The Ironbound[a] is a neighborhood in the city of Newark in Essex County, New Jersey, United States. It is a large working-class, close-knit, multi-ethnic community covering approximately four square miles (10 km²). Historically, the area was called "Dutch Neck," "Down Neck," or simply "the Neck," due to the appearance of the curve of the Passaic River. The Ironbound is part of Newark's East Ward and is directly east of Newark Penn Station and Downtown Newark, and south and west of the river, over which passes the Jackson Street Bridge, connecting to Harrison and Kearny.
The name "The Ironbound" is said to derive from the large metalworking industry in the area or from the network of railroad tracks that surrounded the neighborhood.Balbach Smelting & Refining Company, now the location of Riverbank Park, was the second largest metal processing enterprise in the United States until its closure in the 1920s.
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 neighborhood was also home to Hensler's Beer Brewery and Pride of Newark ("P.O.N.") beer by the Feigenspan Brewery. 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 the 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."
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. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter, co-founder of Weather Report, was born and raised on South St. (Ironbound).
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.
The great influx of Portuguese came in the latter part of the 1950s.
Galician immigrants also settled in the Ironbound. In the 1930s Spanish Catholics built elaborate catacombs underneath the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the underground catacombs are placed lifelike wax effigies of saints and martyrs, as there are no burials there. The walls, ceilings and floors of the catacombs are decorated with mosaics and murals. The church above the catacombs was built in the 1850s for a German Baptist congregation, an example of ethnic succession.
In 1983, dangerous levels of dioxin were discovered at an abandoned chemical factory in the Ironbound. The Diamond Alkali Company was largely responsible for this pollution through their heavy production of Agent Orange between 1951 and 1969. The off-site cleanup was completed by 1986, and in 1989 the site received a permanent impermeable cap.
In 2017, the New York Times described the neighborhood as:
Four square miles populated in large part by Portuguese, Spanish and Latin American immigrants and their descendants, the Ironbound has the intimacy and hustle of a European market town. "We walk to the bakery, the fishmonger, the wine store," said [the director of the Newark Museum]. (He also walks to work.) "It really is an extraordinarily agreeable lifestyle."
Today, the Ironbound is known for being a Portuguese neighborhood. Today, immigration from Portugal is practically nonexistent, but the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) population is stable thanks largely to immigration from Brazil and several Lusophone countries in Africa, especially Cape Verde. 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.
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, almost double the population of all of Newark.
During Portugal Day Weekend, many people come out to celebrate Portuguese-American culture. Ferry Street is also the location for most soccer fans to come and celebrate. Fans walk up and down the street while others decorate their cars and celebrate the victory of their soccer team.
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. There is the Brazilian festival in September.
The Ironbound, 4 square miles (1,000 ha), is in the East Ward of Newark. Ironbound is east of Pennsylvania Station and is between the Newark Liberty International Airport and the Passaic River. Arthur Rosa, president of local real estate firm Rosa Agency, said in 2004 that 60% of the housing in Ironbound consists of two and three family houses, 15% consists of single family houses, and the rest apartment buildings that each have four or more units.
TAP Air Portugal, the Portuguese airline, has its U.S. corporate offices in the Ironbound.
Ferry Street was named after the ferry that traveled between Newark and points east. In 1849, "The Newark Plank Road Company" was hired to fix the road with planks to provide a smoother form of travel. Ferry Street was then changed to "Plank Road." It was not completed within the 50-year charter that it was given to accomplish the work. A legal dispute occurred and the Hudson County section changed "Plank Road" to the Lincoln Highway while the Essex County section was changed back to "Ferry Street."
Ferry Street and East Ferry Street were stations on the Newark and New York Railroad (a.k.a. the Newark Branch of the Jersey Central RR), which ran between the Broad Street terminal (also called Lafayette Street Terminal) and Communipaw Terminal, with a few daily trains to Elizabethport. Infrastructure for the route has been mostly removed, though portions of the bridge crossing the avenue remain.
Today, Ferry Street is the home to many small business owners. Some of these small businesses have been running since the 1930s. Restaurants, mini markets and clothing stores are well represented. Ferry Street is the location for the Portuguese festival during the month of June. In September, there is also a Brazilian festival, although it does not always take place directly on Ferry Street. The night life is also of interest while people attend some of the bars that are located along the strip. Ferry Street is still well known throughout northern New Jersey and adds to Newark's popularity. In the twenty-first century, Ferry Street is the site of Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, Ecuadorian and Mexican restaurants and formerly a Cape Verdean club.
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, such as Interstate 78 and the New Jersey Turnpike, went around it. The Ironbound did see some public housing construction, but it was low-rise and consistent with the fabric of the neighborhood, rather than the high-rise housing projects built elsewhere in the city.
Finally, the qualities of immigrant merchants, such as the Portuguese, should be given credit for the Ironbound's preservation. Many Portuguese-owned businesses-- restaurants, cafes, bakeries, jewelers, sports clubs, grocery stores and more-- line or surround Ferry Street.
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 multifamily dwellings to single-family houses on small lots to two family homes. Many old industrial sites have been converted to modern detached townhouses.
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 an active night life and an increasing variety of bars and cocktail lounges. The Newark Waterfront Center is a popular music venue.
This park is in the Ironbound district. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Ironbound's first Italian parish and now a more Portuguese and Latin parish, faces the park. The church holds an annual June pageant and processional where a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried through the streets.
A chain of parkland along the Passaic River, especially along the downward "curve" in the river that gave the Ironbound neighborhood its nickname of "Down Neck," offers waterfront recreation in the city. Kayaking and riverboat tours of the city are offered in the summer months. From east to west along the downward "neck" of the Passaic, parkland includes:
The Newark Public Schools operates six elementary and K-8 schools in the area. Schools serving Ironbound include Wilson Avenue School, Hawkins Street School, Lafayette Street School and Oliver Street School. In addition is Ann Street School, which is considered by many to be one of the best elementary schools in the city and the K-5 South Street School. In fact, Ann Street school received the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence from the US Department of Education. This competitive award had not been awarded to a Newark Public School before. In addition, the award prompted then Vice President of the US, Al Gore, to visit Ann Street to promote the importance of the upcoming 2000 US Census.East Side High School serves Ironbound high school students. As of 2004 most of the elementary schools were built over 100 years prior to the time. In the 2000s, an increase in housing lead to an overcrowding of Ironbound-area schools. At the time the school district planned to replace several of the elementary schools and build a new east side high school in the former Ballantine brewery site.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark operates the Ironbound Catholic Academy, a PK-8 school in Ironbound. As of 2004 many residents of Ironbound send their children to parochial schools. Ironbound used to have three other Catholic elementary schools, including Academy of St. Benedict, a PreK-8 school, St. James, both elementary and high school, and St. Lucy Filippini Academy. In 2005 the archdiocese announced that St. Casimir, St. Benedict, and St. Lucy Filippini would merge into the Ironbound Catholic Academy on the St. Casimir site. There is also the Our Lady of Fatima Nursery, a Pre-K institution and one Portuguese Language School known at Escola Luis de Camões.