Dublin: Paterson’s First Neighborhood

JoAnn Cotz

(from PCHS “The Castle Lite,” V16, N1 – 1985)

I know it has charm, I’ve heard people say
No matter how far one might wander away,
He might travel the East, or roam through the West
His mind would revert to the scenes he loved best;
Should Fortune in kindness her gifts to him bring
He’d take one more trip to the old Dublin Spring.

(from “The Old Dublin Spring,”
by Catherine Scanlan Pier,
The Morning Call, 1931)

If you ask about Dublin among Paterson old timers, they tell stories not about Ireland, but about the residential area surrounding the earliest mills in Paterson. Those oral histories about a community called Dublin are further verified by written records from the 19th century. A picture of how this community grew, expanded, and changed through time can be drawn from documentary history sources such as newspaper accounts, census records, city directories, deeds, maps, and photographs or engravings. Combining all these sources of information together gives a clearer picture of who lived in Dublin, what they did for a living, what their homes were like, and what they did for recreation. Placing this information on social history into the larger context of what was happening in the city, the state, the country, and the world, show that often an examination of history in a microcosm will reflect the larger picture as well.

19th Century Dublin

In the 19th century, as today, people moved to a certain community or area for particular reasons. The first European people to occupy the area south of the Passaic Falls were Dutch farmers and hotelkeepers. In 1791, Alexander HAMILTON initiated the incorporation of the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures (SUM). Their plan to harness the natural energy of the Falls in a series of channels to power mills dramatically changed the community.

Hamilton believed that the newly formed nation needed an industrial base which would make it self-sufficient rather than dependent upon imported finished goods. The operation of scattered farmsteads periodically interrupted by tourists coming to view the romantic setting of the Falls was changed as SUM purchased land adjacent to the Falls for mill sites and worker housing.

The industrial experiment started slowly, suffering from inexperience and economic depression. By 1815, there were only eleven cotton mills, along with small machine shops and 74 dwelling houses. The workforce was composed of skilled and semi-skilled English and Irishmen as well as New Englanders, many of whom were familiar with textile manufacturing. Houses were built directly adjacent to the mills on a series of streets laid out in a square, compact unit by French engineer Pierre L’ENFANT, who had also designed the original raceway system to carry water to the mills.

By 1832, the industrial base had tripled, and a residential community was defined by the Morris Canal, Garrett (Weasel) Mountain and Main Street, and a separate commercial area was apparent at Market Street. The population was just over 9,000. There were 841 dwellings and 20 cotton mills, many with machine shop annexes. The Morris Canal, opened in 1829, had provided not only a transportation link with the west and east, but had brought a number of unskilled laborers, mostly Irish, into the settlement as well.

The Dublin community, which included 48.6% of the total population in 1832, reflected the diverse composition of the period. Machine shops, originally associated with textile manufacturing, moved into specialized activities like locomotive building by 1837. Silk manufacturing began at this time as well and cotton manufacturing diversified as technology advanced. The adjacent Dublin residential community included workers of each level in the industries. Dublin was populated by manufacturers, skilled and unskilled workers, from John RYLE, father of the silk industry, to unskilled Irish canal laborers, to English and Scottish weavers who operated looms in their homes. There seems to be very little social differentiation in this period, with both worker and manufacturer living close to the work place. The ethnic composition was also mixed Irish, English, Scottish, and German.

After 1850, Paterson–chartered as a city the next year– experienced tremendous population expansion, both in Dublin and in the growth of other city neighborhoods. The city population had nearly doubled in 1860 to 20,000. Dublin, which had doubled in the number of dwellings since 1832, included 40% of the total population and formed the South Ward of the city political structure. Much of this expansion was a product of increased emigration to American, particularly by the Irish who suffered economic and political hardship in their own country. By 1870, the Irish were the dominant foreign-born population in the city and one-sixth of the total 33,500. While no specific numbers have been reconstructed for Dublin, the Irish influence as a political block was particularly significant and resulted in the continual restructuring of wards and gerrymandering of districts during the last quarter of the 19th century to circumvent their power.

The early Dublin neighborhood was identified particularly with a spring located in the middle of Mill and Oliver Street called the “Big Spring.” By 1839, it became known as the “Dublin Spring.” Oral traditions record a tale about the spring which promised that the one drinking of its waters would return to Paterson to drink again. Stories included figures such as soldiers leaving for the Civil War, sweethearts parting, and neighbors moving away. The spring was closed in the 1890’s because of health hazards, but the traditions were still alive in 1931 when a commemorative ceremony was held at the spring dedicating a specially commissioned sculpture by Paterson sculptor Gaetano FEDERICI on the site.

During the last half of the 19th century, community supported institutions such as churches, volunteer militia, and fire departments, men’s clubs, neighborhood bars, and commercial establishments were developed. Most visual of these was the building of the Irish Catholic St. John’s Cathedral at Grand and Main Street between 1865 and 1870, marking the eastern boundary of the neighborhood.

The city’s population continued to expand at the end of the century, reaching about 100,000 by 1900. A shift in the ethnic composition of foreign born had occurred by this time, however, with English-born moving to the dominant group. As the silk industry grew and expanded, it continued to attract skilled Englishmen and began to draw skilled Italian textile workers in large numbers as well. Many of the Italian immigrants clustered in the early original Dublin Area, particularly on Cross (now Cianci), Market, and Mill Streets. This area continues today as a transitional community, while much of Dublin above Market Street is occupied by the newest immigrant group in Paterson, Hispanic populations.