Field Trip Friday: Liberty State Park

A few weekends ago, Hae-In took a trip to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, just across the river. Less than 2,000 feet from the Statue of Liberty, most of the park’s area is on landfill created by the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CRRNJ) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad, whose lines once terminated there– both are now defunct.

It was originally part of the territory of the Hackensack Indians, who called the area Communipaw (in the Algonquian language Lenape, it means ‘big landing place at the side of a river’), and during the 17th century it became part of the colonial province of New Netherland and eventual ferry port for Bergen and Hudson County.

CRRNJ Terminal, historic transportation building

Liberty Walkway stretches from the CRRNJ along the waterfront and south to the Statue of Liberty overlook. Part of the longer Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, the southeastern corner of the park also has picnic facilities, a playground, the U.S. Flag Plaza and Liberation Monument, the Public Administration Building, and a memorial to the Black Tom explosions. Freedom Way goes through the center and separates the area closed to the public from the public bike paths, walkways, and fields.

Waterfront with a ferry to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

Towards the end of the 19th century, the area became major shipping, manufacturing, and transportation hub within New York Harbor. The Communipaw Terminal was constructed in 1864 and it was through this ferry and train station that many immigrants arriving at Ellis Island dispersed throughout the US. It is estimated that around 10.5 million people entered the country through the station.

Inside Communipaw Terminal

In 1916, the Black Tom explosion killed several people, causing $20 million in property damage to what is now the southeastern corner of the park. Construction of the North River Tunnels, Interstate Highway System and the decline of industry and railways eventually made the area obsolete. Although there was still some manufacturing and recreational use of the area, it became mostly abandoned after the mid-twentieth century.

Train inside

In the 1950’s, influential environmentalists and historians Audrey Zapp, Theodore Conrad, Morris Pesin and J. Owen Grundy began pushing for the development Liberty State Park. The decaying buildings, overgrown tracks and debris were eventually transformed into the urban state park and was officially opened on Flag Day, June 14, 1976.

Columns

Liberty State Park spans 1,212 acres in the middle of Jersey City and offers beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well as recreational areas and Communipaw Cove, part of the 36-acre state nature preserve in the park and one of the few remaining tidal salt marshes along the Husdon River estuary. The Interpretive Center, designed by architect Michael Graves, is part of this preserve and the Liberty Science Center, an interactive science museum and learning center, is also located in the northwest part of the park.

Liberty State Park
Morris Pesin Drive, Jersey City, NJ
Get subway directions via HopStop

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