Home LifestyleHoboken 101 Hoboken #TBT: The Willow Terrace

Hoboken #TBT: The Willow Terrace

by Kate Cummings
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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 back to 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:

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The History

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. 

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

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The Architecture 

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

Zap Fitness

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 are listings for over $1 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

The Terrace Today

While there are no more original families in the enclave, three to four generations of a single-family are known to inhabit 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

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

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