One murky morning in June of 1958, a man named Morris Pesin launched a canoe from the Jersey City waterfront and paddled over to the Statue of Liberty. He brought along a reporter to document the event.
This journey was a reaction to the arduous trek Pesin, and his young family had made to the landmark a year before, which involved a traffic jam in the Holland Tunnel and a long wait for a Manhattan ferry. The field trip took three hours, even though the distance between the Pesin home and the Statue was a scant few miles.
The boat ride took only eight minutes and achieved its purpose of showing how close our state’s shore was from the world-famous Statue.
Ditto our proximity to another bit of hallowed ground, the railroad terminal from which thousands of Ellis Island refugees departed for points west to begin their new lives in America.
The area had become a dumping ground for toxic wastes, wrecked ships and other debris after the new highway system made the train depot obsolete. It and many abandoned factories and other structures lay rotting on the edge of the harbor. All of this equaled a shameful backdrop for Lady Liberty.
Blessedly, Pesin was a visionary, and considered this corner of the bay to be an asset of enormous potential. Soon after his vessel returned, he began a campaign to create a waterfront park.
The Jersey City Council was intrigued, but it still took the next 18 years to make the plan a reality. Appropriately, in 1976, our Bicentennial, Liberty State Park finally opened.
Morris Pesin continued to advocate for it, rightfully earning the unofficial title of “The Father of Liberty State Park.” President Reagan presented him with the prestigious Volunteer Action Award at the White House in 1985. He continued to promote and protect the 700+ acres until his death in 1992. His son Sam continues his legacy to this very day.
I lived in Jersey City for most of the 80’s, and I reveled in this wonderful greenway less than a mile from my apartment. I visited it dozens of times in all four seasons and was always awed by the views of the water, the coasts, the New York City skyline, and of course the Statue of Liberty.
The huge main lawn was our town’s prettiest spot, and I loved to bring visitors there. We’d lounge on that carpet of grass for hours, watching the flags blow vertically in the always steady wind, along with the sailboats in the harbor, and the dozens of kite-flyers in the warm months.
During the last two decades of the 20th century, the park spawned a steady reclamation of the city’s coastline. Office towers bloomed opposite the World Trade Center, and many Manhattan firms crossed the Hudson to lower their rent and their employees’ commuting times. The Liberty Science Center opened and thrived, as did new apartments and shops in the Newport neighborhood.
But Liberty State Park remains at risk from greedy developers who covet its open space. In January, a law meant to handcuff them—especially the adjoining golf course—from chipping away at this oasis failed to pass in the legislature.
May Pesin’s dream always have its preservers and endure forever!