Weehawken Dueling site

 

Weehawken, which may mean, ''End of the Palisades' or 'Place of Gulls'-no one knows for sure--dates its incorporation as a Township from 1859. But its written history began in 1609, when Henry Hudson, on his third voyage to the new world, sailed up what was then called The North River on the Half Moon and weighed anchor in Weehawken Cove.  The back of the Sheraton Hotel overlooks this spot today.  One of Hudson's crew members recorded that the river was so full of fish, one could walk across the river on the backs of the fishes. A bit of hyperbole, perhaps?

The earliest residents of the area were the Lenni Lenape Native Americans. They were displaced     by the Dutch, who came to settle the area in the early part of the 1600's.  In 1658, Governor Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam negotiated a deal for land with them. This transferred territory comprised the township of Bergen, "by the great rock above Wiehacken," then taking the sweep of what was west of the Hudson and east of the Hackensack Rivers extending down to the Kill von Kull in Bayonne.  The English eventually forced the Dutch out as they settled Manhattan Island and surrounding areas.  In 1752 Weehawken was given a grant for its first ferry service; the ferry house was north of Hoboken, and was primarily used for farm produce.

During the revolutionary war, Weehawken's Palisades were used as a lookout for the patriots to check on the British, who were in situated in New York and controlled the surrounding waterways. In fact, in July of 1778, Lord Stirling, in a letter to Aaron Burr, asked, on behalf of General Washington, that Burr employ several persons to "go to the Bergen heights, Weehawk, Hoebuck or other heights to observe the motions of the enemy's shipping" and to gather any other possible intelligence.

Most early habitation was along the top of the cliffs, or Palisades, since much of the sea level areas were marshland. Early descriptions speak of the dense foliage and forests along the top of the Palisades and excellent land for growing vegetables and orchard fruits.

Early documented inhabitants included a Captain Deas, whose "cozy home at Dea's Point, was located upon a knoll or elevation near the river and may have overlooked the infamous dueling grounds, a grassy shelf about 20' above sea level and attached to the Palisades.  This ledge, long gone, hosted 18 documented duels and many unknown between the years 1798-1845, the most famous being that between General Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, and Colonel Aaron Burr, sitting third Vice President of the US, which took place in 1804.

Weehawken became the playground of the rich during the middle to late 1800's.  The wealthy built homes along the top of the Palisades.  Here they might flee from the sweltering heat of New York, and breathe the fresh air of the heights.  A series of wagon lifts, stairs, and even an elevator designed by famed Frenchman, Gustave Eiffel, were put in place along the Palisades to accommodate the tourists and summer dwellers.

Despite becoming a transportation hub with the ferry, an early toll road, the Hackensack Plank Road, which was a main artery from Weehawken up to Hackensack, and the West Shore Railroad which came during the early 1870's,Weehawken remained a sleepy, suburban-like town, little changed, until the advent of the Lincoln Tunnel in 1937.

In the late 1950s and early 60's, Weehawken saw its modes of transit change from ferry, train and trolley to an ever increasing concentration of buses and cars chugging through the Lincoln Tunnel tubes.  However, everything old is new again.  Since the late 1980's, the ferry returned in the form of the NY Waterway, based in Weehawken. Ridership continues to grow and new ferry stops are being added up and down the Jersey coast from Ft. Lee to Bayonne.  The light rail system, running alongside the still spectacular Palisades, as the Railroads once did, brings these 2 older forms of transit, full circle.

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