Jackson Hill Primary

Jersey City, New Jersey – Jackson Hill Main Street

Main Streets 2017: New Jersey

Jackson Hill Primary
MLK Drive
Jackson Hill Primary MLK Drive

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

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Collingswood, New Jersey – Haddon Avenue

Main Streets 2016: New Jersey

Just east of Philadelphia and Camden in western New Jersey, suburban Collingswood’s Haddon Avenue is alive with appealing restaurants, art galleries, stores and history — so much so that in 2009, it was designated one of the nation’s “Great Streets” by the American Planning Association. “The tree-lined avenue with its historic buildings, wide sidewalks, town clock, period lamp posts, flower baskets, and pole banners captures the look and feel of late 19th and early 20th century small town America,” the Planning Association reports.

Collingswood is a small community, a borough with almost 14,000 residents, but it has handsomely blended its historic features with modern-day growth and contemporary uses. For example, the historic Collingswood Theatre, a 1928-vintage movie house and performance venue that was active until 1962 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is now home to several local businesses.

Like many communities, Collingswood prospered with the arrival of the railroad. It was a stop on the run between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But the downtown went into a period of decline that was reversed in the 1990s, when community leaders led the revitalizing of Haddon Avenue. The streetscape was modernized, buildings were spruced up, and businesses invested.

Today, a combination of arts, entertainment, dining and shopping have again made the borough’s downtown a vibrant attraction for residents and visitors. Each Saturday from May to November, the Collingswood Farmers’ Market brings the best of New Jersey’s rich farming tradition to town. A mile of Haddon Avenue is taken over in May for the annual May Fair art and music festival, drawing 50,000 people. There are also “2nd Saturdays” every month, when local art galleries, stores and restaurants host new mini-shows of artwork, with local artists and musicians on every block.

Haddon Avenue closes to traffic for extra-special events, like the Crafts and Fine Arts Festival in August and the Collingswood Book Festival in October. The Pop Up Gala in September starts on Haddon Avenue, but then diners move on to a dinner party in a spot – one that’s otherwise an ordinary public space – that is kept secret until the much-anticipated event.

All photos courtesy of Borough of Collingswood

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