Stevens' influence on Hoboken's character is unmistakable — just as Hoboken's evolution as one of New Jersey's best places to live and work continues to enhance the Stevens experience daily.
Parks, gardens and a summer resort
The university's relationship with the Mile Square City began long ago. Colonel John Stevens purchased the riverside farmland that would become Hoboken at a public auction after the Revolutionary War. The land was shaded with trees, lush and almost completely undeveloped.
In 1814, Col. Stevens and his family moved permanently from New York City to a hilltop Hoboken estate to operate steam ferries and begin developing a summer resort community. The family created a scenic river walk winding from the ferry dock around the famous Hoboken cliffs, built a grand hilltop hotel with sweeping views of Manhattan, and began selling off property lots to builders, businessmen and farmers.
During holiday weekends in the early 19th century, thousands of Manhattan residents could be found crossing the Hudson to visit Hoboken. Some, like the wealthy merchant and realtor John Jacob Astor, built grand properties of their own near the waterfront; others, such as journalist William Cullen Bryant, came on day trips write romantic prose or poetry about Hoboken's rural beauty. The mystery writer Edgar Allen Poe visited for a different purpose, transforming a sad local drowning into a thrilling detective story.
Baseball: invented on Stevens property
West of his grand hotel, Col. Stevens cleared vast open fields where Manhattan residents could relax and enjoy the fresh air and views of the city. Upon these "Elysian Fields," as he called them, Stevens built a primitive Ferris wheel and a demonstration locomotive on a circular track.
In 1845, the Knickerbocker Club — a group of Manhattan firemen, merchants, lawyers and other professionals — began traveling by ferry to Hoboken, renting field space from Stevens and devising and modifying what would eventually become the rules of modern-day baseball.
The following summer, on June 19, 1846 on Col. Stevens' fields, the Knickerbocker Club crossed the Hudson by ferry to face off against the New York Nine (another Manhattan club) in what is widely regarded as the first recorded modern baseball game. While the Elysian Fields no longer remain, a plaque several blocks west of their former site at the intersection of Washington and Eleventh streets commemorates the creation of America's national pastime here in Hoboken.
Building Hoboken Together
Col. Stevens' dreams of developing Hoboken into a thriving community of both commerce and elegance were gradually carried out by the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, his family's development firm. (The company's historic brick headquarters still stand at the corner of River and Newark Streets, one block from Hoboken's train station.)
By the late 19th century, the Stevens family had divested itself of most of its land in the city, but the family remained Hoboken's chief benefactors. Many of these Stevens projects and donations remain centerpieces of Hoboken life, and the economic benefits of the university also contribute significantly to city life today:
- Stevens is now the 4th-largest employer in Hoboken.
- Edwin A Stevens' spouse, Martha Bayard Dod, donated land and funds for the establishment of the Hoboken Public Library, founded St. Martha’s Ward in the city's St. Mary’s Hospital (now Hoboken University Medical Center), and built and endowed the Church of the Holy Innocents, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
- The Stevens family established Church Square Park, adjacent to the church and library, as well as Hudson Square Park and Elysian Park, bookending the Stevens campus to the north and south. All three parks remain open to the public today.
- The city's train station, Hoboken Terminal — New Jersey's second-most active passenger facility, a busy hub of train, ferry, light rail and underground PATH services and connections — was built upon Stevens dockland.
- Stevens property is now also the site of Frank Sinatra Drive and the waterfront Skate Park.
Today the university continues to enjoy a close and beneficial relationship with the city the Stevens family founded. Among the many partnerships between Stevens and the city are collaborative efforts to:
- Design new parks
- Create stronger defenses against extreme weather
- Collect and analyze data on city parking, traffic and pedestrian use
- Optimize emergency response services
As both the university and Hoboken grow, they continue working hand-in-hand to ensure an even more prosperous future together.