Sunday, August 9, 2009

Today In History - And So The Broncks Was Born

Yeah I know, I spelled it wrong - or did I! You see the Da Bronx - a burough (also county or boro) of New York City - was named after Jonas Bronck. Who was he? Well according to different online accounts of his life he was a Swede who married a Dane, he was a Dutch, or he was a Dane. He was also supposedly a sailor, who all accounts seem to agree married a Dutch woman. After the marriage they emigrated from Europe to New Amsterdam. Once there, on August 9, 1638 (or in June or in July as some accounts have it), he purchased a piece of land across the Harlem River from Harlem and started a farm there. Not only did he purchase it from the Dutch government (or maybe it was a grant according to one account) but he also paid two Indian chiefs for it as was the custom among the Dutch to make sure their debts were paid.

The farm later became known as Bronk's Land. A river in the area was also named the Bronck's River. Years later, despite a misspelling, the name stuck and the area became known as Bronxland, then finally the Bronx. It bears his name through the present day though I would bet that only a very small percentage of the residents of the Bronx could tell you why the area has that name. I would also bet they could not tell you some other things about the Bronx:

In New York history, the Bronx was originally part of Westchester County and not part of New York City (New Amsterdam). In or about 1895 the Bronx was incorporated into new York City. It had been a rural area with lots of farmland up until about 1900 when it began to become urbanized at a fast clip. My guess is that the people back then had no idea as to where urbanization of the Bronx would lead; if they could only see it now. Of course, some things that a big city have to offer are okay despite urbanization. The Bronx has some famous spots such as Yankee Stadium (well not anymore, now there is a replacement for the house that Ruth built), the Bronx Zoo (for a long time called the Wildlife Conservation Park but now once again being called the Bronx Zoo),
Fordham University and the Bronx Botanical Gardens (actually the New York Botanical gardens). While there is a lot of urbanization, for want of as good a descriptor that remains civil, there is also much natural beauty remaining. I can not think of another boro in NYC that still has small flowing rivers such as the Bronx River and the Hutchinson River (named for Anne Hutchinson) - rivers that still cause local flooding during heavy rains and after snow melt offs. The Bronx also has a lot of brackish marshland. An amazing fact about the Bronx is the amount of parkland that it contains. Almost 24% of it is made up of parks. The largest park in New York City - Pelham Bay Park (nope not Central Park) is located in the Bronx and is made up of over 2,700 acres. Then again the Bronx also houses some of the largest housing developments in all of New York. You can go from spectacular natural beauty at one moment to an urbanized drab but definitely lively environment in the next. Yet those folks, living all crammed together not only have great parks to visit, they also have a decent beach at Orchard Beach (actually in Pelham Bay Park).

Most people living their could probably not tell you anything about the rivers that run through the Bronx, and my bet is many have never been to Pelham Bay Park, or to Fordham University. Along that same line, many may not realize some other fun facts about the Bronx. The Bronx is the only part of New York City on the mainland of the United States. Two of the boros of NYC are on Long Island's western end - Queens and Brooklyn. Another is the Island of Manhattan. Finally there is Staten Island. The Bronx consists of about 42 square miles. It has many universities and colleges. It has some of the most, if not the most, traveled bridges, highways and railroads within the United States of America. There are people living there from virtually every corner of the world. It now is the home of
The New Fulton Fish Market Cooperative at Hunts Point (a socialist type name if ever there was one, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg) which for hundreds of years had been located on Fulton Street in Manhattan - but there went Mayor Asshole Bloomberg screwing up the city again when he finagled its move to the Bronx. Of course some things like Yankee Stadium were actually born in the Bronx - the original stadium was built in 1923 the year before my mother was born. While it has not moved it too has been replaced. The old Yankee Stadium is no more for baseball as a new Yankee Stadium was built across the street from it and opened this year.

If you ever come to visit New York City as a tourist (as opposed to vi sting a relative who lives in a certain part of the city) chances are you will spend most of your time in Manhattan visiting things like the site of the World Trade Center, the
Empire State Building (the observation deck on the 86th floor, the outside one - not the one on the 102nd floor, is probably my favorite spot in all of Manhattan), The Statue of Liberty, the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, Central Park, Broadway, the Cathedral of St. John The Divine (largest cathedral in the world) and so on. But if you do not take at least a day or two to visit the Bronx you are truly missing something else about New York that is well worth the trip. The zoo, the botanical gardens, the restaurants on City Island (a small island community off of and part of the Bronx), a Yankees Game, a walk down parts of the Grand Concourse (best to be in a group - yeah some parts of the Bronx can be pretty rough for tourists) make it all worthwhile. My favorite spot in the Bronx - well there are three: The Bronx Zoo, the NYPD Firearms Range at Rodman's Neck, and the north facing side of an old stone bridge over the Bronx River Parkway with a small sign on it that says New York City. When I came home from camp, over 5 summers in my childhood, I always knew home was not far off when I saw that sign. One other thing that may become a favorite of mine, something I have never seen, is the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage that once belonged to my all time favorite American author. It too is located in Da Bronx.

All the best,
Glenn B
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