Rollercoaster of City’s History Rumbles On

History and Landscape
Published June 13, 1996

Rollercoaster of City’s History Rumbles On

| Published June 13, 1996

Popular poster from 250th anniversary poster contest The Newark Public Library

For the past several months, I have focused on Newark's early history its people, places, things and events prior to the 1820s. Should I continue to follow this chronological approach, I probably would arrive at the mid-19th century in the middle of the next millennium since there is simply too much to relate about America's 'biggest little city' in a brief span.

Consequently, I am going to look at Newark's past in a topical rather than a chronological way. With 330 years of Newark history to choose from, and with the rich resources of the Newark Public Library, the Newark Museum, and the New Jersey Historical Society at our disposal, many historical facets of Newark history, old and new, can be recreated to refresh the memories of Newark's older residents as well as add to the historical knowledge of the newest Newarkers. Like a tennis match, the historical ball will bounce back and forth in random fashion, allowing the reader to explore the many faces of Newark, past and present.

As we look forward to Newark's historical quilt, try to think of a history book divided into four chapters with the first chapter covering the period from 1666 until 1806. Its heading might read, 'From Colonial Village to Beginning of Modern City.' This period includes the founding of the Newark theocracy, the breaking of the Puritan stronghold, the emergence of cottage or home industry, the hardships of the Revolutionary War, and the establishment of a national market for Newark-produced goods. The closing of the era is represented by the 'Shoemaker map of 1806' that announced to the world that Newark had become a thriving center for the shoe industry, a maker of cider, an exporter of brownstone, and a manufacturer of coach lace.

Watch out, America. Newark was at the point where it was ready to explode on the national scene industrially and commercially. Bluntly stated, this was the period of uncontrolled industrial and commercial development where the era of making silver spoons, fine chairs, and fancy cabinets gave way to the development of a giant industrial complex making steam engines, cotton thread, lighting equipment, jewelry and 1,000 types of industrial products later shipped around the country and throughout the world. The conclusion of the era was marked by the emergence of banks and insurance companies resulting in virtual commercial empires. Two great celebrations spanned this second era between the years 1806 until 1916. The first was the Newark Industrial Exposition of 1872, and the second was Newark's 250th anniversary in 1916 that ranked Newark with other great cities. In 1872, Newark took time off to celebrate its industrial prowess, and in 1916 it paid tribute to its intellectual, social, and cultural accomplishments.

Chapter 3 could be described as 'The Historical Rollercoaster and the 20th Century.' During this period, extending from 1917 until 1967, national events dictated the city's direction. Two world wars added to its financial and industrial prosperity and helped include women and African-Americans in the local workforce. The Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, and the riots of the 1960s, did much to devastate confidence in Newark and its future.

As we prepare to close out the 20th Century, the fourth chapter emerges. For 330 years, we have toughed out our problems. And, still, the question is asked: Is the glass half empty or is it half full? In considering your answer, remember Newark is still a good place to manufacture a product, run a business, get an education, offer a service, or find cultural enrichment in its libraries, museums, and historical and scholarly agencies.