For more than 170 years, 84 Essex Street, a modest Paulus Hook row house, has witnessed this important neighborhood’s transformation from industrial center to modern residential enclave.
Like other historic Jersey City neighborhoods, the Paulus Hook district is centered around its namesake park and extends roughly from today’s Montgomery Street and Marin Boulevard southeast to the Hudson River and Morris Canal Basin. Throughout its history, Paulus Hook’s advantageous waterfront position on the New York Harbor has been coveted as an important gateway between the island of Manhattan and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard.
According to the Paulus Hook National Registry of Historic Places inventory report, the Greek Revival style is one of the three primary architectural types in the district, particularly for homes built between 1830 and 1850. 84 Essex conforms to the restrained Greek Revival look, which helps us nail down the somewhat imprecise date of its construction. While the address first appears on a map in 1850, it’s known that by 1840, most of this Essex Street block had been built up. This and the architectural details suggest a build date between 1830 and 1840.
84 Essex and its companion houses are each four stories tall with simple lintels and sills, short stoops, and brick façades laid in a handsome Flemish bond pattern. Unlike many early homes in the area that were built as single-family residences and converted to multi-family or boarding use later on, No. 84 appears to have housed multiple tenants from the start. An 1866 city directory names more than 10 men residing in the building, all listed as working-class laborers and tradesmen, indicative of the industrial nature of the Jersey City waterfront at the time.
A rather curious, formal entrance had been added to the lower level of 84 Essex Street at some point. According to multiple references to the address in the Jersey Journal, this doorway likely led to a basement-level saloon. In 1872, the building was sold to a John Behrman who was a saloon operator. In 1875, he sold the property to Henry Sellholz, also listed as a saloon keeper. Natives of Prussia, Henry and his wife Anna also lived at the address, along with multiple boarders, and would maintain ownership of the building for the next 50 years.
By 1890, the cellar space was home to the Low German Club — a social club for those of Dutch and German descent — which isn’t surprising considering the significant German immigrant population of the area and of the house itself, which at this time was filled with surnames like Dentz, Knipp, Zimmer, and Soich. In fact, resident George Zimmer took over operation of the saloon in the mid-1890s. Later references to the property indicate the storefront may have also offered groceries, but the liquor license was in force at least through 1909. Throughout its 40-year history, this Paulus Hook watering hole was the site of both revelry and remorse, including a patron’s sudden demise after consuming a single glass of whisky (at 5 o’clock in the morning, mind you), a scam involving the brazen sale of counterfeit Policeman’s ball tickets, and a rather jovial-sounding Plattdeutsch fake wedding celebration.
In 1923, the property was sold to the Zurinski family who also resided at 84 Essex for the next 30 years. Martin Tarby, coincidentally the operator of a liquor store two doors down at 80 Essex, acquired the building in 1954 and held it for 30 years before selling it to Henry and Mary Reath, who, like the previous two owners, maintained 84 Essex Street for about 30 years before selling it to Dixon in 2015.
Well-versed in historically accurate renovations, the Dixon Projects team (Dixon Advisory USA’s design-build arm) is currently restoring 84 Essex Street. The property holds an important place in the history of Paulus Hook and will soon be well-positioned to stand watch over the neighborhood far into the future.