Main Streets 2017: New Jersey
For generations, this was a vibrant shopping and entertainment district in a diverse neighborhood of this Hudson River city. Then, the Jackson Hill Main Street Special Improvement District was created in 2012 to help revitalize the business community along Martin Luther King Drive and Monticello Avenue, as the road is named after it crosses Communipaw Avenue.
This historic passageway was created by the African-American brothers Thomas and John Vreeland, born in 1800 and 1803 respectively. The brothers had been slaves freed by the area’s prominent Vreeland family — and the property they bought became an important stop and safe haven on the Underground Railroad as it passed through Jersey City.
“The Jackson Brothers helped thousands of escaping slaves along a strip of land which would later be named Jackson Avenue,” the Jackson Hill District relates on its website.
By the 1950s and 60s, Jackson and Monticello Avenues had grown into a thriving home for many small businesses and entertainment spots. Jackson was renamed Martin Luther King Drive after the great civil rights leader’s death in 1968. The area’s history is vividly recalled at the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Society Museum on nearby Kennedy Avenue, which features photos of the Jackson brothers and a Jackson family tree.
Today’s Jackson Hill District reflects the multicultural energy that has helped make Jersey City, right on the Hudson across from Manhattan, attractive to a growing number of young professionals. “The local community of the district has deep roots and is home to a very culturally rich and diverse population,” notes the Improvement District.
You can literally taste that richness along King and Monticello Avenues, whose restaurants feature Jamaican, Greek, Caribbean, Latin and American soul food. Savory street food is just one feature of the Monticello Avenue Street Festival, organized in September by the Jackson Hill District.
For generations, great music has come to life in this city’s nightspots — and Moore’s Lounge, also known as Bill and Ruth’s on Monticello Avenue, continues that tradition with Friday and Sunday jazz events that feature veteran drummer Winard Harper. “He attracts local jazz afficionados and aspiring musicians — all races, all ages — to the small bar for weekly get-togethers that let the locals rub elbows with some of the giants of the genre,” the local Jersey Journal reports.
The well-chosen motto of the Jackson Hill Main Street District captures this American streetscape today: “A proud past. On a new journey.”
Primary photo taken by Rich Mitchell
MLK Station photo taken by Adam Moss