Home Culture The Once Richest Man + Woman in America Lived in Hoboken

The Once Richest Man + Woman in America Lived in Hoboken

by Eliot Hudson
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Hoboken is first in our hearts for many reasons — the incredible views, amazing food, and small-town vibes with big-city amenities. Those same things have attracted many people over the years, including some notable residents. Two of the richest people in America even made Hoboken their home sweet home for a time, albeit 51 years apart: John Jacob Astor and Hetty Green. Read on to learn more about these two notable neighbors who used to live in Hoboken, New Jersey.

John Jacob Astor: The Commodore

rich people john jacob astor hoboken nj

Photo Credit: Public Domain

While recently, Hoboken real estate has been at a premium, it seems Hoboken has long been a magnate for real estate tycoons.

Read More: The Stories Behind Old Hoboken Signage

In 1829, John Jacob Astor built his summer mansion in Hoboken on 2nd and Washington Streets and it would become his refuge away from busy Manhattan.

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At that time, John was the first multi-millionaire in the United States. In fact, the entire city of Astoria agreed to name itself “Astoria” in hopes of attracting John, but the efforts were in vain because John never set foot in Astoria. Instead, he decided to build his summer getaway in Hoboken, which he referred to as the “Villa.”

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Born in Waldorf, Germany, John first arrived in New York when he was 20 years old, eventually settling in Staten Island. There he began a small ferry service transporting people from Staten Island to Manhattan by row boat. Soon he acquired a larger boat, and eventually a fleet of ferry boats. He began to call himself “The Commodore,” and by age 30, he pivoted toward the fur trade and shipping business. A keen entrepreneur, John began buying as much real estate in Manhattan as he could.

By age 66, John wanted a leisurely respite, away from Manhattan, but close enough that he could still conduct business — and he looked to Hoboken.

hoboken history john astor jacob

Photo Credit: Hoboken Historical Museum

Before the existence of Central Park, Hoboken was New York City’s “pleasure ground” for the wealthy. John (and Hoboken) attracted the most elite celebrities of that era, such as the future President of the United States, Marin Van Buren, the future President and Emperor of France, Napoleon III, along with distinguished writers like Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe.

John lived in Hoboken full-time as he constructed his famous Astor House Hotel in Manhattan, and moved into that hotel only nine months before his death in 1848.

Yet John was not the only “Richest Person in America” to live in Hoboken. 51 years later, the richest woman in America, Hetty Green, chose to live in Hoboken — but for very different purposes.

Hetty Green: The Wicked Witch of Wall Street

Hetty Green was so rich, that during the Panic of 1907, she bailed out the entire City of New York, writing a check for $1.1 million. Hetty’s conservative and conscientious lending strategy set her apart from the boom and bust of the Gilded Age’s male-dominated banking investors.

rich woman hetty green hoboken nj

Photo Credit: Public Domain

 

Despite her vast amounts of wealth, Hetty became famous for her frugality — earning herself the nickname, “The Wicked Witch of Wall Street.”

When her son, Ned, broke his leg, Hetty refused to pay for a physician — by the time they found a free clinic, Ned’s leg required amputation. When Hetty developed a hernia, she refused to pay for an operation; instead, Hetty employed a stick which she poked into her abdomen to treat the swelling.

Hetty’s frugality brought her to Hoboken. In an attempt to avoid Manhattan’s property tax, she moved between Brooklyn Heights and Uptown Hoboken.

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In 1898, Hetty lived on the second floor of the “Yellow Flats,” at 1203 Washington Street for $19 a month. She refused to pay extra for hot water and thus rented a “cold water” flat. In an effort to further evade the taxman, Hetty rented the flat under an assumed name — that of her Skye Terrier, “Dewey.”

hetty green hoboken nj

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Not only did Hetty’s frugality bring her to Hoboken, but it also pushed her from Hoboken. When she received a $2 tax bill for Dewey’s doggie license, Hetty fled Hoboken, vowing never to return — or to pay. To save face, her daughter settled the $2 dog-licensing fee.

See More: The History Behind Essex County Town Names

In the years since Hoboken has gone through economic calamities and rallies, but those who understand and appreciate all that Hoboken has to offer are truly the richest among us.

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