America's Renaissance City

Delaware Indians lived in the Newark area before white Puritan settlers arrived in 1666. Developers in the region offered the settlers religious freedom and cheap farmland. The Puritans founded a settlement by the Passaic River since the site included a harbor and level, unforested land for farming. They named the village Newark for Newark-on-Trent in England, where their pastor had entered the ministry.

Newark's industrial development began in the 1750's as ironmakers processed ore from mines nearby. In the late 1700's tanners settled in Newark, and used hemlock tree bark to tan leather. By the early 1800's, a third of the workforce was in the shoemaking and leather industries.

Seth Boyden, an investor, worked to help Newark grow industrially during the early 1800's. He developed products including patent leather and improved cast iron. The Morris Canal of 1831 linked Newark with coal-mining areas in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. In 1834, a railroad linked Newark and the Hudson River, which separates New Jersey and New York City. In 1836 Newark had almost 20,000 residents.

Many German and Irish immigrants settled in Newark from 1840 and 1860 to fill industrial jobs. By 1860, Newark had nearly 72,000 people. The surge of immigration of eastern and southern Europeans began in the 1880s. In 1930, the population had risen to 350,000. Port Newark debuted in 1915 during World War I. Newark's chemical industry expanded during this war and the 1920s. By 1930, the population was close to 450,000.

During the Great Depression of the 1930's, over 600 Newark factories closed and many neighborhoods declined. During World War II, defense plant jobs drew thousands of Southern blacks to Newark who mostly lived in Newark's run-down areas. Starting in the 1950's, many white middle-class families moved from Newark to the suburbs, decreasing the 1960 population dropped to 400,000.

In the mid-1960's, Newark had a large population of poor people and lacked the funds to provide aid. About half the voters were black, but had little political power, raising racial tension. In July 1967, five days of blacks rioting caused 26 deaths and $15 million in property damage. Many black people were bothered that there was widespread corruption in the city government. A series of investigations after the riots led to the conviction of Mayor Hugh Addonizio and other polititians for sharing illegal refunds on city contracts (kickbacks). By 1970, Newark elected its first black mayor, Kenneth A. Gibson, an engineer.

A 1971 dispute over working conditions developed between white Newark teachers and the city board of education, composed mostly of blacks and Puerto Ricans. This led to a 3-month strike by the teachers, the longest in the history of a major U.S. city. The strike increased racial tension in Newark. Gibson was reelected in 1974, 1978, and 1982.

A series of urban renewal projects began in the 1960's, resulting in the construction of housing, factories, sports and office complexes. Federal and state governments financially contributed to help with job opportunities and housing projects. University, airport, and seaport expansions were completed by the 1970's.

Places of historical interest include:

"Newark". The World Book Encyclopedia. World Book, Inc. Chicago, 1986., accessed June 6, 2000.

I lived in Newark for 4 years as I was a student at NJIT. Like the other three campuses of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ, Rutgers University and Essex County College, NJIT seemed quite insulated from the rest of Newark, including the surrounding culture and arts. With the construction of the NJ Performing Art Center in 1997, a local trolley circuit called "The Loop", and the construction of a local team's baseball stadium, the college campuses became more integrated with the rest of Newark. The biggest problem I saw in fellow and prospective students and people in general was that they often associated Newark with the crime and slums of 15 to 30 years ago. Like most other large U.S. cities, Newark still has some of these negative characteristics, but what is most important is its growth since then. Newark has created places for people to meet and be entertained. It has a rich history and stunning buildings (Mies Van der Rohe), but what makes it what it is, is its people. Newark is back in business. Newark has loads of culture and it isn't called "America's Renaissance City" for nothing.

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