The Ironbound neighborhood of Newark , one of three making up the city’s East Ward, is the most densely populated in the city, home to roughly 55,000 residents. The name “Ironbound” is sometimes said to have originated from the many forges and foundries located in the area during the latter half of the 19th century, but it more likely refers to the railroad tracks that surrounded the area when the rail lines were constructed in the mid-1800s. Newark’s beautifully restored, art deco period Penn Station defines one boundary of the neighborhood. It is also referred to as “Down Neck”, because it is partly located on a neck of the Passaic River.
Following a period of agricultural use in the early 1800s, the area became an industrial and working class neighborhood in the 19th and early 20th centuries, where factory, brewery, railroad, and port workers lived alongside one another. The Ironbound has been home to individuals from as many as 40 ethnic groups and countries of origin over the years – Germans, Irish, Lithuanians, Italians, Jews and Poles arrived in the 19th century, followed by Portuguese, Spanish, and later Central, South, and African Americans in the 20th – and retains its diverse character. Two out of three current Ironbound residents came to the U.S. as immigrants.
Today, the largest ethnic group is Portuguese, representing roughly 40 percent of the East Ward population. Residents of Spanish descent comprise about 15 percent, followed by those of Puerto Rican descent (10 percent) and Cuban descent (five percent). A shopping, dining, and nightlife destination, the neighborhood is sometimes known as “Little Portugal”, owing to the large Portuguese-American population. Ironbound is known throughout the metropolitan area for its fine restaurants serving Portuguese and Spanish cuisine.
Several local entities are committed to preserving and sharing the heritage and cultures of Ironbound. The Ironbound Community Corporation was founded in 1969 by local citizens to assist neighborhood residents in developing community-based programs, and the Ironbound Educational and Cultural Center is the driving force behind New Jersey’s first multi-ethnic heritage museum and theatre. The Ironbound Business Improvement District’s website includes a self-guided historic tour, and the Newark Landmarks & Preservation Committee periodically offers guided tours of Ironbound’s historic locations.
An inventory of historic properties is publicly available online through the Newark Landmarks & Preservation Committee, and sites throughout Ironbound are listed, including the Murphy Varnish Factory (1890) and St. Casimir’s Church (1920), among others.
In 2009, Ironbound’s Barrett-Brown Building, an 1879 Romanesque industrial-style building, was converted into condominiums by a local developer. The Button Factory Lofts, so named for the building’s history as a button production facility, is divided into 15 live/work condominium units. The City of Newark supported the Lofts project by offering a five-year tax abatement to each buyer of a condominium unit, as well as by using a $65,000 Community Development Block Grant to outfit the Sumei Arts Center on the building’s first floor. The project was awarded the annual Donald Dust Award for Best Renovation of a Building in Newark by the Newark Landmarks and Preservation Committee.
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