The Ironbound is a large working-class neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. This close-knit, multi-ethnic community covers approximately four square miles (10 km²). Historically, the area was called "Dutch Neck," "Down Neck," or simply "the Neck," because of the way the Passaic River curved to form what looked like a neck. Today, the neighborhood is sometimes referred to as "Little Portugal" owing to its large Portuguese community. The Ironbound is part of Newark's East Ward and is directly east of Penn Station and Downtown Newark, and south and west of the river. Newark Public Library's Van Buren Branch serves the Ironbound neighborhood.
HistoryThe name "Ironbound" is said to have originated from the many forges and foundries that were found in this area during the latter half of the 19th century. However, the name could also have come from the rail tracks that surrounded the area when the railroads were constructed during the 1830s.
The Ironbound was an industrial neighborhood in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Workers at Benjamin Moore paints, Ballantine Beer, the Murphy Varnish Company and Conmar Zippers lived next to railroad and port workers. The Ironbound was poorer than was the rest of Newark at that time. A legacy of that 19th century poverty can be seen in the neighborhood's architecture - there are very few brownstones or even brick-faced buildings in the district. The inhabitants were considered to be in such need of help that Protestant reformers established the Bethel Mission there in 1850. Today however the Ironbound is one of more affluent neighborhoods in Newark.
As it does today, the Ironbound had inhabitants of many ethnic groups in the 19th century, with Germans, Lithuanians, Italians, and Poles being prominent. Lithuanians built the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in 1894 and Trinity Church in 1902. St. Casimir's Church was founded under Polish auspices in 1908. As an example of the size of the German community in the Ironbound, prior to World War I, Wilson Avenue was called Hamburg Place.
Saloons were major meeting places for Ironbound workers in the era before radio and television. A 1912 survey found 122 saloons in the neighborhood. "The men, after eating a hasty supper in a dirty, crowded home or boarding house," a social worker noted, "quite naturally leave such unattractive surroundings to spend the evenings playing cards and drinking in a warm, well lighted saloon. Friends find it a convenient meeting place, work and wages are discussed, political arguments are frequent, and recent immigrants discover it an admirable school in which to learn English rapidly and gain an acquaintance with things American."
The Ironbound had a large African American population in the mid Twentieth century. Locally famous jazz singer Miss Rhapsody was born in the Ironbound. Sarah Vaughan grew up in Lincoln Park, but attended church at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Thomas Street.
Present dayToday, the Ironbound is known for being a Portuguese neighborhood. Portuguese roots in the area run deep, with the first immigrants having arrived in the 1910s. By 1921 there was a large enough Portuguese population to found Sport Club Portuguese, the first of over twenty Portuguese social clubs that would call the Ironbound home. Every year, people flock to the annual Portuguese Festival, known as Portugal Day, "Dia de Portugal" (typically held the first or second weekend in June), an enormous celebration of Portuguese culture which attracts nearly half a million people, and within the past few years reaching even higher.
Galician Spanish immigrants also settled in the Ironbound. In the 1930's Spanish Catholics built elaborate catacombs underneath the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The catacombs are indeed underground, but instead of being real burial places, they are the depositories of lifelike wax effigies of saints and martyrs. The walls, ceilings, and floors of the catacombs are decorated with mosaics and murals. The church itself that is above the catacombs was built in the 1850's for a German Baptist congregation, an example of ethnic succession.
The great influx of Portuguese came in the 1970s. Today, immigration from Portugal is practically non-existent, but the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) population is stable thanks largely to immigration from Brazil and, to several Lusophone countries in Africa, especially Cape Verde. There is a Portuguese festival every June and a Brazilian festival in September. Brazilians and Portuguese are joined by immigrants from Ecuador and Mexico and a growing non-immigrant community working in New York City or Downtown Newark. The Brazilians have brought churrascaria restaurants, and schools for capoeira and samba music to the neighborhood. The first capoeira academy in Newark, New Jersey Capoeira Arts Center, was founded by Mestre Cigano of Grupo Liberdade de Capoeira in 1996.
The Ironbound avoided the economic decline of most of the rest of Newark for several reasons. First, the Ironbound was spared highway construction. Rather than going through the neighborhood, highways, like Interstate 78 and the New Jersey Turnpike, went around it. The Ironbound was also spared construction of the massive public housing high-rises. The Ironbound did see some public housing construction, but it was low-rise and within the fabric of the neighborhood.
Finally, the qualities of immigrant merchants, such as the Portuguese, should be given credit for the Ironbound's preservation. Many Portuguese-owned businesses like restaurants, cafes, bakeries, jewelers, sports clubs, and grocery stores line or surround Ferry Street. In particular, the neighborhood is often visited by both Portuguese and non-Portuguese for its many well-known Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants. Additionally, the Ironbound has vivacious night life and an increasing variety of bars and cocktail lounges.
The Ironbound is one of Newark's most vibrant neighborhoods. There are almost no vacant stores along Ferry Street, its commercial heart. The neighborhood has a mix of different home styles, from apartments in multi-family dwellings to single-family houses on small lots to two family homes. Many old industrial sites have been converted to modern detached townhouses.
The Ironbound in Popular Culture
- Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega paid homage to this neighborhood in her 1987 song entitled "Ironbound/Fancy Poultry."
- The neighborhood was featured in the 2005 motion picture, "War of the Worlds," in which director Steven Spielberg used special effects to destroy five corners and St. Stephen's Church.
- Jersey Shore Singer-writer, John Padovano, aka "the ironbound crooner" was born in the Ironbound Section of Newark. His album,"The Return Of Rainy Day Hobo" has a song entitled "Oliver Street" that is about his early childhood in the Ironbound.
- Tony Soprano grew up in Ironbound, as seen in Season 1, Episode 7 "Down Neck."
- Deborah LaVeglia is a poet who grew up the Ironbound section and often includes the Ironbound in her work.
- Ironbound Newark Blog Ironbound events, news, reviews, views, and YOU!
- A culinary photo tour of the annual Brazilian Independence Day celebration, with video (Off The Broiler blog).
- OLA OFFICIAL IRONBOUND DISTRICT MAGAZINE DECEMBER 2007
- Ironbound Business Improvement District
- The New York Times: If You're Thinking of Living In The Ironbound
- Ironbound Community Corporation - a non-profit organization in the community
- Star-Ledger Article about the Ironbound catacombs
- Sport Club Português (in Portuguese)
- A tour of the Ironbound's Riverbank Park
- A tour of McWhorter Street
- A tour of Fleming Avenue
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