Morrisania, Bronx, New York
- 1 Morrisania, Bronx, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- 2 History
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Land use and terrain
- 5 Morrisania: The South Bronx and the old days of American aristocracy
Morrisania, Bronx, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Coordinates: 40.827°N 73.91°WCoordinates: 40.827°N 73.91°W
- Population (2011) Total 16,863
- Density 28,000/km2 (73,000/sq mi)
- Median income $28,855
- ZIP codes: 10456, 10459
- Area code 718, 347, 929, and 917
- [www.morrisania.nyc Website]
Early view of Morrisania from Harlem
Morrisania (/mɒrɪˈseɪniə/ morr-i-SAY-nee-ə) is the historical name for the South Bronx in New York City, New York. The name derives from the Manor of Morrisania, the vast 2,000 acre estate of the powerful and aristocratic Morris family, who at one time owned most of the Bronx as well as much of New Jersey. The family includes Lewis Morris, 4th Lord of the Manor, and a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, and Gouverneur Morris, penman of the United States Constitution. Both are buried in the crypt at St. Ann's Church of Morrisania.
Today the name is most commonly associated with the village of Morrisania, which is only a small corner of the original Morrisania. It is mostly a low income residential neighborhood geographically located in the southwestern Bronx. The neighborhood is part of Bronx Community Board 3. Its boundaries, starting from the north and moving clockwise are: the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the north, Crotona-Prospect Avenue to the east, East 161st Street to the south, and Webster Avenue to the west. Third Avenue is the primary thoroughfare through Morrisania. ZIP codes include 10456 and 10459. The area is patrolled by the NYPD's 42nd Precinct located at 830 Washington Avenue. NYCHA property in the area is patrolled by P.S.A. 7 at 737 Melrose Avenue in the Melrose section of the Bronx.
From 1644 to the early 20th century, the land of the neighborhood was the estate of the Morris family in Westchester County. In 1790, Lewis Morris, owner of the estate and signer of the Declaration of Independence, proposed the land as the site of the federal capital.
Morrisania Town Hall The area was sparsely populated until 1840, when Gouverneur Morris Jr., son of the famous congressional delegate and nephew of Lewis, allowed a railroad to be built across the property. In 1848, he sold the land next to the line for the development of a new town called Morrisania Village. In 1855, additional settlements along the rail line became the town of Morrisania, with its political center in the original 1840 village (which eventually incorporated in 1864). At first the village was an early forerunner of today's bedroom communities, populated by people who worked in Manhattan, but it quickly developed its own local industries and craftsmen as it developed into a full-fledged town. In 1874, the area was annexed to New York City (then consisting only of Manhattan) as part of the Twenty-Third Ward. In 1887, the Third Avenue Elevated was extended to the area to provide easy and quick access to and from Manhattan. By the time the New York City Subway was extended to the area in 1904, a large influx of European immigrants had given the neighborhood an urban character, with tenements replacing houses as the dominant form of dwelling.
In the 1950s along with changing demographics, Robert Moses destroyed various tenements in favor of a colony of public housing. After the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the poverty that East Tremont suffered spread into Morrisania. As a result, and also due to the aggressive 1968 Program for Action, the Third Avenue El closed in 1973. During this time period a wave of arson destroyed or damaged many of the residential, commercial, and industrial structures in the area.
Many social problems associated with poverty, from crime to drug addiction, have plagued the area for some time. Despite crime declines versus their peaks during the crack and heroin epidemics, violent crime continues to be a serious problem in the community. Morrisania has significantly higher drop-out rates and incidents of violence in its schools. Other problems in local schools include low test scores and high truancy rates. Drug addiction is also a serious problem in the community. Due to the lucrative drug trade in the area, many addicts reside in the community. Peer pressure among children who come from broken homes contributes to the high rate of usage. Many households in the area are headed by a single mother, which contributes to the high poverty rate. Single parent homes often have a harder time providing at the same level as two-parent homes. Many of the families living in Morrisania have been in poverty for generations. The incarceration rate in the area is also very high. Morrisania is home to a significant number of inmates currently held in New York state prison and jail facilities.
After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970s, most of the residential structures in Morrisania were left seriously damaged or destroyed. The city began to rehabilitate many formally abandoned tenement style apartment buildings and designate them low income housing beginning in the late 1970s. Also many subsidized attached multi-unit townhouses and newly constructed apartment buildings have been or are being built on vacant lots across the neighborhood.
Today's Morrisania is a low-income neighborhood with a population of around 16,863. The neighborhood predominantly consists of Latin Americans and African Americans. Twenty NYCHA developments are located in Morrisania.
Land use and terrain
Morris High School Historic District Morrisania is dominated by public housing complexes of various types, vacant lots, and tenement buildings. Most of the original housing stock which consisted of older multi-unit homes and tenements were structurally damaged by arson and eventually razed by the city. The total land area is over a square mile. The terrain is somewhat hilly.
Morris High School Historic District The landmarked Morris High School Historic District is north of the Forest Houses. The two square blocks between Boston Road, Forest Avenue, and East 166th Street have Morris High School and adjacent brownstones.
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, mny220944
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
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
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.
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).
- Portions of this article were taken from an earlier one that I wrote for this blog back in 2010.