All the way back in November last year I began some work researching a property on McCoy Avenue in Metuchen, Jersey that my wife and I were looking to buy. In the process I found myself drawn into a fascinating exploration of the history of Metuchen, suburbanization in New Jersey, and some colorful figures who were well known in their day though whom have mostly been forgotten by history.
Given the world is gripped by COVID-19 and we’re all going to have some extended time at home, I thought that I’d begin to share some of my research and invite others to add to what I’ve started.
So here it goes…
Deep in our title binder on the second to last page was this enigmatic map from 1916. There were so many tantalizing details from the unique hand written script evoking an Arts and Crafts feel, to the “Fairmount Park” name prominently displayed, and all the streets and lots laid out.
The two most important details were “John Hanson, Owner” and the date 1916. These were keys to beginning to unlock the story of how this neighborhood came about.
John Hanson, Sr., near the time of his death in 1931
John Hanson had a classic American story, arriving as an immigrant from Denmark at 8 years of age in 1863. He located in Perth Amboy in 1866 and earned a livelihood in a job as a bootblack. Later he became a newsboy and in 1869, he left Perth Amboy to go to Elizabeth where he got a job in a restaurant. From there he went to New York where he worked in another restaurant, before returning to Perth Amboy in 1875. He entered the liquor business there and remained in it for twenty-five years. During that time he took an active interest in Republican politics, advancing to leadership of the party.
As if all of that was not enough, Hanson acquired significant real estate holdings in Perth Amboy and Raritan township, including the area later to become Metuchen. At the time of his death John Hanson, Sr. had his offices in the Perth Amboy Trust Company building.
Perth Amboy Trust Company
The Perth Amboy Trust Company started with capital of $150,000 on or about October 15, 1902. At a meeting held on January 20, 1903, the Perth Amboy Trust Company had an election of officers: J.C. McCoy, president; W.A. Conner and Robert S. Ross, vice presidents; Sidney Riddlestorffer, secretary and treasurer; Garret Brodhead, D.C. Chase, R.S. Ross, W.A. Conner, J.E. Chapman, J.C. McCoy, A.L. Walker, George W. Young, and De Witt Buskirk, executive committee; George L. Record, Robert S. Ross, and J.E. Chapman, examining committee. Some of these names would figure prominently in the development of Metuchen.
As activity to develop the Fairmount Park subdivision picked up pace, the Perth Amboy Trust Company would have an important role in the development and sale of properties there. An early reference was made to Fairmount Park in April 1907. This would have been the original section to the west. The Sun had the following advertisement:
FAIRMOUNT PARK, Metuchen, N.J.: lots and houses for sale. HANSON REALTY CORPORATION, 194 High St., Perth Amboy.
A few years later Fairmount Park was advertised in the June 1909 issue of The Sun. An advertisement offered “Newly Built Houses with rooms and all improvements” for $3,750 and lots for $200. These were being offered by Hanson’s Realty Corp. of Perth Amboy. Another advertisement from a year later referred to “200 desirable building lots” and the “highest elevation between New York and Philadelphia.” Hanson at the time listed his business address as 187 High Street in Perth Amboy and this was most where he also lived.
The first decade of the 20th century was the time that Hanson’s political activities and his role developing Metuchen started to really take off.
In our next post we’ll share a little bit more about the neighborhood, including Wright Robins and the Robinvale neighborhood he helped to lay out.