Before the arrival of the railroads in the mid-19th century, Communipaw, New Jersey, was a small port town in the Hudson River’s west bank. Before 1866, the Pennsylvania Railroad had no dedicated livestock terminal in the New York market. Animals the railroad carried from the west were offloaded in Elizabethport, New Jersey, and were ferried across the Hudson River to Manhattan where they were driven through the streets to the Allerton stockyards at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. While New York City’s new health laws (which became effective in 1866) contributed greatly to the construction of the Communipaw abattoir and stockyards, the reduction and elimination of the costs of driving livestock across the Hudson River and through city streets also were significant factors along with increased competition for livestock by the three major railroads serving New York City: the Pennsylvania; the Erie; and, the New York Central.
Communipaw is now a neighborhood in Jersey City. During the 1860s, Jersey City and its environs emerged as an important railhead and New York City entrepot. The New York Central, New Jersey Central and Erie railroads had terminal facilities in Jersey City and in neighboring Hudson River shore communities of Weehawken and Communipaw. Midwestern livestock was shipped via rail to Jersey City and lightered across the Hudson to New York City slaughterhouses.
In April 1866, the New Jersey Stock Yard and Market Company was incorporated with plans to open a livestock terminal and slaughtering facility. The company’s owners included Chicagoans Samuel W. Allerton and Joseph McPherson. Allerton was a leading livestock shipper and McPherson was the livestock agent for the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad. Both men were partners in the nation’s first union stockyards enterprise: the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Central Stock Yards at East Liberty near Pittsburgh.
The railroads, recognizing the need in 1866 for improved livestock facilities on the Hudson, built a substantial abattoir and stockyards in Communipaw, south of Jersey City. Financed by executives from the Pennsylvania, Erie, New York Central, New York Oswego and Midland and Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroads, the Communipaw Abattoir opened October 17, 1866. The New Jersey Stock Yard and Market Company was the operating company responsible for conducting business at the new abattoir and stockyards. The Pennsylvania Railroad Board of Directors passed a resolution in June 1866 authorizing funds for the new livestock facilities:
WHEREAS in order to retain our full share of the Stock traffic from the West destined for New York and New England it has become necessary by the removal of the Stock depots out of the City of New York that yards and all other facilities for the accommodation of this traffic should be provided at or near Jersey City
WHEREAS the New Jersey Central Rail Road Company have set apart about 30 acres of ground between their road and the Bay shore and have leased the same to the New Jersey Stock Yard and Market Company for 30 years and have agreed to endorse the Mortgage Bonds of said Company to the extent of $200,000 bearing seven per cent interest per annum, Provided the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Rail Company will purchase those bonds at par the proceeds whereof are to be used in the erection of yards, buildings and other necessary facilities to accommodate this traffic . . .
The Communipaw Abattoir was built to handle the slaughter of cattle, hogs and sheep. The main slaughterhouse was a two-story structure in which beeves were killed on the ground floor and hogs on the second of the main building; sheep were slaughtered on the third floor of an attached wing. Livestock shipped via railroad were driven to the abattoir and yarded in adjacent pens. “Forming a wing to the main building, but detached from it, will be a hog and sheep pen capable of containing about 20,000 hogs and 10,000 sheep,” reported The New York Times when construction began. “Behind these buildings will be the stock-yards, in which 20,000 head of cattle can be kept.”
According to The New York Times, the Communipaw Abattoir boasted the potential to provide for all of New York City’s meat needs. Shortly after the abattoir opened, the newspaper reported that New York City residents consumed 3,500 beeves, 21,000 hogs and 22,000 sheep and lambs weekly. With the stated potential to slaughter six to seven thousand beeves, more than 35,000 hogs and 25,000 sheep, The New York Times wrote, “Thus we have the astonishing fact that, notwithstanding the enormous demand, the whole New York market consumption could be supplied by a single institution.” The staggering statistics quoted, however, fall short of the abattoir’s actual yardage capacity and output. During the Communipaw Abattoir’s brief seven-year existence, far fewer animals were yarded and slaughtered there. In 1872, the greatest number of cattle passed through the Communipaw yards — 246,323 — however, only 29,532 were killed there. Despite the contemporary press focus on the slaughtering facilities at Communipaw, statistics on the number of animals yarded versus those slaughtered reveal that the yards were a terminal facility for Midwestern animals bound for New York and New England abattoirs rather than for slaughter at Communipaw.
Besides captivating the public’s imagination when it opened, the Communipaw facilities found themselves the subject of widespread press coverage and government investigations in 1868 during an outbreak of Texas tick fever. No known photographs appear to have survived showing the Communipaw stockyards and slaughterhouses. Several 1860s publications, however, did illustrate articles on the facility’s opening and about the Texas fever outbreak. Some of these illustrations are reproduced below.
Read more about Jersey City’s stockyards:
Christine Meisner Rosen, “The Role of Pollution Regulation and Litigation in the Development of the U.S. Meatpacking Industry, 1865-1880,” Enterprise and Society 8, no. 2 (2007): 297–347.
David S. Rotenstein, “Hudson River Valley Cowboys: The Origins of Modern Livestock Shipping,” The Hudson Valley Regional Review 19, no. 1 (2002): 1–15.
David S. Rotenstein, “Model for the Nation: Sale, Slaughter, and Processing at the East Liberty Stockyards,” Western Pennsylvania History, Winter (2010): 36–47.
© 2012 D.S. Rotenstein