Sunday, November 11, 2012

Observatory and Underground Railroad

Imagine a science fiction writer who is a cross between Samuel Delaney, Ismael Reed, and William Gibson: Samuel Reed Gibson. S.R. Gibson writes a novel in which the Hilton-Holden House plays a central role. What's the story and what's this building do in it?


I was walking along Cornilson toward The Beacon when I saw this:


WTF! That looks like an observatory, in the middle of Jersey City? No way!

Way. That's what it is. It's atop the Hilton-Holdon House:
Located opposite the Medical Center Complex, it was built in 1854 by David Le Cain Holden, a banker and amateur astronomer. The house is a four-story frame, eighteen-room building, once referred to as the Holden Mansion. A gilded dome astronomical observatory was later added atop the house.

Holden's cousin, Edward Singleton Holden, Ph.D., also occupied the house in the 1850s and 1860s. A director of the Lick Observatory and the Washington Observatory, Edward Holden used the rooftop observatory in Jersey City to record his findings. He also used the cellar of the mansion to give refuge to fugitive slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad on their way to Canada.
The you have it, two aspects of Enlightenment values, science and liberty.


  1. That was my grandparent's house. David Holden is my great-great-great-grandfather and I've been in that observatory. It certainly is a great house, lots of memories in those walls and it is missed dearly.

    1. Guarded like a fortress this days