Access to the Global Marketplace
Weehawken's history was influenced by two geographic features: the Hudson River and the Palisades. The town's location along the river provided a tremendous economic trade opportunity as it facilitated access to markets in New York City and beyond. However, before that potential could be tapped, there was a large obstacle to address: the Palisades. Weehawken's history is rich with efforts to travel around, over and through the formidable Palisades. Once this obstacle was overcome, the area of Lower Weehawken developed to its full potential as a vibrant industrial and commercial center, connecting rail lines and roadways from west, north and south with the busy New York Harbor.
Conquering the Palisades
The Palisades are a 20 mile stretch of steep, rocky cliffs that parallel the Hudson River and form a physical barrier within Weehawken. Although roadways were built over the Palisades as early as the eighteenth century, these routes were difficult for horses to climb. In the early 1860s the Hoboken and Weehawken Horse Railway Company offered its first horse car route to the top of the Palisades by harnessing four horses to each car instead of one, providing enough power to complete the one mile trip in approximately 20 minutes. In 1873, the North Hudson Country Railway developed the steam-powered "wagon elevator," which carried fully-loaded horse cars and wagons to the top of the Palisades on a 400' long, 100' high incline plane in just one minute. In 1887, the North Hudson County Railway constructed a passenger elevator and an approximately 873'-long viaduct (elevated cable car railway) to connect the West Shore Ferry Terminal along Weehawken's waterfront to the top of the Palisades. The elevator, which rose almost 200 feet above the Hudson River, made the trip in about 45 seconds. With the late nineteenth century surge in rail transportation, rail lines increasingly built direct routes by tunneling through physical obstacles such as the Palisades. In 1883 the West Short railroad completed a tunnel through the hard-rocked Palisades in order to connect two major trading markets: Buffalo, New York and New York City. in 1903-1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad bore a tunnel through the Palisades and underneath both Weehawken and Hudson River in order to reach its station in New York City. All of these transportation routes around and through the Palisades enabled Weehawken to expand into an important economic center along the Hudson River.
The Development of Lower Weehawken
Lower Weehawken, the narrow area between the Palisades and the Hudson River, developed as the township's industrial and commercial center with at least six rail lines moving freight to and from the New York Harbor: the Erie Railroad, the West Shore Railroad, the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad, the Hoboken Manufacturers' Railroad, the New Jersey Junction Railroad and the Fort Lee Railroad. The Weehawken waterfront, lined by multiple wharves, served as a major hub for exporting goods from this region to both domestic and foreign markets. In 1891, approximately 100 carloads of freight were being unloaded per day at the West Shore Railroad terminal. As depicted in historic photographs, Lower Weehawken consisted of multiple railroad lines, industries and wharves that all serviced the New York Harbor trade market.