From Before the Revolutionary War!
Jersey City's Oldest House

By Anthony Olszewski
Copyright 2002

When traveling on Palisade Avenue, between South and Bowers Streets, not far from the park, one's attention is riveted by a structure that appears to be a relic from some remote age. The archaic design of the old house is in sharp contrast to the surrounding multifamily buildings and the more usual single-family homes. The object of curiosity is a small museumpiece set in the midst of a very conventional city block. The farmhouse consists of two stories, a peaked roof, a facade of bluestone, a quaint portico that and -- at the southern part of the building -- there is a one-story addition that is in keeping with the original architecture. English ivy and white trim serve as beautiful highlights.

Closer inspection reveals a metal plate that reads "1740." Could this date be true? If so, then -- above and beyond the simple beauty and sturdy construction -- we must marvel at having the good fortune to view Jersey City's oldest house, dating from well before the American Revolution. Located at 531 Palisade Avenue, this is the Van Vorst farmhouse.

Though many of the details are clouded by time, the main facts concerning the construction and ownership of the house by the Van Vorst family are known. During the Colonial era, this northern neighborhood of what is now Jersey City was part of the Township of Bergen in Bergen County. The Town of Hudson came into being on March 4, 1852 and was renamed the City of Hudson on April 11, 1855. In 1870 Hudson City consolidated with Jersey City.

The little stone house originally stood on a farm with what was known as Bergen Woods all around. The nearest road would have been Bergen Wood Road --now Summit Avenue -- running from the Five Corners.

In 1818 Cornelius Van Vorst willed this property to his son, John. In turn, this John Van Vorst also passed the property to a son named John.

The original Cornelius Van Vorst is believed to have arrived here in 1636. He became Superintendant of the Pavonia colony -- most of today's Hudson County. For more than two hundred fifty years, the Van Vorsts were one of the county's leading families.

In 1859 Augusta Waugh bought the property on Palisade Avenue from the Van Vorsts. The following year Cornelius Van Vorst (a descendant of the original settler) was elected mayor of "old" Jersey City. This was then a part of what is now the Downtown section of Jersey City. A search made by Alice Larkins for the Jersey City Historic Districts Commission showed that the Van Vorst House came into the possesion of Daniel A. Tuttle and his wife seven years later.

The next owners were Emil Stahl, a prosperous importer and inventor, and his wife Elizabeth. The Stahls bought the property in 1901. On September 17, 1935 they sold it to Captain John A. Byrnes and his wife Lovina.

Emil Stahl, intrigued by the house's history, made a search of the records in Trenton, establishing 1742 as the likely date of construction.

The Gerret Gerrites tract at one time included this land. The federal survey of Hudson County historical sites report states that when General Washington met with General, the Marquis de Lafayette at "The Apple Tree House," the Van Wagnen farm home at 298 Academy Street, to encourage the Bergen farmers in provisioning the Continental troops, a number of the officers were quartered at the old Van Vorst place on what is now Palisade Ave. The troops camped on the edge of the Hill or cliff with a commanding view of the Hudson River. The survey also states that Fetze Gerritse Van Wagnen, who lived at Communipaw, married Cornelius Van Vorst April 16, 1685.

The "Commissioner's Map" lists Cornelius's son-in-law as the owner of “two lots” set on Bergen Hill and registered prior to 1753 (the year of his death). In the “History of Hudson County” (1874) Charles H. Winfield says that John Van Vorst (son of Cornelius) was Sarah Vasher's husband. Her two sisters, Eliza, who seems to have never married, and Frances, who became the wife of Robert Gilchrist on Oct. 1, 1812. According to the Historic Houses Survey (which differs somewhat from Miss Larkins findings), it was Mr. and Mrs. Gilchrist who sold the property to the Tuttle’s in 1854. One should note that Mrs. Gilchrist (the Gilchrists were another of the original prominent Jersey City families), was the sister of Mrs. John Van Vorst.