Morrisania, The Bronx (History)

(Neighborhoods In The Bronx)

morrisaniaMorrisania is a neighborhood in the southwestern section of the Bronx. Starting north and moving clockwise, the boundaries of Morrisania are: the Cross Bronx Expressway, Crotona Park North, Southern Boulevard, Westchester Avenue, 161st Street, Brook Avenue, and Webster Avenue.

Most of the eastern half of the area now known as the Bronx was bought in 1654 by Thomas Pell of Connecticut, who invited sixteen families to form the village of Westchester (Westchester County). From 1670, the land of Morrisania was the estate of the Morris family in Westchester County.

During English rule most inhabitants were English, of English descent, or Dutch. Anglicanism was the religion sanctioned by colonial law, but Presbyterians, Quakers, and members of the Dutch Reformed church were in the majority. The first blacks, slaves from the West Indies, soon made up 10 to 15 percent of the population. Indians left the area soon after 1700. At this time the Bronx was composed of two towns and all or part of four huge manors: the town of Westchester; the town of Eastchester; the manor of Pelham, owned by the Pell family; the manor of the Morris family, Morrisania; the manor of Fordham, settled in 1671 by John Archer; and the manor of Philipsburgh, owned by the Philipse family.

Lewis Morris was the owner of the Morrisania estate (in addition to being a signer of the Declaration of Independence). In 1790, he proposed the land as the site of the federal capital.

During the 1830’s, Rural stations eventually became the centers of new villages such as Melrose, Tremont, and Riverdale. As the Harlem Railroad was extended, the center of population shifted west from the area east of the Bronx River, and the towns of West Farms. Around this time Morrisania was sparsely populated. In 1840, Gouverneur Morris Jr. – grandson of Lewis Morris – allowed a railroad to be built across the property. Then in 1848, Gouverneur Morris Jr. sold the land next to the line for the development of a new town called Morrisania Village. Morrisania was established in 1855, as more people settled along the rail line.

In 1874, the western portion of the present Bronx County, consisting of the then towns of Kingsbridge, West Farms, and Morrisania, was transferred to New York County, and in 1895 the remainder of the present Bronx County, consisting of the Town of Westchester and portions of the towns of Eastchester and Pelham, was transferred to New York County.

During 1887, the 3rd Avenue elevated line was extended to provide easy and quick access to and from Manhattan. By the time the subway was extended to the area in 1904, a large influx of immigrants had given the neighborhood an urban character, with tenements replacing houses as the dominant form of dwelling.

In 1904 the first subway connecting the Bronx to Manhattan was built under 149th Street, providing cheap rapid transit that with the 3rd Avenue elevated line persuaded hundreds of thousands during the first third of the twentieth century to leave tenements in Manhattan for spacious new apartments in the Bronx.

In the past, the area of Morrisania was referred to as the South Bronx. During the 70’s the area was a symbol of urban decay. However, the community has largely cleaned up in recent years due to a tougher crack-down on crime and more public housing units and suburban type homes being built.

Former New York mayor Ed Koch was raised in Morrisania, and Colon Powell attended Morris High School.