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Updated by Ruth Papazian on May 18, 2014
Headline for 12 Of The Most Important Things Ever To Have Happened In The Bronx
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12 Of The Most Important Things Ever To Have Happened In The Bronx

These pivotal events occurred over the past 400 years in the area we now call The Bronx—and several of them changed the course of history.

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1609: Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Company, sailed up the Hudson River in his ship, the Half Moon.

After two unsuccessful voyages to find an ice-free passage to China via the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, English explorer and navigator Henry Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company to give it another go. Though the third time was not the charm, Hudson became the first European to see the shoreline of what was to be known as The Bronx nearly nine decades later. While exploring the river, Hudson traded with several native groups. The furs he brought back to The Netherlands spurred the Dutch to colonize the region, which they called New Netherland.

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1639: Swedish sea captain Jonas Bronck established the first European settlement in the part of the New Netherland colony that is now known as The Bronx.

Jonas Bronck purchased 500 acres of land from the Siwanoy and other local tribes between the Harlem River and the Aquahung River, which bordered the farmstead he established—referred to as “Bronck's Land,” by local Dutch and English settlers. Eventually the Aquahung River became known as the “Bronck's River,” then the “Bronx River.” Fun fact: The Bronx River, which flows south from Westchester County through the borough, is the only river in New York City that is freshwater its entire length.

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1776: The Battle of Pell’s Point—which could have been the beginning of the end for the Continental Army— was fought on City Island.

Under the command of Lt.-Gen. William Howe, the British army landed at Pell’s Point the morning of October 18, 1776, and were met by Col. John Glover and his brigade of Massachusetts Continentals. Outnumbered, Glover executed a series of strategic retreats that slowed the advance of the British long enough for Gen. George Washington to move his troops to White Plains before the enemy crossed the Bronx River. When the British reached White Plains the Continental Army was ready for them and eventually fought them to a stand-off.

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1827: On July 4th, New York abolished slavery.

In 1670, Richard Morris brought the first black slaves from Barbados to work on his farm in what is now the Morrisania section of The Bronx (Morris Park is named after a different Morris family). In 1785, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and other prominent New Yorkers formed the New York Manumission Society, to lobby the state legislature to pass an abolition law, and to persuade slave owners to voluntarily manumit (free) their slaves. Laws passed in 1799 and 1817 gradually phased in the end of slavery in the state, starting with the future children of slaves, but many slave-owners had already freed their slaves before the timetable established by the legislation. By July 4, 1827—Jubilation Day—most of the slaves in New York had already been freed.

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1841: Fordham University was founded as St. John's College in 1841 by Archbishop John Hughes.

St. John's College was the first institution of higher education in The Bronx, and the first such Catholic institution in the northeast. Among the first presidents of the college was the Rev. James Roosevelt Bayley, a distant cousin of Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt and a nephew of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The College’s name was officially changed to Fordham University in 1907 after its law and medical schools were established. The new name was a nod to what was then the village of Fordham in Westchester County—later the Fordham neighborhood of The Bronx—which was the location of the original Rose Hill campus. Fun fact: “Fordham” is a portmanteau of “ford” and “hamlet” and refers to a spot in the village near a shallow crossing of the Bronx River. ("ford by the hamlet").

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1846: Author Edgar Allan Poe moved to the village of Fordham in the vain attempt to cure his wife, Virginia Clemm, of tuberculosis and spent the last three years of his life there.

Poe Cottage, a small wooden farmhouse built around 1812, was originally located on Kingsbridge Road in the vicinity of St. John's College. Some Poe scholars speculate that his poem, “The Bells” was inspired by the college's church bells. Bronx Historian Lloyd Ultan also believes that Poe also described a nearby gorge through which the Bronx River ran in his story, “Domain of Arnheim.”Poe also wrote the poems “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume” while living in Fordham.

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1886: The Third Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River was built, and the Third Avenue El (Elevated Train) was extended into The Bronx.

Twenty years before the first subway, Manhattan had four rapid transit lines running on elevated tracks. After the Third Avenue El was extended into the Southern Bronx, the line’s northward extension continued until it reached 177th Street by 1891 and Fordham Road in 1901. The El—and later the subway system—enabled Manhattanites to leave overcrowded, decaying neighborhoods for the fresh air and wide open spaces of the still bucolic Bronx. The population of The Bronx—which was still part of Westchester County—grew from roughly 52,000 in 1880 to 89,000 just a decade later. El service increased land value in The Bronx, shifting construction of new housing from private single family homes to multi-family apartment buildings.

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1891: The New York Botanical Garden was established.

The City of New York purchased the Lorillard Estate, which had been owned by the tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard, and some land belonging to St. John's College for the creation of botanical garden and zoological park. Landscape architect Calvert Vaux, who worked with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park, planned out the NYBG with Olmsted’s sons John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The New York Botanical Garden, located on Southern Boulevard, is national landmark botanical garden.

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1898: The Bronx became a borough of New York City.

The towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and Kingsbridge—which were all west of the Bronx River—were annexed to New York City in 1874. Till then, New York City ended at the water’s edge in Manhattan. In 1895, the borders of New York City crossed the Bronx River when the towns of Westchester, Wakefield, and parts of Eastchester and Pelham were also annexed. (City Island voted to join the city the following year.) The consolidated City of New York, which included The Bronx as one of its five boroughs, emerged two years later.

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1899: The New York Zoological Park opened to the public featuring 843 animals in 22 exhibits.

The New York Zoological Society was chartered in 1895 to establish a wildlife preserve in New York City—and has become the largest metropolitan wildlife preserve in the U.S. Its first director, William Hornaday—formerly the Smithsonian Institution's chief taxidermist—and Theodore Roosevelt were instrumental in creating the American Bison Society at the zoo in 1905. New York-based architectural firm Heins & LaFarge designed the original buildings comprising Astor Court at the zoo. The firm also designed the original plans for the cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. Noted sculptor Paul Manship created the bronze Art Deco-style Rainey Memorial Gates at the main entrance to the zoo, which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

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1905: The IRT subway from Manhattan is extended to The Bronx beneath 149th Street.

The El could provide only local service, but the Interborough Rapid Transit subway introduced express service, which enabled people to commute long distances from jobs in lower Manhattan to relatively uninhabited residential areas in upper Manhattan and the Outer Boroughs. IRT service expanded to the Bronx in 1905 via the White Plains Road Line, which operated between 149th Street and 180th Street-Bronx Park. In 1908 the IRT Broadway/Seventh Avenue Line extended through the West Bronx all the way to Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street. Later that year, subway service between Manhattan and Brooklyn was established, and in 1915 Queens was also connected to Manhattan via the IRT.

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1923: Yankee Stadium opens, and that year the Yankees win the first of 27 World Series Championships—five of them in a row from 1949 to 1953.

The Yankees, one of the American League's eight charter franchises, was actually founded in Baltimore in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. The team moved to New York City in 1903 as the New York Highlanders—and played in Hilltop Park, a stadium located in the northern reaches of Manhattan. The team officially became known as the "Yankees" in 1913 and moved to The Bronx 10 years later. During the original stadium’s inaugural game, the venue became known as "The House That Ruth Built" after Babe Ruth hit a home run. But many other Yankee greats also achieved baseball immortality: Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. During the 18 years between 1947 and 1964, the Yankees reached the World Series 15 times, and won the championship five years in a row from 1949 to 1953; four years in a row from 1936 to 1939; and three years in a row from 1998 to 2000. In all, the Yankees played in 40 of 109 Series and won 27 of them.