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Proprietary House and Perth Amboy Ferry imagesPerth Amboy's long, rich history dates back to Dec. 8, 1651 when the Leni Lenape Indians (part of the Algonquins) granted a deed to Augustine Herman transferring the point at the mouth of the Raritan River to him. At that time, the land was known as Ompoge, which subsequently changed to Emboyle, and then to Amboyle. When the first three houses were built in 1683, settlers and officials began to call the land Ambo or Amboy, and finally Amboy. Amboy, the only city in the United States incorporated twice, received its first charter in 1718, by which time it was commonly known as Perth Amboy. It was incorporated a second time in 1784 after the American Revolution.

Where does the Perth come from? By 1684, when the Earl of Perth became Lord High Chancellor under King James II, Gawen Lawrie arrived here as deputy governor with instructions from the proprietors to refer to Amboy as the town of Perth. The Earl of Perth was also one of the members of the Board of Proprietors. Even though he was arrested upon the abdication of King James II in 1688, the town was still referred to as Perth Amboy even though the Earl was confined until 1693.

Perth Amboy is home to the only official Royal Governor's Mansion still intact since Colonial days, commonly known as the Proprietary House. The Proprietors of East Jersey were responsible for its construction during 1762-1764 for the Royal Governor of New Jersey. In 1774, William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, was Royal Governor at which time he took up residence at the mansion with his wife. However, since he was arrested by the continental army in 1776, the house did not remain a Governor's mansion for long. After the Revolution, the Proprietary House became a private home. In 1809 it became a resort hotel, but business was ruined by the War of 1812. In 1883 it became a rooming house for retired Presbyterian ministers, called the Westminster. Currently, the Proprietary House is owned by the State and maintained by the Proprietary House Association.

Perth Amboy is also home to the oldest City Hall in continuous use in the United States, built during 1714-1717 or 1718, to serve as the County courthouse and jail. It burned in a fire in 1731 and was not rebuilt until 1745. It was again burned in 1765 or 1766 when a man named Martin, angered by his earlier imprisonment in the City Hall on debt charges, allegedly set fire to the building. It was rebuilt in 1767. City Hall contained court chambers, rooms for the Provincial Assembly until 1775, and was used as a schoolhouse and for community meetings. It was in City Hall that the State of New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.

Although City Hall was renovated in 1826, 1872 and 2006, some of the 1717 structure still remains. The current structure is Victorian with a mansard roof and several new wings. A City Hall Park was also developed with a historic statue of George Washington and an exact replica of the Liberty Bell. In addition to the municipal offices, City Hall has been used for law courts, a jail, legislative meetings, church services, concerts, shows, public meetings, and a school.

From about 1800 to 1870, City Hall Courthouse housed the public school classes. In 1870 Perth Amboy's first public school opened on State Street. The original building, then called School One, is still in use with some additions and a new name, Thomas Mundy Peterson School. The school was named after Thomas Mundy Peterson of Perth Amboy who became the first black voter under the 15th Amendment in the United States on March 31, 1870.

During the early 1800's, Perth Amboy's waterfront was a bustling business center. It contained warehouses, eateries, rooming houses, stores with imported and local products, an outdoor produce market and docks. For many years, ferry service played an integral role in Perth Amboy for those looking to go to and from Staten Island. Begun in 1709, service finally stopped in 1963. Currently, ferry service is about to be restored for the first time in nearly 40 years.

By the late 1890's Perth Amboy also had a trolley line, the Raritan Traction Co., which ran within Perth Amboy. Around 1900 the trolley line was extended to Fords Corner, then Metuchen, Sewaren, and Woodbridge.

Perth Amboy has also made many interesting contributions to culture and commerce. In 1853, Marcus and Rebecca Spring founded the Eagleswood School, in the vicinity of the Route 35/Smith Street intersection. The school was a utopian community for intellectuals, artists, and abolitionists. Eagleswood soon became famous and was visited by the likes of Louisa May Alcott, Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greenly, and many more. Just before the Civil War, Rebecca Spring arranged to have the bodies of two men, who were hung with the abolitionist John Brown, buried on the Eagleswood grounds.

Since its beginning Perth Amboy has been a place of interesting facts. For example, did you know...

  • In 1752, the first professional play staged in New Jersey was performed by an English touring company in Perth Amboy.
  • In 1760, Samuel Neville of Perth Amboy edited the first magazine published in America, The American Magazine, under the pen name "Sylavanus Americanus".
  • From 1848-1849, Lawrence Kearny of Perth Amboy was still on active duty as Commodore in the Navy while mayor of his hometown ... this is the only time such a thing has happened.
  • In 1865, The Raritan Yacht Club was established. Still in use, it is the second oldest yacht club in America.
  • In 1896 the first submarine, which was designed by John Holland of Paterson, was perfected at the Industrial Iron Works and Machine Shop in Perth Amboy.
  • On July 4, 1912 the first air mail delivery was made to Perth Amboy from South Amboy. The five minute flight was made by hydroplane.
  • Perth Amboy was selected as the site for the Naval Military Academy in the State of New Jersey.
  • Perth Amboy used to be famous for its fresh water springs... one of which still exists.
  • All the Vaseline in the world once originated in Perth Amboy when the company Cheeseborough Ponds was located here.

Perth Amboy was also home to a number of distinguished artists...

  • John Watson (1685-1768) came to Perth Amboy in 1715. He is known as the first portrait painter in America. He started the first art gallery in the country.
  • William Dunlap (1766-1839) was born in Perth Amboy. He not only was an artist, and painted a portrait of George Washington, he was also a writer and play producer. His paintings can be found in numerous museums including but not limited to... the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Museum of Art, Michigan; the Worchester Museum, Massachusetts; Yale University Museum, Connecticut; and the Newark Museum New Jersey.
  • George Inness (1825-1894) was primarily a landscape painter. He lived in Perth Amboy for some time after becoming acquainted with Rebecca and Marcus Spring, of the Eagleswood Mansion. Some of his artwork is located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
  • Edward Kemeys lived for several years at Eagleswood in Perth Amboy. He was regarded as the greatest animal sculptor in America. He modeled sculptors for the Chicago Art Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, New York, and Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Harry Tierney (1891-1965) was a native to Perth Amboy. He was the composer of many Broadway musicals and a popular songwriter.
  • Ruth White (1919-1969) was born and died in Perth Amboy. She was a talented character actress. She appeared in Broadway shows including The Happiest Millionaire, Happy Days, and Birthday Party. In 1964 she won an Emmy Award as best supporting actress in Little Moon of Alban. She was also in movies such as To Kill a Mockingbird, and Naked City. Her brother Charles White was also a distinguished actor, both in film and on stage.

The one constant in Perth Amboy has been change, and we are still enjoying the process of evolution.