Near the exact geographic center of Hoboken lie the quaint cottages of Willow Terrace, two cobblestone streets of houses that have been home to some of the Mile Square's most venerable residents. On Sunday, the Hoboken Historical Museum hosted a reception for the latest edition of its chapbook series, a memoir of longtime Willow Terrace resident Joan Cunning entitled In the Terrace.
Cunning, maiden name Smith, grew up in a family of seven at numbers 17 and 15 Willow Terrace after moving there in 1937. She married her neighbor Eddie Cunning in 1955, and later raised seven children of her own at 27 Willow Terrace. She lived there until her husband's death in 1989, and now lives nearby in Church Towers.
Over 75 guests filled the Museum for the reception, many of them former and current residents of Willow Terrace, and or members of Hoboken's Irish community. The Cunning family founded the annual Hoboken St. Patrick's Day parade.
According to Bob Foster, director of the Museum, and also a Willow Terrace resident, the Stevens family built the houses in the 1880's for its mostly Irish emigrant employees with the Hoboken Land Improvement Company.
The two rows, dubbed north and south, each contain 32 connected houses. The streets in between are closed to incoming traffic.
Several former and current residents of Willow Terrace spoke at the reception, and all sounded the same theme, that the neighborhood was an intimate community where families trusted and helped each other.
“It couldn't have been safer,” said Eddie Cunning, son of Joan. “When you came home from school you saw friendly faces.”
Eddie Cunning, a retired policeman, said that four generations of the Cunning family were in attendance at the reception.
His sister Helen Cunning also spoke, saying that the Terrace was a world apart from the rest of the city.
“We used to go from house to house in our nightgowns and robes,” she said.
Mary Pendrick, a childhood friend and neighbor of Joan Cunning, brought the original deed her parents received when they bought their home at Willow Terrace in 1922. The mortgage then was $17.50 a month.
“Everybody was your mother there,” Pendrick said. “They say it takes a village, and this was an example of that.”
Pendrick gave several humorous anecdotes about life in the Terrace. She said that whenever someone hosted a party the men in the neighborhood would carry her family's piano from house to house.
Also in attendance were the current owners of 27 Willow Terrace, the Moran family, Kevin and Peta, and their six year-old daughter Olivia. The Morans said the sense of community that the Cunnings enjoyed still lingers.
“We all feel like we're close to each other,” Kevin Moran said.
“It's a really great house,” Olivia Moran added.
Joan Cunning spoke the final words of the evening. She said that giving interviews for the chapbook left her dreaming every night of her old home.
“The Terrace will always be in my heart,” she said.
The Hoboken Historical Museum publishes its chapbooks online, and will soon add In the Terrace to its website.