Category Archives: Bronx History

Look Back At The Bronx — Exclusive Images from NYC’s Department of Records

We hope you enjoyed our epic three-part tour through the history of the Bronx. This was the first time we’ve ever tackled the story of a borough over the course of a few shows, and we really had to learn to think concisely and in big concepts, lest each episode be a couple hours long.

Here are the three shows in case you missed one:

The Bronx Is Born (1630-1874)

The Bronx Is Building (1875-1955)

The Bronx Was Burning (1955-today)

There are of course many aspects of Bronx history that we didn’t even get to properly cover — Fort Schuyler, Marble Hill, the Quakers of Hunts Point, the Bronx Terminal Market, the former amusements of Clason Point, Saint Raymond’s Cemetery, the Hub. That simply means we’ll be returning to the borough in future episodes.

But a special treat arrived in our mailbox this week from the NYC Department of Records. Archivist Alexandra Hilton curated a Bronx centennial exhibition a couple years ago featuring images from the deep trove of riches in the department’s collection. And she’s kindly offered to share some with us here!

Enjoy this look back through many era of the Bronx through perspectives you’ve perhaps never seen.

You’re not seeing things — this is a baseball game next to Woodlawn Cemetery, somewhere along the Bronx River Parkway, date unknown, but most certainly late 19th century.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The auditorium of Morris High School, the first high school built in the Bronx. Picture is from November 1926,

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

The NY Catholic Protectory, an orphanage, in Parkchester, date unknown.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

A couple images of the Bronx River within Bronx Park and the New York Botanical Garden (which was contained within the confines of the park), from its early years, c. pre 20th century.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The Haupt Conservatory within the botanic garden.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Inside old Fort Schuyler at Throgs Neck in the late 1930s, as military operations are dismantled and the structure becomes New York State Merchant Marine Academy (now SUNY Maritime College).

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The scene — St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven. I believe this is the construction of a new playground, but the park has been through a lot of changes, so it may be something else. Date is April of 1934. Any guesses? Also, see the mansion in the background?

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

Bungalows develop near the location of Orchard Beach, April 1929.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The beautiful Bronx County Courthouse, pictured here a bit after its completion in 1935.

wpa_257b.tif
wpa_257b.tif

The opening of Orchard Beach on July 25, 1936. Some extraordinary fashions on display here!

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

An overhead view of Orchard Beach, 1938

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

At the crypt of Lewis Morris at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Morrisania, c. 1930s.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

Kids living in a Bronx cooperative apartment building, 1938

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Construction site for Hunter College, c. 1938, on the area of the former Jerome Park Racetrack (a portion of which was turned into Jerome Park Reservoir). Today this is the site of Lehman College.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

Robert Moses at the dedication of the Whitestone Bridge, May 25, 1939.

dpr_5-25-39.tif
NYC Department of Records

 

A blessing at the Shrine Church of St. Ann’s in Norwood, December 1939. Unfortunately the church closed last year.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Keating Hall on the campus of Fordham University, c, 1935-1941

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The Bronx NYU campus and the Hall of Fame of Great Americans, c. 1935-1941.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

This image perfectly captures the mix of housing styles and transportation infrastructure in the Bronx during the mid 20th century. This particular image, from 1938, is of 3477 Bronx Boulevard.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

FDR’s campaign headquarters in 1940, above some breathtaking neon signage.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The scene at the Bronx Terminal Market in Hunts Point, 1941.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

Inside the Bronx Terminal Market, date unknown.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

The re-opening of the New York, Westchester and Boston Railroad, May 15, 1941, with Mayor La Guardia cutting the ribbon. The railroad line had been a financial failure and was purchased by the city and converted into a subway line. (Today it’s part of the 2 and 5 lines to Wakefield.)

NYC Dept of Records
NYC Dept of Records

 

Marie LaGuardia speaks at the memorial service for her husband in Woodlawn Cemetery, September 1947.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

The scene at the St Mary’s Park playground, 1949

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Illustration of that super wacky set of undulating highways and ramps along the Bronx River, October 1948.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

And an extraordinary artifact — an anti-Robert Moses flyer that would have been found in the Parkchester and Westchester neighborhoods, retaliating against plans to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway.  “The needs of the people must not become a political football to be kicked back and forth….” Issued by the Communist Party of the Bronx!

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer joins in the Puerto Rican Parade, 1992

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

A South Bronx town hall meeting featuring David Dinkins in October 1993. He would lose the mayoral race the following month to Rudy Giuliani.

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

 

Fernando Ferrer oversees some ‘helpful’ wall writing — DON’T DUMP ON THE BRONX. Date: 1994

NYC Department of Records
NYC Department of Records

Bronx Trilogy: The Bronx Was Burning (1955 to today)

PODCAST The trials and tribulations experienced by the Bronx through the mid and late 20th century.

In the third and final part of our Bronx history series, we tackle the most difficult period in the life of this borough — the late 20th century and the days and nights of urban blight.

The focus of this show is the South Bronx, once the tranquil farmlands of the Morris family and the location of the first commuter towns, situated along the new railroad.  By the 1950s, however, a great number of socio-economic forces and physical changes were conspiring to make life in this area very, very challenging.

Construction projects like the Cross Bronx Expressway and shifts in living arrangements (from new public housing to the promise of Co-Op City) had isolated those who still lived in the old tenements of the South Bronx. Poverty and high crime rendered the neighborhood so undesirable that buildings were abandoned and even burned.

Mainstream attention (from notable television broadcasts to visits by the President of the United States) did not seem to immediately change things here. It would be up to local neighborhood activists and wide-ranging city and state programs — not to mention the purveyors of an energetic new musical force — to begin to improve the fortunes of this seemingly doomed borough.

FEATURING an interview with Inside Out Tours founder and chief tour guide Stacey Toussaint about the new Bronx renaissance.

ALSO: Appearances by Howard Cosell, Sonia Sotomayor, Robert Moses, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Jimmy Carter!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #213: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 3) THE BRONX WAS BURNING

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway required the mass expulsion of residents from their homes

Lehman College
Lehman College

From this overhead view, you can see the areas of the city about to be wiped away by expressway construction. And you can also observe the powerful impact public housing has already had on the landscape

 NYU Forman Center Archives
NYU Furman Center Archives

 

Life on Arthur Avenue, 1940. The Italian sector of the Bronx would only grow larger in the mid 20th century as more Italians from southern areas of New York City migrated to the Bronx

 Stieglitz, C.M./Library of Congress
Stieglitz, C.M./Library of Congress

The scene on Macombs Road, 1964

Macombs Rd., Bronx / World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola.
Macombs Rd., Bronx / World Telegram & Sun photo by Phil Stanziola.

 

Yankee Stadium in 1969

Photo by AP Images
Photo by AP Images

Scenes from the South Bronx, early 1970s, from photographer Camilo J. Vergara, courtesy Library of Congress

Overlooking a portion of the Bronx River, 1970

Camilo J. Vergara photographer/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara photographer/Library of Congress

 

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/vrg.00186/
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

The view from Hunts Point, 1970

Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress
Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

East 167th Street, South Bronx, 1973
East 167th Street, South Bronx, 1973,  Camilo J. Vergara/Library of Congress

 

Members of the Reapers gang clean up a lot in the South Bronx, 1972. Photo by Life Magazine photographer John Shearer. Check out the rest of the photos in this series here.

John Shearer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
John Shearer—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

 

The termination point of the Third Avenue El (around 147th through 149th) which was torn down in 1977.

Jack Boucher photographer
Jack Boucher photographer

Insanity: One of dozens of fires that occurred in the aftermath of the blackout of 1977.

AP Photo/HG
AP Photo/HG

A child’s baptism at St. Jerome’s Church in the South Bronx

Photo by Susan Lorkid Katz/MCNY
Photo by Susan Lorkid Katz/MCNY

 

bronxburning

June 1977.

Courtesy AP
Courtesy AP

An abandoned building on Charlotte Street was turned into an art project by John Fekner, Broken Promises/Falsas Promesas, 1980

brokenpromises_johnfekner

Planting a community garden in a vacant lot, 1980s

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A current exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York celebrates the photography of Mel Rosenthal in their show In The South Bronx of America, running until October 16

Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY
Mel Rosenthal/MCNY

 

And now a few videos — both of actual events and dramatized, highly exaggerated depictions of the Bronx.

The infamous video from the 1977 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers, with Howard Cosell running play-by-play for both the game and the drama outside the stadium.

A film about DJ Kool Herc made in the 1980s

Dramatic video from ABC News of the Bronx as it looked in 1982

A news report about Fort Apache, police precinct in the Bronx. This uses documentary footage (albeit with dramatic music).

Later the film Fort Apache: The Bronx dramatized the events at this police precinct:

The trailer from the exploitation film ‘1990: The Bronx Warriors’ made in 1982

 

Morrisania: The South Bronx and the old days of American aristocracy

Was there an estate in New York ever as beautiful as Morrisania, nearly 2,000 acres that hugged the Harlem River until it opened out into the turbulent East River as it coursed past small islands and flowed into the Long Island Sound? A property that varied from western hills looking over the river to the rolling spread of Manhattan below, to eastern marshes and flatlands suitable for farming.

Today’s Bronx neighborhood of Morrisania is only a small portion of the original property owned by the Morris family since the 1670s, during the dawning years of British dominance in the New York region.

Vestiges of the old estate still existed well into the 20th century, including their old well (pictured below in 1910)

mny228863

The original parcel, purchased by Welsh captain Richard Morris, was only 500 acres, a part of original land settled by Bronx namesake Jonas Bronck.

When Richard died, brother Lewis Morris (for reasons that will soon be evident, let’s call him Lewis I) moved from the West Indies to claim the property. He would be one in a succession of Lewis Morrises to live here and place an imprint on what would some day contain much of the South Bronx.

The Morris family was feisty, business savvy, well connected, extremely aristocratic and entirely unoriginal with names. Another Lewis Morris (Richard’s son, or Lewis II) became the governor, at separate times, of both New York and New Jersey. Yet another Lewis (Lewis III) became a powerful New York justice. His son Lewis Morris (Lewis IV) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Below: Morris farm houses, still standing in 1920

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If you haven’t gleaned it already, the clan carried themselves like some kind of royal family. They were, artificially at least, as were many families in the New World who quickly made fortunes here and staked claims in manners similar to what their forebears were accustomed to in Europe. Over the decades, the Lewises would blend by marriage into other elite, bold-faced families to form a tangled ball of interlinked faux American royalty.

Morrisania for most of the 18th century resembled a miniature British kingdom, with a spread of small farms, dairies and cattle pens operated by those leasing from the Morris family, a proper workaday serfdom common for the era. However, during the early decades, the land was even worked with slave labor, although the practice was phased out in later generations.

Below: The Lewis G Morris house which stood at Montgomery Avenue and 176th Street at late as 1905 (the date of this image)

Museum of City of New York
Museum of City of New York

When Lewis 3 passed in 1762, this massive property was split in two. West of the small babbling Mill Brook (honored today with a playground and a housing development) belonged to Lewis IV and his brothers, but the more bucolic eastern side fell to Lewis III’s second wife Sarah and eventually her only son. That’s right, Gouverneur Morris (pictured below).

Gouverneur fled his home during the Revolutionary War, but his mother Sarah stayed behind. During this time, the rich farmland was vandalized and the family’s voluminous library, one of the largest collections in North America at the time, was ransacked.

Gouverneur was quite busy in the late 18th century doing things like penning the Constitution and being minister to France in the midst of their bloody revolution. But wherever he traveled, he always felt a closeness to Morrisania.

After the war, while Gouverneur was in France, Lewis Morris (the fourth one, Gouverneur’s half brother) offered up the family estate of Morrisania be used as the site for the new American capital. One can just imagine the history of New York had Congress taken him up on that offer!

The former mansion of Gouverneur Morris which sat near the waterfront in the Bronx until the 1900s.

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

In 1798, when Gouverneur returned from France and claimed the property for himself, he built a new home here (the one pictured above) and filled it with all his gathered French finery. Perhaps no household was more beautiful — or as pretentious — as Morris’ new manor.

Gouverneur, of course, facilitated the growth of New York with his roles in the development of both the Commissioners Plan of 1811 and the Erie Canal. His old farms, however, were technically part of Westchester Country. In the 1840s, his son Gouverneur Morris Jr. emulated New York’s former estate owners and began to develop his property for commercial and residential use.

Below: The village of Morrisania, an original ‘commuter’s town’ for those who worked in the city of New York down south.

MCNY
MCNY

Chief among these decisions was becoming vice president of the New York and Harlem Railroad (eventually to be owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt) and allowing the railroad to cut through the old property. Townships formed around the railroad station, include one small village named for the old manor, Morrisania. That village is the root of today’s neighborhood of the same name.

Gouverneur Junior was cut from the visionary mold that would define many in the 19th century. One pet project was the development of a port village along the old family property on the eastern shoreline, today’s Port Morris area.

Port Morris, pictured below in 1920, would become a chief location for manufacturing in the borough.

mny221093

Given that Gouverneur Senior was partially responsible for Manhattan’s grid, it’s no surprise that a different grid patterns were adhered to the old Morris properties over the years. In emulating Manhattan’s pattern, all traces of the area’s early farm existence was eradicated.

The following years would hold many strange detours in the history of the South Bronx: opulent boulevards, the New York Yankees, 1970s urban decay. But the Morrises live on, if in name only.

However one lasting physical vestige to the Morris family still remains — St. Ann’s Church (pictured below) in the neighborhood of Morrisania, built in 1840 and the location of burials for members of the Morris family, including Gouverneur Morris and Lewis Morris (the fourth).

img_0079 img_0078 img_0082

 

 

Portions of this article were taken from an earlier one that I wrote for this blog back in 2010.

A History of the Bronx Part Two: Building The Borough

PODCAST The story of how the Bronx became a part of New York City and the origin of some of the borough’s most famous landmarks.

In the second part of the Bowery Boys’ Bronx Trilogy — recounting the entire history of New York CIty’s northernmost borough — we focus on the years between 1875 and 1945, a time of great evolution and growth for the former pastoral areas of Westchester County.

New York considered the newly annexed region to be of great service to the over-crowded city in Manhattan, a blank canvas for visionary urban planners.  Soon great parks and mass transit transformed these northern areas of New York into a sibling (or, perhaps more accurately, a step-child) of the densely packed city to the south.

The Grand Concourse embodied the promise of a new life for thousands of new residents — mostly first and second-generation immigrants, many of them Jewish newcomers. The Hall of Fame of Great Americans was a peculiar tourist attraction that honored America’s greatest. But the first time that many outside New York became aware of the Bronx may have been the arrival in 1923 of New York’s most victorious baseball team, arriving via a spectacular new stadium where sports history would frequently be made.

By the 1930s Parks Commissioner Robert Moses began looking at the borough as a major factor in his grand urban development plans. In some cases, this involved the creation of vital public recreations (like Orchard Beach). Other decisions would mark the beginning of new troubles for the Bronx.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #213: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 2) THE BRONX IS BUILDING

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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The burial vault of the Van Cortlandts was actually contained within the newly formed park. And it’s still there.

Courtesy New York Park Service
Courtesy New York Park Service

 

NYU’s former University Heights campus (now the home of Bronx Community College) contains one unusual tourist attraction — the Hall of Fame of Great Americans

nyuinthebronxpostcard

1 2 3

 

Louis Risse’s vision of the Grand Concourse in 1892 obviously did not imagine automobiles using the boulevard.

MCNY
MCNY

Kingsbridge Road near the Grand Concourse, 1890. It was originally a dirt road of course.

MCNY
MCNY

The New York Botanical Garden inaugurated Bronx Park and created another reason for New Yorkers to head up to the vastly evolving area up north.

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A romantic depiction of the Lorillard snuff mill on the Bronx River. The building is still on the river, contained within the Botanical Garden.

By Frederick Rondel, Jr., courtesy MCNY
By Frederick Rondel, Jr., courtesy MCNY

Jerome Park Reservoir, opposite a set of homes, pictured here in 1920 and (below) 1936.

MCNY
MCNY
mny221499
MCNY

 

The unveiling of the Heinrich Heine monument in today’s Joyce Kilmer Park on the Grand Concourse.

MCNY
MCNY

Lavish apartments like the Roosevelt  (pictured here in 1924 and in 1937) were able to attract New Yorkers escaping the overcrowded Lower East Side.

MCNY
MCNY
MCNY
MCNY

Fordham Road in 1930 with the Grand Concourse East Kingsbridge Road steaming by.

Photo by William Roege (1930)
Photo by William Roege (1930)

A Yankee Stadium postcard circa 1945

mny285122
Courtesy MCNY

Ruth was so integrally a part of the Bronx and Yankee Stadium that when he died in 1948, his casket was taken to the stadium where tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects.

babe-ruth-funeral-fans-line-up-8-17-1948

 

A few selections from our Instagram account of things we discussed on this week’s show:

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

From the Grand Concourse:

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

A photo posted by Gregory Young (@boweryboysnyc) on

Here’s Tom and our special guest this week — the great Lloyd Ultan

The United States Capitol Dome was built in the Bronx

In the fall of 1783 Lewis Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, helpfully suggested in a letter to the Continental Congress that his own bucolic estate Morrisania (in today’s area of the South Bronx) would make a fine home for the new capital of the United States.  That didn’t happen, of course, but the Bronx plays a big role in another big national moment of pride – the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building.

In short, the dome was constructed in the Bronx. At Westchester Avenue, between Brook Avenue and St. Ann’s Avenue, as a matter of fact. Ten short blocks from where Mr. Morris is buried today.

The Capitol Building in Washington D.C. was originally built in 1800. After suffering a fire during the War of 1812, it was a thoroughly redesigned, with a low wooden dome adorned with copper. By the 1840s the copper had oxidized, giving the dome a similar hue as the one worn by the Statue of Liberty today.

From an early 1846 daguerreotype by John Plumbe:

capitol1846

But with the inclusion of new states into the Republic, the nation’s leaders were outgrowing this home. The addition of new wing extensions in the 1850s made the copper dome seem embarrassingly small. In a city of mighty and grandiose architecture — for a young country still very much unsure of itself — this simply would not do.

The story now turns to New York, home to some of the most profitable iron foundries of the 1850s.  It seems extraordinary today, but the city actually had several large iron works scattered throughout the region. Below: A 1865 depiction of one such iron foundry at 14th Street and the East River

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

A couple key foundries were built near the southern shore of Westchester County, near Spuyten Duyvil Creek, including Johnson Iron Works and J.L. Mott Iron Works.  (Mott’s president Jordan Mott would develop nearby land into the small town — and later neighborhood — of Mott Haven.) They were kept in business by mass production for railroad lines and, a decade later, by manufacturing cannons and other weaponry during the Civil War.

Another local iron works was Janes, Beebe & Company which was originally housed in a factory at Reade and Centre Streets in Manhattan.  By 1859 the boardroom will have changed a bit to become Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Company. A little audacity on their part would win them a most treasured contract.

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Colonel William Buel Franklin, a respected civil engineer and later to be a Union Army general (as pictured above), was tasked with developing the new dome and reached out to various iron foundries for bids. Originally, Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Co. had only been asked about providing surface covering for the dome.  Seeing a possibility for greater profit, they boldly offered to do the entire thing — for an unbelievable price:

“Having thus made an offer in accordance with your letter of the 1st instant, we beg leave to lay before you another proposition. We have examined the plans for the dome, and we find the design of what remains to be done above the work now being put up, is so dependent, the one part on the other, that it forms a whole that cannot well be divided…. [W]e therefore propose to execute all that remains to be done to the dome, including the putting up of the entire work, exclusive only of staging and hoisting, as before expressed, for seven cents per pound (7c)”  — source

That’s a little under $2 per pound in today’s money. What’s astonishing is that they were mostly known for small ornamental iron furniture and decor, not exactly recommending themselves for such a massive project.

From an 1866 advertisement in the New York Tribune Almanac:

The Tribune Almanac and Political Register, 1866
The Tribune Almanac and Political Register, 1866

 

Sadliers' Catholic Directory, Almanac, 1874
Sadliers’ Catholic Directory, Almanac, 1874

But the company’s bold ‘all in’ proposition got them the job, although both they and Franklin were later accused by members of Congress of colluding on a higher price — that the dome could have actually been completed for mere six cents a pound. (Although such price gouging was a regular feature of government contractors, this appears in retrospect to be your usual Congressional grousing.)

Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Co. were awarded the contract in February of 1860, the same month that a young lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln spoke to a packed Cooper Union, a mile north of Janes’ original foundry.

Fortunately by this time, however, the foundry had decided it needed a much larger space for ambitious projects such as the Capitol dome. In 1857, anticipating great things, they moved from Manhattan to a foundry in the town of Morrisania in Westchester County. The iron works was “1,000 feet long by 50 feet wide, giving employment to a large number of hands, many of whom have been with the firm for years.”

 

The new Morrisania foundry of Janes, Kirtland and Company, in 1862

Courtesy the U.S. Capitol
Courtesy the U.S. Capitol

From here, parts were forged, partially assembled and loaded onto ships in the East River where they then made their way down to the District of Columbia. The foundry became a critical job creator for the town. “The wages paid to the workmen amount to many thousand dollars yearly, and with the taxes paid is of great importance to the town of Morrisania.” [source]

The Civil War halted construction on a great many projects across the country, but not at the Capitol Building. In the spring of 1861, the firm was told to stop working on the dome. But contractors at Janes realized that so much work had been done — and so much ironwork already delivered — that they continued unabated, taking the government in good faith that they would pay their bills after the war.

“There was not a day during the Civil War when the sound of the hammer was not heard at the Capitol,” wrote George Cochrane Hazleton in 1914. “Even when, in May 1861,  all work was ordered to be suspended, the contractors practically continued at their own expense to put in place the 1,300,000 pounds of iron castings then upon the ground.”

us-capitol-1860

They completed work on the dome — in all, using 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron — in October of 1865, six months after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Adrian Janes, founder of the foundry, died on March 2, 1869, but he had seen his company produce marvelous things by this time. His Bronx foundry also produced the Bow Bridge in Central Park in 1862 and would later manufacture the railings used on the Brooklyn Bridge.

While the foundry is long gone of course, one vestige of Janes’ legacy remains — St. Mary’s Park. The land was purchased from the Morris family by Janes in the 1850s for the purpose of developing a foundry and other properties, including his home.  For a time the area was even known as Janes Hill, and an area to the park’s northern side still takes that name.

A small chapel was once on the property — St. Mary’s Church — for which the park gets its name. The Mary in question is actually Adrian Janes’ youngest daughter Mary. If that seems a bit hard to believe, keep in mind that St. Ann’s Episcopal Church just a couple blocks south — where Gouverneur Morris and Lewis Morris are presently interred — is actually named for Gouverneur’s wife Ann!

 

From the January 5, 1859 New York Herald — Mr. Janes was also a speculator in guano (bat and seabird droppings) as evidenced by the newspaper notice below:

image_681x648_from_27665613_to_39666756

 

 

 

Kingsbridge, the Bronx neighborhood with royal connections

DUMBO, for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass — a stretch to create an geographic acronym if there ever was one — is not the only neighborhood named by a bridge which passes by, through, or over it. It might be obvious but the neighborhood of Kingsbridge in the Bronx is named for an actual bridge, and the King’s Bridge at that.

The Spuyten Duyvil Creek, that short, narrow span of water that separates the far north edge of Manhattan from the west side of the Bronx, has vexed travelers for hundreds of years, due to choppy waters and devilish legends. One translation of its name has traditionally been ‘Devil’s Spout’. Folklore sent Anthony Van Corlaer to his death here. (Listen to our old Haunted Tales podcast for more information.)

Below: Marble Hill in the year 1900, an undeveloped parcel of land which was cut from Manhattan via a canal and eventually joined the mainland.

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In the past 150 years, the course of this waterway has been re-routed, shut off and landfilled to accommodate needs of Harlem River shipping traffic. In fact the neighborhood of Marble Hill, once a part of Manhattan island, has been affixed to the Bronx by drilling a canal though its southern part (in 1895), then filling in the Spuyten Duyvil to its north (in 1914). This disembodied nub of Manhattan is still administratively considered part of the island.

But it’s not Marble Hill we’re looking at here, but rather the neighborhood to its east, Kingsbridge. Way before the Spuyten Duyvil was filled in, the creek posed a challenge for early Dutch farmers wishing to transport their wares into the city markets. However it was narrower than trying to attempt a crossing of the far-broader Harlem, and many farmers used their own boats to get across.

The rebuilt King’s Bridge in 1856

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

The earlier inhabitants of the land, the Lenape, simply used canoes when they wished to pass across it; it was at this spot that a well-trodden Indian trail led into the wilderness beyond. By the time of the Dutch, this path had been turned into a workable road. It would eventually become part of the Boston Post Road — appropriate the mail delivery route — which led into New York to the south and up the Albany to the north.

In 1669, in those tentative years of England’s early occupation of the former New Netherland colony, one enterprising Dutch farmer Johannes Verveelen set up a pay ferry service, at the area of the former creek today situated at 231st Street and Broadway — both to serve those who didn’t have their own vessels and to monetize those who had previously preferred their own.

This would be fine for awhile, until greater number of travelers to and from New York on the post road commanded that a more permanent solution be found.

The first Frederick Philipse (formerly Flypsen)

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Enter wealthy adventurer and servant to the crown Frederick Philipse. The enterprising and ambitious Dutchman (his original name was Flypsen) came to New Amsterdam in the 1650s and stayed for the transition into New York. He then married into money and soon became the wealthiest man in town, thanks partially to the slave trade.

He soon acquired an estate (or rather, “hunting ground”) encompassing land between the Spuyten Duyvil creek and the Croton River further upstate.  He built a lavish home here — the Manor of Philipsburg — with breathtaking views of the Hudson.

Several buildings from the original Philipsburg Manor property still stand in the Hudson River Valley, including the Philipse Manor Hall, built in 1682.

Photo courtesy CUNY
Photo courtesy CUNY

As author Stefan Bielinski explains, Philipse “was essentially a merchant with mercantile liaisons extending to several continents, but although  he had acquired land for speculative purposes, he also hoped to one day generate the flour, grain, and other products which his own ships would then carry to the worldwide marketplace.” Of course he would “generate” these goods with the help of slave labor.

This land once had been owned by Lenape and later by Adriaen van der Donck, the Dutch lawyer who apparently met an unfortunate end.  Now these thousands of acres were part of a wealthy lord’s estate, part of a vast area that would later become the western Bronx and Yonkers.

Of course, in the southern part of his estate, there was that pesky road — that former Lenape road —  that abutted his property, heavily trafficed with people crossing at the creek. No matter. In 1693, he built a bridge — the King’s Bridge as it was “established by royal grant — and charged a fee, payable to the crown.

Internet Book Archive
Internet Book Archive

The bridge was the only legitimate way to cross the river, the only way to deliver goods to Manhattan from the mainland. Naturally this monopoly was soon poorly received by local farmers who wanted to sell their bounty in the profitable New York markets down south.

Philipse’s toll bridge can be seen as a physical representation of the later unrest between England and the colonies. Philipse and his descendants were faithful to the English; his great-grandson would still own the property during the Revolutionary War and would flee when the British were kicked out in 1783.

A plaque on nearby St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church commemorates both Verveelen’s ferry service and the site of the original King’s Bridge. Pictured here in 1932.

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Museum of City of New York

Many decades later, a mild form of protest was practiced by neighboring farmers Benjamin Palmer and Jacob Dyckman, who built the aptly named wooden-plank Free Bridge in 1758, at around 226th and Broadway, with funds contributed by other perturbed locals.  This rebellion was celebrated with a wild feast, an ox roast, “thousands from the city and country …. rejoiced greatly.”

Palmer was the man responsible for developing City Island just three years later.  Dyckman attempted to profit from the bridge by building a nearby tavern, later sold and known as Hyatt Tavern. The bridge was burned down by British soldiers in 1776, but they left the tavern still standing.

Below: Map showing the location of the King’s Bridge approximate to where the Free Bridge (or Dyckman’s Bridge) was.  

Excerpt from the Battle Of Fort Washington Map By Sauthier showing original course of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and locations of King's Bridge, Dyckman's Bridge, and Marble Hill area then part of Manhattan
Excerpt from the Battle Of Fort Washington Map By Sauthier showing original course of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and locations of King’s Bridge, Dyckman’s Bridge, and Marble Hill area then part of Manhattan

 

As for the King’s Bridge, according to author Stephen Jenkins, it had fallen “into disuse, the gatekeeper gave up his position, and Colonel Philipse [great-grandson of Frederick] had to advertise for a new lease; from this time forth, it was virtually a free bridge also.”

It too was eventually destroyed — by Washington’s forces, as they fled in 1776 — but was rebuilt after the war, as was the Free Bridge. The pictures of the King’s Bridge you see in this post are of the rebuilt bridge.

The community that developed around King’s Bridge, losing the space and the apostrophe, was officially part of Yonkers until the city of New York annexed it in 1874, years before the creation of the Bronx borough.

A map from 1867 showing King’s Bridge in the southern portion:

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With the filling in of Spuyten Duyvil Creek in 1914, the city not only created this strange quirky place called Marble Hill, they also apparently buried the bridge without dismantling it. It may still technically exist under the roadway at 230th Street and Broadway. Is this a historic legend or does a little piece of old New York still reside in the neighborhood of Kingsbridge?

This article is based on an article I wrote back in 2010. You can see the original here.

Seven places to experience early Bronx history today and this weekend

We’ve received such an overwhelming positive response to our Bronx history podcast — and we’re just at Part One. You may know a few things about 20th century Bronx history, but it’s so important to familiarize yourself with the early stories as well. Almost all of these stories figure into the creation of the modern Bronx and will help shape the borough’s future.

But there’s need to wait for us to release Part Two next week. There are many institutions in the borough where you can experience the early history of the Bronx firsthand. May we suggest planning an afternoon adventure around a visit to these places? (NOTE: It’s always a good idea to call ahead before planning a visit. Some of these locations often host private events.)

For reasons which will become obvious, late summer and autumn are the perfect times to visit some of these sites. You’ll see why many people consider the Bronx to be the most beautiful borough in New York City.

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Bronx County Historical Society

Start an exploration into Bronx history here, a non-profit organization located in the Valentine-Varian House, the oldest farmhouse in the Bronx (from 1758). As is the way with historical homes, this structure once owned by the family of New York mayor Isaac Varian and Bull’s Head Tavern owner Richard Varian was actually moved to its present location in the Williamsbridge Oval back in 1965. Inside you’ll find a complete display of exhibits and examples of colonial life in the Bronx.

LOCATION 3266 Bainbridge Avenue, Norwood, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON A special exhibition (open until October 9) explores the history of Westchester Town, one of the earliest settlements in the region. We recommend pairing a visit to the home with a trip to New York Botanical Garden, just a short walk down Mosholu Parkway.
HOURS AND ADMISSION Saturday 10AM-4PM; Sunday 1PM-5PM, $5 per adult, $3 for students, children and seniors
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The D train to East 205th Street or the 4 train to Mosholu Parkway

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Van Cortlandt House Museum

Few places in New York feel as authentically connected to the era of the Revolutionary War as the old 1748 home of the Van Cortlandts, sitting within the family’s former estate in the park named after them. Depending on the time you get there — call ahead just to be sure they’re open — you’ll take a guided tour (perhaps even with a costumed guide) or have the opportunity to explore the house yourself.

LOCATION 6036 Broadway, Van Cortlandt Park, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON The park is popular with joggers and sports fans, so you may want to join in the fun after a visit. Plan a trip here on the same day you go to Wave Hill.
HOURS AND ADMISSION Tuesday-Friday 10AM-4PM; Saturday and Sunday 11AM-4PM, $5 per adult, $3 for students, children and seniors, free on Wednesdays
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The 1 train to the last stop West 242nd Street

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Wave Hill

This is your home now! Well you can at least fantasize that this sumptuous 1843 mansion — and its 1927 companion Glyndor — is yours as you stroll the property, looking out at the splendid view of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The feeling of calm and isolation  you get from an afternoon here is almost impossible to find in the five boroughs.

LOCATION 649 W 249th St, Riverdale, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON They encourage you to take your shoes off and walk in the grass. The already-gorgeous surroundings become even more extraordinary starting in the early fall. Perfect day-trip with the Van Cortlandt House Museum (see above)
HOURS AND ADMISSION Tuesday-Sunday 9AM-5:30PM; $8 per adult, $4 for students and seniors, $2 children +2 (Parking is available)
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The 1 train to the last stop West 242nd Street. A free Wave Hill shuttle van meets passengers on the west side of Broadway in front of Burger King (!) at 10 minutes past the hour, from 9:10am to 4:10pm. The shuttle van returns visitors to Broadway in front of Burger King, departing Wave Hill’s front gate on the hour, from 10am until 5pm. (You can also get here via Metro-North Railroad. See website for more information.)

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Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

This remains one of the strangest literary landmarks in New York City. Positioned in charming Poe Park, right off the Grand Concourse, the cottage has lost all of its original context but none of its allure. Standing on the porch, the more creative among you may be able to close your eyes and imagine the dark, sullen worlds the poet was able to conjure from here. (A few of his most famous poems were written at the cottage, and the short story “Landor’s Cottage” is believed to be heavily inspired by this place.)

LOCATION 2640 Grand Concourse, Fordham Manor, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON Fall is always the best time experience anything Poe-related.  You’re also a short walk to the culinary delights of Arthur Avenue.
HOURS AND ADMISSION Tuesday-Friday 10AM-3PM; Saturday and 10AM-4PM, Sunday 1PM-5PM, $5 per adult, $3 for students, children and seniors
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The D train to Kingsbridge Road lets you off right at the park, however the 4 train to Kingsbridge Road will also get you there too.

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Woodlawn Cemetery

Sometimes you learn more about the great figures from the past by seeing how they’ve chosen to spend eternity. Woodlawn Cemetery, which opened in 1863 and was specifically notable for its access to the new railroad, is the final resting place of moguls, robber barons, politicians, socialites and musicians. A stroll along Woodlawn’s paths will tell you more about human vanity and the urge to preserve personal legacy than any college psych class.  (Above: the plot for members of the Van Cortlandt family — THE Van Cortlandt family — is relatively modest.)

LOCATION  517 E 233rd St, Woodlawn Heights, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON There are an abundance of intriguing public programs planned for the next couple months. Our favorites — a concert by the Bardekova Quintet on September 25 and a special walking tour on October 9 called “Shuffle Along and the Stories of Black Broadway.”  Visit their website for more information.
HOURS AND ADMISSION Monday-Sunday 8:30AM-4:30PM, free, no bicycles
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The 4 train to Woodlawn Station or the 2 or 5 trains to E 233rd Street

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Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

The Bartow-Pell Mansion, tracing its lineage back to the original Pell family, may not have the breathtaking view of the Palisades that Wave Hill has, but it has something else equally lush — an extraordinary formal garden in the back. This lovely and occasionally surreal feature has only been part of the house since 1916. It makes a perfect addition to the family home, originally constructed between 1836 and 1842.

LOCATION  895 Shore Road North, Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON This is the 100th anniversary of that garden, and a new exhibit celebrating its centennial pairs the formal beauty with strange and unusual pieces of modern art. If you go this weekend, you’ll be able to pair your experience here with a trip to Orchard Beach, which closes for the season on September 11.
HOURS AND ADMISSION The house — Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday Noon-4PM, $5 adults, $3 seniors and students, free for kids under 6. The gardens — open daily, free, from 8:30AM to dusk.
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park station, then transfer to a #45 bus. More information here.

 

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City Island Nautical Museum

This lovely and strange little museum is tucked away off the main road and feels like a old ship in a bottle, dusty and preserved. If you can time your visit to City Island to coincide with its opening hours, it’s well worth a visit. You may think you’re in a small town in Maine! (But then again, the whole island often feels like that.)

LOCATION  190 Fordham Street, City Island, the Bronx
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SOON If you’re clinging on to the last scraps of summer, then a visit to City Island — and its delicious eateries on the southern point — will provide you with the inspiration you need.
HOURS AND ADMISSION Saturday and Sundays only, from 1PM to 5PM. Also by appointment.
HOW TO GET THERE BY SUBWAY — The 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park station, then transfer to a #29 bus to City Island.  More information here.

 

Bronx Trilogy: The Bronx Is Born — Before It Was A Borough 1638-1874

PODCAST A history of the land which would become the Bronx, from the first European settlement to its debut in 1874 as New York’s Annexed District.

The story of the borough of the Bronx is so large, so spectacular, that we had to spread it out over three separate podcasts!

In Part One — The Bronx Is Born — we look at the land that is today’s borough, back when it was a part of Westchester County, a natural expanse of heights, rivers and forests occasionally interrupted by farm-estates and modest villages.  Settlers during the Dutch era faced grave turmoil; those that came afterwards managed to tame the land with varying results.  Speculators were everyone; City Island was born from the promise of a relationship with the city down south.

During the Revolutionary War, prominent families were faced with a dire choice — stay with the English or side with George Washington’s Continental Army? One prominent family would help shape the fate of the young nation and leave their name forever attached to one of the Bronx’s oldest neighborhoods. Sadly that family’s legacy is under-appreciated today.

By the 1840s, Westchester County was at last connected to New York via a new railroad line. It was a prosperous decade with the development of the area’s first college, a row of elegant homes and some of its very first ‘depot towns’.  Two decades later, the future borough would even cater to the dead — both the forgotten (at Hart Island) and the wealthy (Woodlawn Cemetery).

The year 1874 would mark a new chapter for a few quiet towns and begin the process of turning this area into the borough known as the Bronx.

FEATURING: Many places in the Bronx that you can visit today and experience this early history up close, including Wave Hill, Pelham Bay Park, Woodlawn Cemetery, City Island and more.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #212: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 1) THE BRONX IS BORN

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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In this 1896 Robert Bracklow photograph, a solitary woman stands by the Bronx River, looking almost completely unchanged from how it would have looked when Jonas Bronck saw it.

MNY16942
Museum of the City of New York

A 1914 illustration recounting the tale of Jonas Bronck:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

Another book illustration, this one of the massacre of Anne Hutchinson and her family.

NYPL
NYPL

 

The Split Rock as it appeared in 1910, with a memorial plaque to Anne and her family and no highways anywhere around it. The rock today has no plaque but the impression of one can still be seen.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

An auction map of the Bronx from 1910, highlighting the area of Throg’s Neck which gets its name from Throckmorton or Throgmorton.

NYPL
NYPL

 

The King’s Bridge from an 1856 illustration.

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NYPL

The town of Westchester in the East Bronx, pictured here in 1872. Throg’s Neck is in the lower portion of the map. Today’s neighborhood of Soundview comprises the green portion.

NYPL
NYPL

The village of Morrisania, pictured here in 1860, which arose from land owned by the Morrises after the railroad encouraged a row of ‘depot towns’.

MCNY
MCNY

 

St Ann’s Episcopal Church in Morrisania, where both Lewis and Gouverneur Morris (and Gouverneur’s wife Ann) are buried.

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Courtesy MCNY

A view of St. Ann’s today:

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The Van Cortlandt Mansion then (in 1906)…

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And today (featuring George Washington’s room):

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The old City Island monorail from 1910

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LOC

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The old City Island Bridge, the only way on or off the island that’s not a boat. That remains true to this day, although the bridge is much sturdier-looking today!

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The old City Island Cemetery with Hart Island in the distance.

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Breathtaking Wave Hill and the grounds which provide an unbelievable view of the Hudson River and the Palisades.

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Here’s Tom, getting a peek inside George M Cohan’s mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery:

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Jerome Park Racetrack where the Belmont Stakes were first run in 1867.

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From Harpers Weekly, 1886:

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The former (awkward) location of Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage. It has since been moved to the Grand Concourse.

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And finally — Gouverneur Morris’ mansion which — believe it or not — stood at the foot of St. Ann’s Avenue until the 20th century.

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MCNY

 

We want to give a big thanks to the Bronx Historical Society, Wave Hill, Woodlawn Cemetery and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church for helping us with our research. Keep coming back to the blog throughout the month of September as we’ll have additional stories about these places and others.

September Is The Bronx Month

Get ready to learn a whole lot more about the only borough with the good sense to actually be attached to the mainland. The Bronx is perhaps New York City’s most misunderstood borough and the one with the longest relationship with the city. It became a part of New York long before Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island.  Over the next month we hope to help illuminate some aspects of its history that you may not have known or may have forgotten.

Over the next five weeks, we will release three new podcasts that explore this borough’s rich and surprising history — from the first European settlers in the 17th century to life after the 1970s. In addition, the blog will mostly be focused on little stories of Bronx history, focusing on landmarks within the Bronx itself where you can experience history for yourself.

Jonas Bronck, Gouverneur Morris, City Island, The Grand Concourse, Edgar Allan Poe, Wave Hill, Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx Zoo, Hart Island, Orchard Beach, the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Blackout of 1977, the birth of hip hop and of course the New York Yankees. It’s all on the way!

It’s all in honor of the 175th anniversary of what many consider to be the most important moment in the history of the Bronx — the opening of the first depot of the New York and Harlem Railroad at the village of Fordham in October 1841.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY