One of the more unique aspects of the New Jersey Palisades is the way that lower-lying neighborhoods are connected to ones on higher ground. From winding roads to steep stairs and even an elevator, almost every town along the mountain-like stretch has one or two distinct links that are designed to help inhabitants travel up and down the cliffs.
One of the more exceptional cliffside connections falls within a neighborhood rich in history. Shippen Street, located in Weehawken Heights, started emerging as a residential neighborhood around the turn-of the century. The eastbound street starts out intersecting with Palisades Avenue in Union City and to this day still features many historic homes.
The street is named after William K. Shippen, who was a civil engineer and served as president of the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, among other achievements. The street that bears his name initially dead-ended at the top of the cliff, so pedestrian stairs were constructed down the palisades around 1887 to help residents better manage the topography of the area.
But as Weehawken started to grow, engineers desired to connect Shippen Street to Hackensack Plank Road, which travels down the side of the cliff to lower points. The downward slope of the bluff left them with few options, so they went with a double-hairpin “horseshoe” design, using extreme 90-degree angle turns to connect the two roadways.
The cobblestone road still stands today and bears a resemblance to San Francisco’s Lombard Street, often referred to as the “most crooked street in the world.” While that road has eight hairpin turns and Shippen Street is decidedly less visible and famous than its West Coast cousin, it was still considered important enough to be placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Shippen Street and its accompanying stairs also served a practical purpose when they were built, as residents who lived in low-lying areas needed a way to get to work at nearby factories. One of the more prominent buildings right next to the Shippen Street horseshoe and stairs is the former S. Blickman & Company factory, which was built in 1910 and is now known as the Gregory Commons. The three-building complex separated by cobblestone courtyards once operated as a stainless-steel fabricating plant for about 70 years, producing kitchens for the United States Navy and outfitting many ships that were built along the nearby Hoboken waterfront at Todd Shipyards.
So the next time you’re driving east on 495 and want to avoid traffic buildup near the Lincoln Tunnel, take the JFK Boulevard exit to Palisade Avenue and then turn left down Shippen Street to take in what is likely the most crooked street in New Jersey.
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