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Jersey City Times: Museum of Jersey City History Opens with Frank Hague

Over the years, this Jersey City property has supported Leni Lenape maze land, a private residence, a funeral parlor and municipal offices in the heart of Bergen Square where the Dutch established one of the first Colonial-era settlements in the New World.

On Saturday, December 2, the 2-story structure at 298 Academy St. known as the Apple Tree House will take on a new role, as home to the Museum of Jersey City History, featuring as its opening exhibition, “Frank Hague’s Jersey City: Yesterday and Today.”

Why Hague? “No one else has as much name recognition,” explained Martin Pierce, who chairs the museum’s board of directors. And, he said, the museum’s decision to lead with the mayor with the longest tenure here during a 30-year period (1917-1947) of unprecedented changes is consistent with its mission: “promoting interest in and knowledge of the city’s history.”

To that end, Pierce added, the exhibition will present an unbiased view of the political kingpin. “This is not a show celebrating Hague but rather, the achievements accomplished of his era.”

As stated in its website, the museum hopes that visitors will learn how the “profound and lasting changes to Jersey City’s physical landscape, political culture, transportation sector and entertainment culture,” along with health care and education that unfolded during Hague’s reign had far-reaching consequences that “impacted the lives of thousands.”

Two major changes cited by board member and longtime educator/writer James Dievler were the city’s “transitioning to an automobile city” as the consequence of Hague heavily taxing the railroads and the development of the Jersey City Medical Center with federal Depression-era assistance.

“The hospital provided health care to a lot of people who otherwise might not have received it and the care was free for most part,” Dievler said. And, he noted, because of its reputation, many mothers – including those from outside Hudson County – opted to have their deliveries at the Margaret Hague Maternity Center, part of the JCMC complex.

Meanwhile, Dievler said, one of the city’s consistent attractions – which remained strong during Hague’s tenure – was the Journal Square entertainment culture. “It was the place to go with three theaters, restaurants, where working people could have a good night without breaking their budget. Now, Journal Square is in transition again and we want to get people thinking critically about that today.”

Indeed, he said, the museum’s goal is to encourage visitors to project a vision of the city’s future based on what has happened in its past. For the Apple Tree House, getting to this point has been a long time coming. The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2006 but it wasn’t until October 2022 – after the museum incorporated as a nonprofit, formed a preliminary board of directors, then expanded to its current 15-member board – that it successfully negotiated a 5-year lease with the city for use of the property at a token amount annually.

Pierce credited the city’s Public Works Department for mostly exterior restoration work, notably painting. The city paid out more than $3 million over several years to repair the roof and related issues. The city also subsidized installation of track lighting and to hire Museum Partners Consulting, of Maplewood, to design the exhibition and CEO Claudia Ocello as curator.

At the same time, in response to requests by community residents, the city has also undertaken infrastructure changes in Bergen Square near the Apple Tree House with the placement of benches and shade trees at intersections formerly occupied by parked vehicles, a re-located and re-designed bus pickup zone at the northeast corner of Bergen Avenue and Academy and changing the flow of traffic to one-way west along Academy between Tuers and Van Reypen avenues.

For now, volunteers will staff the museum, Pierce said. The public is invited to the December 2 grand opening, from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free but a “suggested donation” of $5 for adults and $2 for children is welcome. There’s no charge for seniors and students.

The exhibition will continue through the balance of the year and through 2024, with a series of speakers and panel discussions touching on various aspects of the legacy of the city’s longest-serving chief executive. As these events are scheduled, the museum will post advance notices, with more details, on its website which may be accessed by visiting Museum hours for the balance of the year can also be found on the website.

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