the back-story on this special little pocket of the neighborhood. And when you’re curious about something historical in town, who better to chat with than Robert Foster, Executive Director of the Hoboken Historical Museum. Bob also happens to live in an end unit on Willow Terrace North that he and writer wife, Holly Metz purchased from lifelong resident Dorothy Griffin’s family. Their corner spot once housed a locksmith and then an antique shop called “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken” after a WWI rallying cry by General John Pershing. {You can visit the 100-year anniversary exhibit at the museum for more intimate local stories on that topic}.

    willow terrace hoboken

    Martha Bayard Stevens in the mid-1860s at approximately the time Willow Terrace was built

    According to Bob, history has it that original Hoboken family and philanthropist Martha Bayard Stevens {founder of Stevens Institute, Edwin A. Stevens’ wife} was inspired by worker housing she saw in Scotland on a visit. At the time, along what is now Willow Avenue, ran the very back of town and was where the poor and working class families lived in tents and rough shanties. Many of these people were immigrant Irish brick masons who were building Stevens, and Martha thought they deserved better. Upon her return to town, she convinced Edwin and then oversaw the Hoboken Land & Improvement Company in building 108 homes, then a school, nursery, hospital, free church and library for the community providing affordable, sanitary housing and community resources for the newcomers.

    willow terrace hoboken

    Back at the Terrace, the 12’-6” x 60’ lots with under 1,000 square feet of living space were built in a style like structures found in the late 1700s. They featured shared interior walls, ceiling beams, connected underground crawl spaces, outdoor kitchens and housed as many as 10-12 family members in the early days. Definitely a squeeze compared to modern day standards but certainly welcome refuge at the time. 

    See More: Hoboken {TBT}: The History Behind Carlos’ Bakery

    Over the years, family sizes shrank of course and ownership became an option in the 1940s when the Hoboken Land & Improvement Company dissolved and auctioned the homes for up to $500. By that time many had been abandoned but by the 1980s, the community changed, Hoboken began to gentrify and prices went up to $200,000. Thirty-eight years later, there is a current listing for $1.3 million to give a sense of the rise in monetary value, though the emotional value remains priceless.

    willow terrace hoboken

    At left, lifelong resident Dorothy Griffin and neighbor friends on Willow Terrace North, circa 1940 — Hoboken Historical Museum

    While there are no more original families in the enclave, three to four generations of a single family are known to most of the homes, having been passed down over and over. In a few cited histories, some residents got married and simply moved across the street like Joan Cunning {born Smith} who lived at 15, 17 and 27 over 50 years and wrote “In the Terrace,” a lovely family memoir and collection of neighborhood remembrances.

    willow terrace hoboken

    Joan Cunning with baby Edward on Willow Terrace South in 1957, Hoboken Historical Museum

    And though times have changed, you can still hear the family chatter and pick up the scent of coffee and breakfast from open front doors and ground story windows as you walk through the quiet streets in the morning. It’s a sweet reminder of neighborly days long gone for most. If you listen hard enough, you might even hear an old Irish folk song playing in the distance and that song is dedicated to Martha.

    READ: Vito’s + Son Italian Deli in Hoboken

    willow terrace hoboken

    Do you have a #HobokenTBT story? Share with us in the comments below!

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    Written by:

    Kate Cummings of Freestyle Restyle is a local interior designer specializing in affordable design therapy and decorative solutions for home and office, a history nerd, and rescue dog mama to Special Jonesy Brown. When not at her studio in town or walking from end-to-end checking out favorite buildings, you can find her hiking the mountains and howling at the moon in the Catskills region of the Hudson Valley.


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