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Images of America: Kearny, New Jersey

Once called the City of Opportunity, the area known as Kearny has been at the crossroads of history, transportation, and commerce for the last 330 years.

Once known to Native Americans as Mighgecticok, the area that became Kearny was sold by Chief Tantaqua of the Lenni Lenape Indians to Captain William Sandford of Barbadoes in 1668. The 9.33-square-mile area was wedged between the Pasawack (now Passaic) and Hackensack Rivers. In 1710, the area was called New Barbadoes Neck.

Arent Schuyler purchased the Kingsland plantation in New Barbadoes and selected the most attractive spot on the plantation for the Schuyler family residence. It was called Fairlawn Manor and occupied the area just below Pleasant Place, bounded by the Belleville Turnpike. One of Schuyler’s slaves, as the story goes, discovered copper, and mining began.

The discovery of copper brought the first steam engine to America. Josiah Hornblower, engineer of the steam engine, hauled it from the Passaic River along what became Belleville Turnpike. The road was built by John Schuyler, second son of Arent, to transport his copper ore to the Hackensack River. John Schuyler was also one of George Washington’s generals.

In 1825, the name New Barbadoes Neck was changed to Lodi and in 1840, it was again changed to Harrison to honor then President William Henry Harrison. Through the efforts of General Nathaniel Halstead, a friend of the late town resident Major General Philip Kearny, the township became known as Kearny in 1867 and through its incorporation 30 years later, became the Town of Kearny.

The northern section of town was called the borough of Arlington by the Arlington Homestead Association, which formed in 1867 to develop the section. This part of town was named after Arlington Heights, Virginia, because of its elevation—said to be the highest in Hudson Country at the corner of Midland Avenue and Belgrove Drive. Arlington, mostly residential, included the famous Passaic riverfront estates.

Situated between the metropolitan centers of Newark and Jersey City, Kearny has benefited from access to major roadways, waterways, and railroads, making it an attractive and prosperous location for industry and commerce. Immigrants from the British Isles arrived to work at the textile and floor-covering mills and plans and brought with them a heritage still evident in the town today. In 1875, the Clark Thread Mills of Scotland opened a factory here, following by Marshall’s Flax Spinning Company from England in 1883. Sir Michael Nairn established Nairn Linoleum in 1888, which brought and employed more Scottish families in the floor-covering industry.

Perhaps surprising to today’s residents, the “downtown” area was not Newark but the east side of Midland Avenue and its intersecting streets, offering shops, real estate offices, banks, and the Arlington Depot.

The town has also had its share of celebrity appearances: General John J. Pershing participated in the 1922 dedication of the World War I monument, which was welcomed by some 25,000 people; Hollywood stars Paulette Goddard and William Gargan arrived to sell war bonds; actress Ruby Dee once worked at the Western Electric Company’s Kearny Works; President William Taft personally presented a shell from the USS Maine to Kearny resident and Civil War veteran Alfred King, who pushed Congress to raise the ship; and George Washington stayed at the Schuyler Mansion. Let us not forget that Kearny spawned professional players for the New York Giants, the Detroit Tigers and the 1990 World Cup U.S. soccer team. Most recently, Kearny served as the filming location of Home Box Office’s popular series, The Sopranos.

Developed in conjunction with the Kearny Museum, this book focuses primarily on the late-19th and early-20th centuries. It offers images of this historically rich town and invites the reader on a journey of the town: its beginnings, its demonstrations of civic and national pride, its local businesses, its industrial contributions, its transportation, its places of worship, its places of learning, and its streets, people, and homes.

For the first time, the vast holdings of the Kearny Museum, the AT&T Archives, and personal postcard and photograph collections are accessible to all.