The history of the Bronx and the people that contributed to its growth and expansion through the past few centuries is quite astounding, filled with remarkable facts.
For instance, were you aware that Sir Winston Churchill, one of England’s most prominent leaders, has a pedigree that hails from New York City, with relevant events and remnants that are important elements of the history of the Bronx? Indeed, and a colorful one at that.
England’s own son, Winston Churchill was the grandson of Leonard W. Jerome, an American financier. To any Bronxite, the name Jerome is a familiar one and quite common throughout the borough as a main Bronx thoroughfare, a reservoir, a park, a post office, apartment building complexes, and many other local businesses.
So how did one of the most influential and beloved leaders of the United Kingdom come to be a descendant of one of America’s wealthiest financiers? To answer this question, it is necessary to take an historic journey into the life of the man that Churchill himself referred to as “fierce.”
Born in 1817 in the town of Pompey in Onondaga County, New York, and raised on a farm, Leonard Walter Jerome was one of ten children, nine of which were boys, of Aurora Murray Jerome and Isaac Jerome. His father, Isaac, was a descendant of Timothy Jerome, a French Huguenot immigrant who arrived in the New York Colony in 1717.
Ironically, Jerome would drop out of Princeton, because he was not very good in math, and go on to attend Union College, where he studied law with his uncle, known as Judge Jerome and set up a practice in Rochester, New York. He later moved to New York City, where he became a stock speculator and promoter, becoming known as the “King of Wall Street.”
Both his career and personal life were filled with color, excitement and flamboyance. Achieving exorbitant financial success through his stock market investments, Jerome amassed and lost huge fortunes.
He socialized in high society circles and did business with other well known moguls of his time, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and August Belmont, and held interests in several railroad companies, among other ventures. As a patron of the arts, Jerome was a participant in the founding of the Academy of Music, one of New York City’s earliest opera houses.
His marriage to Clarissa Hall, the daughter of a wealthy Palmyra, New York family produced four daughters – Jeanette, Clarita, Leonie and Camille, who died at age eight. Rumor has it that his three daughters became known, in some quarters, as “the Good, the Witty and the Beautiful”. Leonard Jerome was known to indulge his wife and daughters to an enormous extent and this included them spending extended periods of time in Europe, where they socialized with the aristocratic elite of the day.
.The financier was also quite an outdoorsman with a strong affinity for hunting and horse racing. According to records, he went on hunting trips throughout the American west, guided by Buffalo Bill Cody. However, it was his love of horse racing for which he is most well known.
Before it was known as the Bronx, and still annexed as part of Westchester County, back in 1866, Jerome purchased the estate and mansion of James Bathgate near Old Fordham Village and built Jerome Park Racetrack on the Bathgate land. In partnership with August Belmont, the racetrack held the first Belmont Stakes in 1867 and remained active until 1891.
Jerome Racetrack was acquired and demolished by the city in 1894, to make way for Jerome Park Reservoir. The lovely Bathgate mansion was retained by the Jerome family and enjoyed as a summer home for a few years. In the early 1900s, the mansion was razed and replaced by the Kingsbridge Armory, which still stands.
So, where does Winston Churchill fit into this picture? With Jerome’s wife and daughters spending much of their time in Europe, all three of his daughters would eventually marry British men. His daughter Jeanette, known as “Jennie” married Lord Randolph Churchill, the younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, and would thereafter become known as Lady Randolph Spencer-Churchill.
Together they had two sons, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and John Strange Spencer-Churchill. Winston, would of course become Prime Minister of England from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
As a child Winston was not the best of students and often misbehaved. Receiving news that young Winston “seemed backward,” as a result of poor school reports, it was his maternal grandfather, Jerome, who is quoted as saying, “Let him be. Boys get good at what they find they shine in.” And nothing could have been more accurate as history has proven from Winston Churchill’s illustrious career as a statesman.
It is evident that the grandfather of the British Prime Minister left his legacy on the Bronx through the numerous namesakes which still exist today with that legacy extending across the pond to the United Kingdom!
- 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.