In August 2012 I walked a convoluted route from the West 233rd Street station on the #2 elevated northwest, east and northwest again through Woodlawn Heights (or is it Woodlawn? I call the cemetery Woodlawn) southern Yonkers and northern Riverdale, one of the pleasanter walks in town–to a point, which I will explain later. The area figured prominently in the War for Independence, and probably has more immigrant Irish than any other of the city’s Irish enclaves such as Woodside, Queens and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
As far as the Revolutionary connection goes…
On August 31, 1778, 17 Mohican Indians, led by Chief Abraham Nimham and fighting on the side of the patriots, were massacred after their defeat by Colonel John Graves Simcoe and his Queens Rangers, fighting for the Crown. The Indians are commemorated at Indian Field in Van Cortlandt Park on East 233rd Street east of Jerome Avenue. The Mohicans, all from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, had tracked the British through the Bronx but were finally met by an overwhelming force of British and Hessian troops. This battle, on land owned by the Devoe family, was the only one in the Revolutionary War that occurred completely within what would become Van Cortlandt Park. Chief Nimham was commemorated by tiny Nindham Place in Kingsbridge Heights, but that street has since been demapped. The Chief Nimham Memorial, meanwhile, a plaque and a cairn erected by the DAR in 1906, is located on Van Cortlandt Park East at Oneida Avenue.
East 233rd Street, one of the busiest east-west streets in northern Bronx, runs from Jerome Avenue near Indian Field east to Boston (Post) Road at the Hutchinson River. It had been called Eastchester Street and 19th Avenue before this part of the Bronx adopted Manhattan street numbering in 1894.
You can identify older highway signs in NYC if they aren’t green. To reach the GWB from here you would enter the Major Deegan Expressway at Jerome Avenue, south to the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, and then west on the Trans-Manhattan Expressway.
Montefiore Medical Center, East 233rd Street and Bronx Boulevard. One of the Bronx’ premier hospitals, Montefiore is the treatment center for the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. It is headquartered further south in Norwood, and in 2008 acquired this location, formerly Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center. Its namesake, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) , was a financier, banker and philanthropist who made frequent massive donations to aid the Jewish community in Palestine, and all over the world. His father’s family was originally from Leghorn, Italy, hence his Italian surname. He is also remembered in NYC by Montefiore Cemetery in St. Albans, Queens and the massive Montefiore Apartments in Norwood, Bronx.
THE WOODLAWN CEMETERY.
Crossing the Bronx River and its Parkway, you are on the southern edge of Woodlawn Heights and are in view, on your left, of Woodlawn Cemetery, which, along with Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery is the premier garden cemetery in NYC. It was incorporated in 1863 by theologian Rev. Absolom Peters (a short street named Peters Place is off East 233rd) with its first interment in 1865.
A few years ago I shot several scenes in The Woodlawn Cemetery but have yet to use them! I should get cracking. The cemetery is the final home of department store founders James Cash Penney and Roland Hussey Macy, jazzmen Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and many other luminaries.
Fittingly, as we’ll see, Woodlawn is also a village in County Galway, Ireland.
Woodlawn, or Woodlawn Heights, is a parallelogram of territory defined by the Bronx River, Van Cortlandt Park, Woodlawn Cemetery, and the Bronx-Westchester County Line, which forms the northern boundary of VCP but runs across several cross streets here. The neighborhood boasts several colorful street names, such as Kepler, named for the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630); and Vireo, the small woodland bird (many Woodlawn streets once carried birds’ names such as Quail and Sparrow).
The main shopping street, Katonah Avenue, is from a Native American term meaning “great mountain.” Woodlawn Heights and southern Yonkers are located in a hilly region. Apparently, the avenue and the mid-Westchester County town were named independently.
According to the NY Times in 2011, 44% of Woodlawn’s population was of Irish extraction. A look at the businesses along Katonah Avenue will bear this out, with even the deli awning signs bearing an Irish symbol such as a harp or a shamrock. Woodlawn has been Irish since the 1840s, when Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine joined gangs building the Croton Aqueduct from several miles north down to the former reservoir where Bryant Park sits now. Woodlawn’s Irish population is always prominent, but ebbs and flows in association with Ireland’s economic situation: when it was flying high in the 1990s, it decreased here but when it guttered in the 2000s, more Irish arrived.
In Woodlawn, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, and in Yonkers, the Aisling Irish Community Center, see to the needs of recent Irish immigrants. Surprisingly, most Irish expats now travel to Canada, New Zealand or Australia, since their immigration laws are not as arduous as the USA’s.
Pubs, almost all of which display the Irish tricolor in addition to the Stars and Stripes, come thick and fast along Katonah Avenue. The most well-known of them is likely the Rambling House, which has played host to Irish-American City Council president Christine Quinn, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, when they visit the area.
Brendan Behan (1923-1964; shown here with Jackie Gleason) was a poet, writer, novelist, playwright, and Irish Republican Army supporter. He spent time in Hollesley Bay Borstal, Suffolk, England (a youth detention center), inspiring his 1958 autobiography, Borstal Boy. He was fluent in Irish and composed several plays in that language. Unfortunately his alcoholism claimed his life at the young age of 41.
Store signs along Katonah Avenue are interesting. Some appear to be hand-drawn with paint, a T-square and a triangle. Here a pair of beauty shops display vintage looks.
Another hand-drawn sign for Danton Plumbing.
These signs installed along Katonah Avenue seem to set the issue straight, Woodlawn or Woodlawn Heights. The sign uses one of my favorite fonts, generally used in Bibles or prayerbooks, Goudy Text, first drawn by the type world’s pre-eminent designer, Frederic Goudy (1865-1947).
“In 1928, Frederic W. Goudy completed Goudy Text for Lanston Monotype. It is a modification of the blackletter types of Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. With Lombardic capitals that work beautifully with its lowercase letters, Goudy Text is readable to those who are not used to looking at blackletters, and as such can be used to great advantage in short headings and display work.”
A group of older porched homes along Katonah Avenue.
Usually, union headquarters are nondescript affairs, but this is actually a quite handsome one at 4332 Katonah for Local 147 Tunnelworkers. The union has many Irish immigrant workers who are building NYC Water Tunnel #3. Construction began in 1970 and will be finished around 2020.
More Irish businesses, more handmade signs. Mary’s Celtic Kitchen features comfort food like shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, onion rings and burgers. I’m told that shepherd’s pie in the States uses ground beef but lamb in Ireland — hence, the ‘shepherd’ in the name.
And now, something of a mystery. The wonderfully weathered stone church at Katonah and East 241st at present is the Trinity Community Church, but it likely has gone under other guises and names. Unfortunately the church has no immediately obvious cornerstone, and the internet is silent about its origin, and the AIA Guide to NYC does not mention it. If any local has some information, pass it along!
What could be the church’s original bell is displayed inside the front gate. It is inscribed: Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company, Troy, N.Y. A.D. 1892.
ForgottenFan Joe Brennan, in Comments: The Arcadia book “Northwest Bronx” identifies the church at Katonah and 241st as originally the Methodist Episcopal Church of Woodlawn Heights. The book has a photo of the congregation’s previous building and says they moved to a new one at that location in 1913. Later called St Luke’s United Methodist Church.
There’s an unusual space at Katonah Avenue and East 242nd just before the Bronx-Westchester line where the Bx 31, Bx 34 and Bx Manhattan Express #4 buses turn around. Like vampires who cannot cross running water, MTA bus lines don’t enter Westchester County (though the Bee Line in Westchester enters the undefended border with no trouble.)
Here we also find an unusual memorial installed by the Department of Environmental Protection in honor of the tunnelworkers and sandhogs (see above) who lost their lives in the construction of Tunnel #3. There is also a callout to Monsignor Considine of St. Barnabas Church (see below).
At the county line, the confluence of Van Cortlandt Park East and Katonah Avenue becomes Kimball Avenue, a major north-south Yonkers route. The first address on Kimball Avenue is St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
Note the Westinghouse Silverliner OV-25 luminaire on the telephone pole. While the Department of Transportation in NYC has been ruthless in converting nearly all its lamps into the new GE M400, Westchester is more merciful and has left several examples of this very early 1960s light. (I don’t know it they are fitted with mercury or sodium bulbs.)
Yonkers, just over the northwest Bronx line, is the 4th most populous city in NY State, after New York City, Buffalo and Rochester; yes, it is larger than Albany and Syracuse. It’s a very historic town and I mean to explore it more thoroughly some day. To date, all of my Yonkers forays, like the one you’re reading, have been concentrated near the Bronx line.
What is now Yonkers was part of a land grant in the Dutch colonial era purchased in July 1645 by Adriaen van der Donck, a scholar, author and local political leader. He was known by a Dutch term of respect, “Jonkheer,” or “young gentleman.” After the British took over beginning in 1664, they bowdlerized it into the English spelling and pronunciation-friendly “Yonkers.” Over the decades, Yonkers was the place where Elisha Otis built his elevators and Bakelite plasticware was produced. Yonkers was one of NYS’s premier manufacturing towns until the years following WWII.
In recent years, Yonkers has modified it street signage to look almost exactly like the green and white signs with the Highway Gothic font used by NYC (and even newer signs use the upper and lower case Cleartype font, matching NYC’s new signs). There are differences, though, that can be spotted by the trained eye. The white stripes at the top and bottom of the sign are several millimeters wider than the ones found on NYC signs, and the brackets holding them to poles are different.
The all caps Highway Gothic is still the handsomest new street sign, with an authority Cleartype can’t match, in my opinion.
Ned Devine’s, on McLean east of Kimball, has a couple of painted scenes presumably showing life in Ireland. The guy in front, with the pint of Guinness, looks like Norm Crosby.
McLean Avenue is also lined with Irish-associated businesses, especially between the Bronx River and Kimball Avenue. McLean Avenue is the southernmost major east-west street in Yonkers, running from Broadway east to the Bronx River Parkway. As it runs over quite hilly territory, it makes several twists and turns along the way.
A hand-lettered locksmith awning sign and a vintage neon liquor store sign, likely from the 1950s. In NYC there has always been a great many decades-old liquor store signs with classic neon. They get the job done, so there’s no need to replace them.
Carmine’s Hearing Aid Service, McLean and Woodlawn Avenues. This ad is probably not younger than 1955, and like the liquor store sign, it’s still getting the job done.
Despite the overwhelming Irishness, there is also a trace of Italian along McLean Avenue with a few pizzerias plus this pasticceria in the Italian flag colors of white, red and green on its neon sign. I don’t know why the sign says ‘shops’ when there’s one shop.
Another neon sign, Merk Chemists, McLean and Martha Avenues.
There was some byplay between me and the three guys sitting in front of the drugstore:
–Hey, take my picture! (in a dismissive tone)
–Me: I don’t think so.
–Guy has some attitude.
–I’ll take that camera and shove it down his throat.
Another time I was in Yonkers, a guy at a gas station asked me what I was doing when he caught me shooting photos of some Westy Silverliners along Bronx River Road. I mollified him by giving him my Forgotten NY card.
I suspect there would be no mollifying these guys and I didn’t answer back. You never know, they might be Mob. Or cops.
I would, though, like to get to the bottom of why photography is considered so aberrant by so many, from cops on down.
Southern Westchester County, while it gets quite rural the further north you go, is fairly indistinguishable from the northern Bronx here in Yonkers.
These buildings on 242nd Street off Martha Avenue are associated with St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, which is just a block to the west on Kimball Avenue.
Once again, Westchester County and NYC green and white street signs are quite similar in appearance. But one more way you can tell them apart is the presence of an “E.” When a numbered street originating in the Bronx wanders into Yonkers, they drop the E for East, as Yonkers doesn’t make a distinction between east and west numbered streets.
“Barnabas” is a big name in the Bronx. There’s St. Barnabas Hospital on Third Avenue in the Belmont section, and here’s St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church on Martha Avenue and East 241st.
The Parish was established in 1910 and placed under the patronage of St. Barnabas with the Reverend Michael Reilly as the first Pastor. The Parish included what is known as the Woodlawn section of the Bronx and McLean Heights/Yonkers entity, the Church and Rectory were erected on the actual line separating the two cities.
Under Monsignor Reilly’s leadership, a church of Roman architecture was completed by 1911. Before his death in 1947, he had built a Rectory and an Elementary School as well as a High School. He was truly a Founding Father. The Church in New York owes a debt of gratitude to his vision. St. Barnabas was to become one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese. St. Barnabas
Msgr. John Considine served the parish between 1965 and 1986.
McKeon’s Pub, which takes pains to mention it’s “Irish and American” and illustrated the point with a pair of flags — as do nearly all the pubs on Katonah and McLean Avenues. Even though Woodlawn is in a different city than Yonkers, they may as well be the same neighborhood though they are totally different politically.
As I walked nearly the whole length of McLean Avenue this trip, I noticed a couple of vintage guy-wire stoplights. Like the neon and awning signs, they still get the job done, so why replace them? Sometime it seems NYC replaces its street fixtures for the sake of standardization, which seems to me to be a waste of money.
Gen. Joseph Stilwell Memorial Park, McLean and 240th Streets. The plaque, worn to almost the point of illegibility, was placed before the park was named for the general. It reads:
In commemoration of those who faithfully served their country in time of war. Dedicated by the presidents of McLean Heights and Wakefield Park, Yonkers, NY, May 30, 1932.
Bottom: To those who live beyond their hearts offer tribute as our memories of their sacrifices glow ever vivid with esteem and love. Humanity will remember the heroes who fought for liberty and justice.
Committee: Mothers Club, School No. 11
Avalanche Hose Co. No. 7
Wakefield Taxpayers Ass’n
Ben Arkinson Ass’n & Ladies’ Auxiliary
General Joseph Warren Stilwell (March 19, 1883 – October 12, 1946) was a United States Army four-star General known for service in the China-Burma-India Theater. His caustic personality was reflected in the nickname “Vinegar Joe”. Although distrustful of his allies Stilwell showed himself to be a capable and daring tactician in the field but a lack of resources meant he was forced continually to improvise. He famously differed as to strategy, ground troops versus air power, with his subordinate, Claire Chennault, who had the ear of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. George Marshall acknowledged he had given Stilwell “one of the most difficult” assignments of any theater commander. wikipedia
As a youth, Gen. Stilwell resided in Yonkers and graduated from Yonkers High School.
This is the one and only Bronx street sign that bears the name McLean Avenue. If you look at a map, between Vireo and Webster Avenues, the Yonkers-Bronx line appears to run down the center of McLean Avenue.
NYC, however, determines this piece of McLean Avenue to be a part of East 240th Street, so officially, McLean Avenue does not appear in NYC street directories. Seems rather petty to me to leave out McLean Avenue.
Crossroads. In the foreground is East 240th/McLean Avenue; directly ahead is Nereid Avenue; on the left is Bronx River Road; and on the right is Webster Avenue. One intersection, 5 street names! That’s Bronx and Westchester politics for you.
The Rivers Edge pub is a few feet away from the Bronx River which, believe it or not, is the only true river within the 5 boroughs. The Hutchinson River is considered a creek, and the Hudson is divided between NY and New Jersey. The East River is a strait between Upper New York Bay and Long Island Sound.