One of the earliest maps of the Washington Street grid notes the sale of two plots—formalized in 1811—by Colonel John Stevens, and his wife, Rachel, to Peter Ten Brook and Sandy Lee, two free men of color, who were married to women enslaved by the extended Stevens family. The freedom of Ten Brook, who was enslaved by another slave holder, was purchased through the Last Will and Testament of Colonel Stevens’s mother. Although the same will was meant to liberate Ten Brook’s wife Nancy and their daughter Silvia (married to Sandy Lee), there are no records that prove the colonel, as executor, ever did so. A note in the Stevens family bible states that he did not.
Stables fronted the Washington Street lots for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1911, as cars were increasingly replacing horses as the standard form of transport, the main street stables were demolished to make way for a movie house that opened in 1914, part of a wave of “moving picture exhibitions” that began to outnumber Hoboken’s once-popular theater halls. Although the U.S. Theatre also contained a full stage with box seats and an orchestra pit, its main purpose was to screen movies. In 1955, it too was supplanted by a new form of entertainment: television. By 1955, half of all homes in America had a black and white TV.
The most recent establishment to take up residence on the lots is actually an old Hoboken institution, a bank founded as Haven Building &. Loan Association in 1938, and now known as Haven Savings Bank.
Because Silvia was not free, and a child’s status under slavery was based on the mother’s standing, Silvia’s son Peter was enslaved by the Stevenses and worked as the family butler, continuing even after slavery was abolished. There is no official record of Peter’s liberation—and the stories of Stevens family members vary widely—but he is listed in 1835 as the inheritor, with his brother George, of 168, the Washington Street plot owned by their father. They also had a share, with other family members, in 169, the plot owned by their grandfather. Although other members of the extended Lee family eventually sold both plots and moved out of the area, Peter continued to live on or near Washington Street for decades. He married Mary “Hannah” Thompson in 1846 in the new Trinity Episcopal church on Washington Street, founded by the Stevens family.
The demolition of the U.S. Theatre again left empty lots. They were put into service as the parking area for patrons of the Union Club on Hudson Street, known as the premier setting in Hoboken for weddings and corporate and political events until its closure in 1960, following the decline in industry in the city.