In the years before the City of Hoboken’s 1855 incorporation, Washington Street was still a quiet road, with few buildings. New York-based landscape painter and lithographer John Bornet traveled to Hoboken in 1852 (likely taking the ferry owned by the Stevens family across what was then called the North River) and produced a series of graphite drawings of a bucolic Washington Street.
Sociologist and documentary photographer Lewis Hine traveled to Hoboken in 1912 to record a different kind of catastrophe—the human cost of children made to work in factories and on streets hawking goods. Working for the National Child Labor Committee, Hine searched the city streets, and on Washington and Third Streets, found a small girl selling newspapers, who claimed not to know her age or name. He guessed she was about six years old. On other streets he found eight-year-old and ten-year-old vendors. Children had long been in the city’s factories, too: A New Jersey State Factory inspection in 1892 had reported that six of the largest Hoboken employers had multiple workers under the age of sixteen.
Hoboken’s main street slowly developed as families began to settle in the city and built the institutions they needed, including houses of worship. In 1856, an unknown artist sketched “Trinity in the Fields,” a Richard Upjohn-designed Gothic-style Episcopal church constructed on the northwest corner of Seventh and Washington Streets. Reproduced in a 1903 monograph on the parish, the Trinity illustration shows a stand of mature trees fronting the church, a pastoral setting that would be unimaginable to future generations.
By 1888, a more developed Washington Street was again a documentary subject. An unknown photographer, one of city’s new enthusiasts for the swiftly advancing medium of photography, braved the weather following the blizzard of 1888, when 80 mile-per-hour winds created snow drifts as high as 50 feet, swallowing entire buildings. Images of the “Great White Hurricane” were later collected by the Elysian Camera Club. Though established in 1902 to offer current members a place for picture-making, the club also sought to exhibit images produced by all local photographers, including those made before the club’s founding.
Hoboken industries continued to shape city life, for ill and for good, for many decades, until they began to relocate to the suburbs or out of state. Maxwell House Coffee, which opened the world’s largest coffee roasting and blending plant in Hoboken in 1939, was still operating in 1974 when Bob Skye photographed the faded Maxwell Tavern at 1039 Washington Street. Open hours at the tavern were linked to the schedules of the giant factory steps away, guaranteeing a packed house of thirsty workers. Within a few years, when new owners took the helm and created the legendary music club Maxwell’s, the tavern would be packed with music fans.
A bit south and east of Maxwell’s were Mom & Pop shops of longstanding. Plein air painter Frank Hanavan’s 2006 street-view painting of the 1000-block captures Giorgio’s bakery and Schnackenberg’s luncheonette in late-afternoon sun.