The Fordham section of the Bronx is perhaps best known today as being the home of top-ranking college Fordham University and the handsome grounds of the school's 93-acre campus. But, there is so much more to the history to this area of the borough.
Ever wonder how Fordham got its name and from where it is derived? Or for that matter, what the changing demographics have been since it was first settled back in the 17th Century? Let's take a closer look with these 7 Facts About Fordham.
1. The Fordham community was first established by John Archer, A Dutch settler
John Archer, a Dutchman, was given approval by the English to purchase 3900 acres of land in the area, comprising 6 square miles called Fordham Manor. As "Lord of the Manor," Archer established his community at 225th Street near the Harlem River in 1666.
The Manor lasted a little less than 100 years, from 1671 to 1762, during which period sixteen families would establish farms.
2. The name Fordham means a low-lying meadow by a source of water.
Derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "ford" and "ham," which means a low-lying meadow by a source of water, when put together, the name means a ford by a settlement or a wading place, referring to the area's close proximity to the Bronx River. Fordham also happens to be a surname, and while there is no certainty, the area may have been a reference to John Fordham, a fourteenth-century English priest, according to Raymond Schroth, SJ, in Fordham: A History and Memoir.
3. Old Fordham Village dates back to the English Colonial Era.
Centered from the intersection of the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road, Old Fordham Village extends north to about 196th Street, south to about 187th Street, east to Southern Boulevard, and west to Jerome Avenue as we know it today.
However, if you can imagine back in the 1700's when the Bronx was full of large estates and farms, the land that defines Old Fordham Village was originally part of an estate owned by a Dutchman named Reyer Michaelson. In 1736, Michaelson deeded the house and the land to his daughter and her husband, Benjamin Corsa and in 1751, Fordham Manor was built, which stayed in the family until 1787.
4. Fordham University's Rose Hill Campus was once part of a large estate called "Rose Hill"
Today, the name Rose Hill is most commonly associated with the Bronx campus of Fordham University. Did you ever wonder from where the name originated? Rose Hill was the name given to the Fordham Estate on this site in 1787 by then-owner, Robert Watts, in honor of his family's ancestral home of the same name near Edinburgh in Scotland. Most of the then-estate is now part of the Rose Hill Campus of Fordham University.
5. Boston Post Road was a critical Crossing point for General George Washington's Continental Army
During the time of our Revolutionary War, roads were neither modernized nor paved as we have today. One of these such roads was Kings Road, which went through the rural estates and farm area of Old Fordham Village. It linked Colonial New York and towns and villages north toward Boston.
During the American Revolution, it was a critical crossing point for General George Washington's Continental Army retreating toward White Plains to safely escape from New York while being chased by the Colonial British and Hessian Forces. There were many American Patriots that lived in this area, which helped as well. After the revolution, the Kings Road was renamed the Boston Post Road, but in the area of Fordham, Boston Post Road was renamed Fordham Road and became part of U.S. Route 1 in 1926. which it is still called today.
6. The First Belmont Stakes were held in Fordham at Jerome Park
The first Belmont Stakes, the oldest of the three U.S. Triple Crown races was held at Jerome Park Racetrack in 1867 and continued to be run there until 1890. The racetrack opened in 1866 in the northwest part of Fordham by financier Leonard W. Jerome, on the Old Bathgate Estate.
7. Fordham is a Melting Pot of Cultures and Ethnicities
Fordham began to see a huge growth in its population at the beginning of the 20th Century. Largely due to the convenience of numerous subway lines between Manhattan and the Bronx as well as the development of then-new and modern housing, particularly in the 1920's, middle-class and working-class families from Manhattan migrated north to this section of the Bronx. Predominantly white from about 1920 till 1970, community residents included Irish, Jewish, Italian and Albanian. As these groups began to move to the suburbs and out of state, the ethnic make-up of the area is now predominately Latin American and African American.
Till next time,
When my cousin and I scheduled our tour with Bronx Historical Tours to see some of the prettiest churches in The Bronx last summer, we never expected we would be paying a visit to one of the most beloved shops in Little Italy!
While making our way from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on 187th Street and Belmont Avenue, we crossed the street to take some pictures of the church. As we continued walking towards Hugh’s Avenue on our way back to the car, we came upon Borgattis Ravioli and Egg Noodle Shop.
I commented to Alexandra Maruri, owner of Bronx Historical Tours, that I had passed this shop many times and had always wanted to check it out. Encouraged by Alexandra to go in and meet the Borgatti family, I did just that!
The impromptu stop was undoubtedly one of the high points of the day and with the close relationship enjoyed between our amiable tour guide and the Borgatti family, it was a real treat!
The Belmont section of The Bronx has certainly undergone many changes throughout the last eight decades, however, there’s comfort in knowing that some things have stayed and remain the same in a neighborhood that is rooted in ethnic tradition.
As I walked into Borgatti’s I was triggered with a rush of memories from my own childhood and Italian upbringing. The only word I could think of to describe it was "old school."
Borgatti's felt like the shops I would go in with my grandmother as a child when she would do her marketing. Specialty shops for everything, owned and managed by families. No slick displays or modern retail fixtures. Just a warm feeling of times gone by when the products and services spoke for themselves.
It was clear that Alexandra was a familiar face upon entering, as she was greeted by the friendly folks behind the counter. She proceeded to introduce me and my cousin Tanya, to which we received a warm and inviting welcome.
The rest of our visit was a pure delight as Christopher Borgatti, great-grandson of founder, Lindo Borgatti, imbued us with the history of his family's pasta shop and captivated us with a first-hand glimpse into their specialty pasta making.
The store was opened in 1935 by Christopher's great-grandparents, with Lindo Borgatti, the first generation owner of the store. His son, Mario Borgatti, began working at the store at seventeen years old and became synonymous with the store, which is still thriving and going strong more than eighty years and four generations after its founding.
Borgatti's Ravioli and Egg Noodle Shop still provides the community with quality ravioli and pasta. Moving strong into the 21st Century, the company's products are shipped around the country, via their online store, allowing for their homemade Italian specialties to be savored by pasta lovers near and far!
Christopher was amazingly friendly and knowledgable and took us on a little guided pasta making tour of their noodles. Running the sheets of pasta through the cutting machine, which is in plain view for customers to see, we witnessed varying widths cut before our eyes.
For anyone growing up in an Italian household, with an Italian grandmother, the pasta machine is easily identified in an instant! Of course, Grandma's was much smaller and fit on the table. I still remember making pasta with her I love the homemade tradition so much that I still continue it with my kids - when I can.
A feeling of reverence for the family patriarch, Mario Borgatti, as well as founder, Lindo, is palpable within the store. Old photos, including beautiful wedding images, line the walls, honoring the memories of the Borgatti men who went before Christopher and his dad, also named Christopher, who continue to run the business.
With the death of Mario Borgatti (Christopher's Grandfather) in 2014, a beloved member of the Arthur Avenue community, a tribute was paid with the renaming of the street at the southeast corner of East 187th Street and Hughes Avenue to Mario Borgatti Way. He died at the age of 97.
Fortunately, the store lives on!!
Till next time,
For Your Information:
Borgatti's Ravioli & Egg Noodles
632 E 187th Street
Bronx, NY 10458
Phone: (718) 367-3799
Sunday & Monday: Closed
There are a handful of experiences in life that leave us struggling to find the precise words to actually define them. For it is hard to actually cognize that which is felt by the heart since it bypasses all of our intellectual senses and what we are left with is essentially an indescribable feeling throughout our body and soul. Music is one of these phenomena.
How do you actually describe it? Dictionary.com describes it as “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”
Is that really what any of us conjure up when we think of music? I dare say, no way!
Funny that the word color, which has a visual connotation is used to describe that which is heard, not seen. Why? Because music is something that is felt and most often forms an indelible “picture” in our minds of memories, life circumstances and place in time from our lives.
You are probably wondering what this all has to do with The Bronx. So much! In fact, The Bronx has produced some of the best music that has ever been created, much of which has a timelessness and evoke a special nostalgia for so many.
Take for instance Doo Wop music.
Did you know that Doo Wop music was developed in African-American communities in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles back in the 1940’s?
We all have watched many movies that depict a group of guys standing on a street corner creating a vocal harmony which is the distinct aspect of the doo wop sound which achieved mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. Till today, it remains one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B styles of the time.
The Bronx was home to some of the greatest doo wop artists, whose music and even specific songs have etched themselves into the memories and consciousness of so many in the Borough and around the globe.
Take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about these Top 10 Bronx Doo Wop accapella singers and groups from this bygone era of rock and roll, compiled by Alexandra Maruri of Bronx Historical Tours and what she considers some of their best music.
Top 10 Bronx Doo Wop Singers and Groups
1) Dion & The Belmonts
Perhaps the quintessential and most well known musical group from The Bronx during the era of Doo Wop, Dion and the Belmonts had a string of hits in the late ‘50’s.
Although Dion Dimucci became the most well known, he actually joined the established trio, The Belmonts in 1957, whose members included Angelo D'Aleo, Carlo Mastrangelo, and Fred Milano.
To Bronxites, it’s a well known fact that the group’s name, The Belmonts, was derived from Belmont Avenue in Little Italy, on and around which all four members originated. Dion (without The Belmonts) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
Famous songs: Where or When, A Teenager in Love
2) The Chords
Talk about old school Doo Wop and The Chords will be front and center based on their humble beginnings. The five members of this band got together in 1951 in The Bronx and the story goes that they were spotted singing in a subway station, which ultimately landed them a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
The band members, Carl Feaster, Claude Feaster, Floyd McRae, Jimmy Keyes, Rupert Branker and William Edwards had an explosive hit with “Sh-Boom” and by the end of June 1954, "Sh-Boom" had climbed up the charts nationwide to #5 on the R&B and #2 on pop charts, unprecedented for its time and simultaneously introduced the white audience to black R&B music for the first time.
Famous song: Sh-Boom
3) The Chantels
This lovely all-girls group was formed in the early 1950’s when the original five members were students attending St. Anthony of Padua School in The Bronx. In fact, a bit of trivia from HistoryofRock.com, lead singer, Arlene Smith had received classical training and performed at Carnegie Hall at age 12!
The group was not together very long, as Arlene went on to embark on a solo career, however, their second single "Maybe", released in December 1957, would sell over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc! The original five members consisted of Arlene Smith, Sonia Goring Wilson, Renée Minus White, Jackie Landry Jackson and Lois Harris, and as a group, The Chantels were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
Famous Song: Maybe
4) The Chiffons
Beginning their singing career as Bronx classmates at James Monroe High School, The Chiffons came together in 1960. Another girl group in the Doo Wop era, the original members included Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett and Barbara Lee.
Their first single, "He's So Fine" hit No. 1 in the United States, selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. By today’s RIAA certifications standards, the record would have qualified for platinum status.
Famous Song: He’s So Fine
5) The Demensions
No one would dare argue the fact that out of the high schools of The Bronx there have emerged so many musical talents. Included in this elite group are The Demensions. Formed as a Doo Wop group by four members of The Melody Singers, the school choral group at Christopher Columbus High School in The Bronx, the original members of The Demensions included Lenny Del Giudice, (aka Lenny Dell), Howie Margolin, Charlie Peterson and Maria Martelli.
Their career was off, thanks to the help of Cousin Brucie, a disc jockey at New York radio station WINS who gave airtime to the group’s first single - their version of "Over the Rainbow" in 1960. The only other chart hit for The Demensions was "My Foolish Heart" released in 1962 and peaked at #95 in early 1963.
Famous Song: My Foolish Heart
6. Lillian Leach & The Mellows
As the female lead of the Mellows, Lillian Leach, became the fourth member of the group in 1954. The original members were three teenage schoolmates from Morris High School in The Bronx, who included Johnny ‘Tiny’ Wilson, Harold Johnson and Norman ‘Polecat’ Brown, who met Lillian at a party and talked her into harmonizing with them.
The quartet had a striking sound and were signed to the Jay Dee label, where they released several singles in 1955 that include ‘How Sentimental Can I Be” and ‘Smoke From A Cigarette.’
Disbanding a few years later, their songs are well remembered as romantic classics.
Famous Song: Smoke From Your Cigarette
7. Larry Chance & The Earls
This Doo Wop group was one of many who could be found harmonizing on the street corners of The Bronx in the late 1950’s. In fact, Larry Chance and The Earls were discovered singing on the street corner in front of subway station and went on to enjoy international success, to this day, performing their songs from the Doo Wop era.
Original band members included Larry Chance, Bob Del Din, Eddie Harder, Larry Palombo and John Wray. Sadly, in 1961, Larry Palombo was lost in an army skydiving accident when his parachute failed to open during an exercise. Shortly after the release of their first record In 1961, "Life is But a Dream" Larry and The Earls performed with Murray the K, as well as on Dick Clark's American Bandstand show.
As Larry has been quoted, “Who would have ever thought that a bunch of kids from the streets of The Bronx, who loved to sing for the joy and love of it, our lives would have turned out the way they did.”
Famous Songs: Life is But a Dream, Remember Then
8. The Darvels
I wonder if anyone reading this article can guess where this Roosevelt High School band derived its name. Keep reading to find out! The band had its beginnings when Warren Gradus joined The Thunderbirds, a singing group from Roosevelt and became their lead singer. Along with Gregg Paravati, Richie Capala and Vinny Cea, the guys soon changed their name to the Darvels. They were joined by another band member, Mike Gervan.
With Gregg and Warren writing songs for the group, which included "I Lost My Baby"(Gregg) and "Gone" (Warren), they would record an accappella demo, leading them to re-record with music after getting the attention of a producer. Released in 1963, the two sides of their single included "I Lost My Baby" and "Gone". Oh, and the group’s name - it was derived from combining the words Dodge DART and CARVEL ice cream.
Famous Songs: I lost My Baby, Gone
9. The Excellents
For many in the Doo Wop era, it was not uncommon to have a hit or two and then not really be heard from again. This is true for The Excellents, a Bronx sextet, which originally went by the name the Premiers. Forming in 1960 the group was made up of brothers John and George Kuse, Denis Kestenbaum, Phil Sanchez, Joel Feldman, and Chuck Epstein,
Success came for The Excellents with a B-side song called “Coney Island Baby,” that ended up climbing into the Top 20 nationally in 1962. Their last official single, released in 1964 was “Sunday Kind of Love” by the original Excellents but appeared on Bobby Records under the group name the Excellons. "Coney Island Baby," has been acknowledged as a Doo Wop classic, leading to a recent touring version of the Excellents, now a quartet, and still featuring the lead vocals of original member John Kuse.
Famous Songs: Coney Island Baby, Sunday Kind of Love
10) The DeVaurs
Another Bronx girl Doo Wop group, The DeVaurs were four schoolmate singers who came togehter in 1958 with a mutual affection for The Chantels. The quartet included Estelle McEwan, Yvonne DeMunn, Paula Hutchinson and Brenda Carrow. With luck on their side, they won a local talent show, earning the chance to cut a record with the small Brooklyn label D-Tone.
Their first single, “Baby Doll” written by McEwan, with lead vocals by Hutchinson did not have much success with local radio, but, with a switch to the Moon label in 1959, The DeVaurs hit the Top 20 on local radio station WNJR with "Where Are You.”
Famous Song: Where are You
Of course, this is only a handful of the great Doo Wop singers and groups that came out of The Bronx. Others include Darnell & The Dreams (The Day Before Yesterday), Little Bobby Riviera & The Hemlocks (Cora Lee), The Dials (Young and Lovely), The Dreamers (Because of You), Robert & Johnny (We belong Together) and Norman Fox & The Rob Roys (Tell Me Why).
Stay tuned for more music stories that capture the essence of the Heart of The Bronx!
Till next time,
This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours, for breakfast in Little Italy. We had a glorious weather day and just sat al fresco drinking our coffee and cappuccino, while discussing her thoughts about the best pizza that The Bronx has to offer.
No easy task considering the plethora of destinations around this great borough for fresh, hot and mouth watering neighborhood pizza! The good news is, no matter where in The Bronx you find yourself, so too, will you find great pizza.
Alexandra's list consists of 14 different pizza destinations throughout the various sections of the Borough. From first-hand experience, having frequented the highlighted eateries throughout her life, she now includes many of these on her tour itineraries.
"It is incredible, just how many of my tour clients ask me for recommendations for the "best pizza in The Bronx," says Alexandra, "there are just so many I love that it is impossible to choose just one. Each establishment possesses their own unique flare and specialties, so I prefer to give a robust list of options!"
Here are Alexandra’s Top 14 Pizzeria choices in The Bronx:
1. Louie & Ernie’s Pizza - Pelham Bay
1300 Crosby Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461
Louie and Ernie's Pizza has perfected the art of old school pizza making. While many other pizzerias have evolved through the years in offering a wide array of menu items, as well as specialty pizzas, Louie and Ernie's keep it simple, with variations on two basic items, which include pizza and calzones. No fancy dishes or extensive options. Just the basics, which they have perfected, gaining a loyal following for remaining consistent for the past six decades, with a formula that works!
2. Pugsley’s Pizza - Fordham Manor
590 E 191st Street, Bronx, NY
(718) 365 - 0327
Known for it’s New York style pies, Pugsley Pizza has been delighting lucky pizza lovers in The Bronx since the early 80's. This neighborhood pizzeria was originally opened on Pugsley Avenue and then Briggs Avenue. According to Alexandra Maruri, "I have great memories of frequenting the pizza shop on Briggs." In 1985, owners Sal and Pina Natale moved to their current location near Fordham University on the land of a former horse stable.
3. Full Moon Pizzeria - Belmont
600 East 187th Street, Bronx, NY
From his roots in Salerno, Italy, Full Moon Pizzeria's owner learned the value of customer service as a young boy. Arriving in Belmont in the Bronx at the age of twelve, he shined shoes and helped with his family bills. At 14, XX began working at Full Moon restaurant and eventually helped his father purchase the business from its previous owner. Today, he says that his business “is a constant reminder of where we come from and represents the Italian core: good company, amazing, soul warming food, and family. We love to treat our customers like family, only offering the best.”
4. Zero Otto Nove - Belmont
2357 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
Located in the “Real” Little Italy, Zero, Otto, Nove has brought the flavors of southern Italy to New York. In fact, according to Forbes, “Dining here is like stepping into an Italian grotto in the hills of Tuscany.” While The Bronx is always our first choice, Zero Otto Nove also has two other locations, one in the FlatIron District of Manhattan and Armonk in Westchester.
5. Patricia’s - Morris Park
1082 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY
Open for lunch and dinner, Patricia’s food is consistently good, as is the service. Owner, Louis, has a reputation for being friendly, along with his staff and offering a large array of pizza options from tomato and garlic and no cheese to a full array of toppings of meats, vegetables and cheeses.
6. Tino’s Deli - Belmont
2410 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
(718) 733- 9879
Tino’s Deli has been on 187th Street for over 50 years, but fifteen years ago, Rosa and Giancarlo Paciullo took it over and moved to a bigger a better location. Taking the old Belmont Community Center, The Paciullo's renovated it to provide their customers with great service in a friendly, home-like environment. This "Jewel of Arthur Avenue" also known as Tino's Deli, offers an array of brick oven pizza ranging from traditional Margherita to a variety of original combination toppings including their Pizza Salernitana with Mozzarella, Tomato sauce, black olive paste, marinated artichokes and Mortadella and their Pizza Tartufato with Blue Cheese, Dried Figs, Olive oil, Arugula and Truffle honey.
7. Antonio's Trattoria - Belmont
2370 Belmont Ave, Bronx, NY 10458 · ~16 mi
To quote this restaurant’s website, “There is a phrase in Italian that goes, "Piatto ricco, mi ci ficco;" rich plate, and I dive into it. Antonio’s serves both lunch, dinner and offers a catering menu as well. With many items on the menu that they strive to “emulate "nonna's" home cooking,” their brick oven pizza is tops when it comes to Bronx neighborhood pizza. From classic cheese to pizza bianco and even lasagna pizza, the variety is plentiful.
8. Nick’s Pizza Restaurant - Gun Hill
1356 E Gun Hill Rd, Bronx, NY
According to Alexandra Maruri, " Nick's serves up what I would call "old school pizza and one of a few places in the Bronx which are a staple for the local community."
Their pizza is a perfect combination of thick crust and heavy on the cheese. There is no need to order extra cheese since it is made with the perfect balance of sauce and cheese. Maruri goes on to say, "everyone knows Nick's - from teachers, bus drivers to the conductors. I use to frequent this pizza shop as a kid, and it is a "must visit" for the locals and visitors.
9. Emilio’s of Morris Park - Morris Park
1051 Morris Park Ave, Bronx, NY
Serving the Morris Park and beyond since 1989, Emilio’s of Morris Park offers an extensive menu of house-made Italian favorites ranging from panini, flatbreads, calzones and heroes to chicken, shrimp, seafood and vegetarian entrees to the delicious house-made tiramisu. They are most famous for their “famous chicken vodka pizza”
Owner Richie DiNardo is a true Bronx native, born in the Borough, he started working in restaurants at 16 and owned his own place at 18. And although he has owned and operated restaurants in Miami, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Connecticut over the years, he came full circle back to the Bronx when he bought Emilio’s in 2006. Emilio’s has gained neighborhood fame for their
10. Mario’s Pizza - Eastchester
3824 Dyre Ave, Bronx, NY
(718) 325 - 8770
What makes Mario’s pizza so good? According to Alexandra Maruri, “I love the thick crust slices with a lot of cheese - the way pizza was when I was a kid.” A neighborhood favorite where the pizza is always fresh.
11. Venice Restaurant & Pizzeria - Mott Haven
772 E 149 Street, Bronx, NY
With a full menu of appetizers, entrees, burgers, hot and cold heros and a variety of seafood and other salads, Venice Restaurant’s pizza is up there with its customer favorites. Pizza is made to order in three different sizes that include 10”, 14” and 18”. Whether it is traditional Margherita, White Pizza or Hawaiian, toppings that include Pepperoni, Sausage, Mushroom, Peppers, Anchovies, Meatballs or Ham are available to personalize to all pizza lovers’ preferences.
12. Mario’s Restaurant - Belmont
2342 Arthur Ave.
Bronx, NY 10458
Celebrating 100 years in 2019, Mario’s Restaurant is a staple on Arthur Avenue since its humble beginnings when it was first opened by Socolastia and her son Giuseppe. Five generations later, Mario’s Restaurant is a steadfast reminder of the neighborhood’s past. All of the food is made to order, including their thin crust pizza, prepared exclusively in their pizza ovens.
13. Ljubo Pizzeria - Westchester Square
15 Westchester Sq, Bronx, NY
Known for their huge slices at a price that can't be beat, Ljubo's Pizza is the neighborhood destination for oversized and extra large slices. A definite must-visit, but note, there is limited stool seating inside, so it's not best for large groups dining in. Service is prompt and friendly and they only accept cash.
14. Catania's Pizzeria & Cafe - Belmont
2307 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY
The outside to Catania’s does not do justice to the inside, which is beautifully decorated, The lovely interior is only second to its pizza, which is made with the perfect blend of sauce to cheese ratio. With every topping available, Catania offers both Neapolitan and Sicilian pies.
Till next time,
As you continue to follow my blog, you will come to realize just how enamored I am with history and namely, the remarkable gems of the past found locally in the Bronx.
The more exploring I do around the borough, the more astounded I am with the notable treasures and their special part in laying the foundation of the Bronx.
Take for instance the community of Riverdale. Today it is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City, a reputation it has maintained from its days as a 19th-century estate district where many of Manhattan’s moguls built their country estates,
In addition to boasting one of the highest elevations in New York City, with scenic views of the Empire State Building, George Washington Bridge, Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades, this three-square mile section of the Bronx is also home to designated historic districts. In fact, the Hudson Hill neighborhood still retains many of its historic mansions.
Filled with expanses of greenery, original forest and a characteristically hilly landscape, it is no wonder that Riverdale is one of the most sought-after residential areas in all of the city today. It also stands to reason that it was the perfect rural setting in the 19th century for Manhattan’s wealthy elite to build country estates and escape the crowds and congestion of the city.
Today, there are seven subdivisions to Riverdale – Central Riverdale (the “downtown” area of Riverdale); Fieldston; North Riverdale, Hudson Hill (also known as Riverdale Estates); Mosholu; Spuyten Duyvil or South Riverdale and Villanova Heights.
Fieldston, in particular, has a noteworthy history to its founding, and in fact, the wooded, scenic enclave of Fieldston was designated a historic district by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2006. Additionally, northwest of the neighborhood lies a 15-acre Riverdale Historic District, designated in 1990.
Located in in northern Riverdale, Fieldston was originally part of the estate of Major Joseph Delafield. Purchasing 250 acres in 1829, Delafield named it after his family’s estate in England. The Delafield family laid out lots in Fieldston in 1909, intending to develop the land and named it “Delafield Woods.” The timing of their neighborhood development coincided with the one-year prior extension of the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line (present-day 1 train) to Van Cortlandt Park–242nd Street, creating more ease and convenience for Manhattan-bound commuters.
Working with the natural contours of the land and preserving as much of the wooded areas as possible, civil engineer for the project, Albert E. Wheeler, heeded the advice of Frederick Law Olmsted, the American landscape architect, popularly considered to be the father of American landscape architecture, and worked with the land’s innate characteristics rather than employ a grid pattern.
In 1910, the first house was begun, with its completion in 1911 and by the beginning of the 21st century, Fieldston, a privately owned community, was one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City.
Leland Weintraub, the commissioner who moved for the district’s creation, noted that “most of the features commonly associated with the American romantic suburb of the mid-19th century”, including “a picturesque site, landscaping and architecture; connection to the city by accessible transportation and a layout adapted to the topography” are present in the area.
As far as notable Riverdale buildings go, the historically designated “Stonehurst”, the Robert Colgate House, whose name was subsequently changed to the Katzenbach House, was built by one of America’s foremost business families.
I always love knowing the back story, so I’ll share with you, the details on how “Stonehurst” came to be. The Colgate family history in America began with William Colgate, an English manufacturer who, in 1806, founded what would become the Colgate toothpaste company.
Born January 25, 1783, William emigrated to America with his parents, Robert and Sarah Colgate in 1798, leaving their farm in Shoreham, Kent England. Robert (for whom William’s future son would be named), was a farmer, politician and sympathiser with the American War of Independence and French Revolution, which was eventually the impetus for his moving to America.
The family settled on a farm in Baltimore, Maryland, where William’s father started a soap and candle manufacturing business, where the young Colgate would help his father. The business lasted only two years, and thereafter, the family would re-settle in Delaware County, New York.
William Colgate, however, would move to New York City in 1804 as a young man, where he became an apprentice to a soap-boiler. Closely observing the methods practiced by his employer, he not only garnered the craft, but would also become savvy in the ways of business management. By the end of his apprenticeship, he had developed valuable contacts with dealers in other cities, setting himself up for success.
In 1806 William established a starch, soap and candle business in Manhattan, on Dutch Street. Then, fourteen years later, in 1820, he started a starch factory across the Hudson in Jersey City. His success as a pioneer soap manufacturer led him to become one of the most prosperous men in the city of New York, with his legacy still alive through the Colgate-Palmolive Company and Colgate University.
His marriage to Mary Gilbert produced three sons, Robert, James and Samuel. His son Robert (1812–1885), purchased land in 1860, on which he had built a two-story picturesque Italianate villa that he would name, “Stonehurst.” The building was constructed of ashlar Maine granite. According to the Landmark Preservation Commission, “the noted historian of Westchester county described the Robert Colgate House as “one of the finest residences on the Hudson,” added that “the resources of wealth and refined taste have joined to make it a thing of beauty.” “
It was designated a New York City Landmark in 1970, with the Landmark Commission’s report stating, ” “Stonehurst has a classical flavor and a symmetry which are most unusual within the romantic and generally asymmetrical Anglo-italianate villa tradition…(and) displays a sensitive response to its splendid setting. This is characteristic of the age of Emerson and the transcendentalists and illustrates the rise in landscape architecture and landscape painting.”
In 1983, Robert Colgate House was additionally listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Till next time,
A little known fact about The Bronx is that it is the greenest of all the five New York City boroughs.
While many people have a view of The Bronx as a strictly urban setting made up a plethora of stores, apartment buildings, small business, and its bustling and busy streets, this northernmost city borough is comprised of outdoor park space that accounts for 25% of the land.
With no lack of options to commune with nature, embrace your inner athlete and fitness enthusiast or indulge in a little rest and relaxation on the cool, fragrant grass, Bronx Parks are more than they appear to be, possessing an interesting history and characteristics that are part of the fabric of this alluring city destination.
1. Home to the Largest New York City Park
Manhattan borough’s Central Park gets all the recognition and glory, but Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx is the largest park in New York City. At 2,772 acres, this outdoor green oasis rivals Central Park at three times as big.
With an abundance of activities for nature lovers, cultural buffs and young and old alike, the park is home to miles of bridle paths and hiking trails, Orchard Beach, the Bartow-Pell Mansion, two golf courses, playgrounds and a breathtaking 13-mile saltwater shoreline that hugs Long Island Sound.
2. Fascinating, Historic Grounds
There is an immense and rich history to the lands that have been transformed into the beautiful public parks of The Bronx.
Take for instance Pelham Bay Park. Before its creation, the land comprising the current park was part of Anne Hutchinson’s short-lived New Netherland dissident colony. After its destruction in 1643, Englishman, Thomas Pell purchased 50,000 acres of the land in 1654 from the Siwanoy land which would become known as Pelham Manor.
During the American Revolutionary War, this land would act as a buffer between British-held New York City and rebel-held Westchester, serving as the site of the Battle of Pell’s Point, where Massachusetts militia hiding behind stone walls (still visible at one of the park’s golf courses) stopped a British advance.
Van Cortlandt Park is another home with a rich history. The third-largest New York City park, at 1,146 acres, was originally owned by John Barrett, and sold to Jacobus Van Cortlandt, two time mayor of New York City, in around 1691. His son Frederick built the Van Cortlandt House on the property, which would later be designated an historic landmark. Additionally, the land was used during the Revolutionary War when the continental army unit of mostly native Americans, the Stockbridge militia, was destroyed by the Queen’s Rangers, a loyalist military unit.
Then there is the history of Crotona Park, the land from which was acquired by the city of New York from the Andrew Bathgate Estate in 1888. Known at the time as “Bathgate Woods,” the park was already famous for its views, its trees, and its pond. The park was renamed by a Parks Department engineer, after Croton, an ancient Greek colony famed for its Olympic athletes. Croton is also the name of the old New York City aqueduct.
3. Trees and Natural Species Galore
The 127.5 acre Crotona Park, not only contains a 3.3-acre lake and the Bronx’s largest swimming pool, but it is also home to 28 species of trees! A sanctuary of rolling grass, lofty trees, Crotona Park is the largest park in the South Bronx and the sixth largest in the borough.
At the heart of the park is Indian Lake, a name that is believed to have been given by local youths who resided in the area in the late 1800s. Surrounding the lake stand native tulip, black cherry, hickory, sassafras, sweetgum, and twenty-three other species, including specimens that have flourished for more than a century.
Some of the most majestic and diverse trees in all of New York City, Crotona Park is full of natural beauty and according to NYC Parks website, “when first settled, the area around Indian Lake was said to have some of the finest forest habitat downstate.”
4. Bronx Park Had The First-Ever “Recycled Plastic Bottle” Pier
Located on the East River waterfront in the Hunts Point is Barretto Point Park was referred to as “a secret oasis in the Bronx” by The New York Times and is also home to the Tiffany Street Pier.
The pier actually predates the park and was not officially part of the park until 2001. Previously used as a loading dock before earning a reputation as a refuge for for local residents and recreational fishermen, the pier was rebuilt by the city in 1995 out of an innovative material produced from 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles.
This new and inventive hard plastic structure was able to withstand damage caused by wood boring marine insects, destructive to wood. However, the plastic was not impervious to heat and a year later, it incurred major damage when a lightning melted a third of the pier.
Reopened in 2000, the new pier was built with more resilient materials but retains the same design as its plastic predecessor.
5. Ecologically Diverse Wildlife and Fauna
Hard to believe, but Bronx Park is not only the natural habitat for a myriad of plants and wildlife stretching along The Bronx River, but it likewise houses two of the most iconic venues in all of New York City.
Both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens are part of the vastness that comprises this ecologically divergent and expansive space. The two-mile stretch of The Bronx River in Bronx Park flows through its riverbanks surroundings of red maple hardwood swamp inhabited by fish, birds and invertebrates, which is paradise for any nature lover, as well as recreation areas that include bicycle paths, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields.
Varied species in Bronx Park include Benthic macroinvertebrates, which include insects, worms, bivalves and crustaceans; more than 30 species of fish, including striped bass and river herring; Amphibians, Reptiles and Mammals that include muskrats, snapping turtles, salamanders, as well as plankton.
Till next time,
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.