The History Of New York City's Boroughs

Explore the dynamic history of the five boroughs that comprise New York City, including historic landmarks, neighborhoods and bridges.

The splendid history that lies within the five boroughs that comprise New York City is often overshadowed by the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. However, the boroughs include their own splendid landmarks and rich history.

The Borough of Staten Island, which is home to a population of over 380,000 people, was settled in 1661 and became part of New York City in 1898. Fort Wadsworth was the name of the original settlement and it was a military installation for almost 200 years. The massive fortifications which lie near the Verrazano Bridge were built during the Civil War period.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which crosses from Staten Island into Brooklyn, is the longest single suspension bridge in North America at 4,260 feet between the span, and 13,700 feet overall. Because it is so long, planners had to allow for the curvature of the earth.

The Borough of Brooklyn, which is home to a population of 2,300,000 people, is the most populous of the five boroughs. Brooklyn was founded by the Dutch, who originally named the borough Breukelen, or broken land, in 1636. Some of the neighborhoods and historic landmarks in Brooklyn include Bay Ridge, which is populated largely by Italians and Irish. Sunset Park is largely Latin American and Chinese. Bedford-Stuyvesant is home to the largest African-American community in New York, and Williamsburg has the largest population Hasidic Jews. The Greenpoint neighborhood, the furthest north, is home to large Polish, German, Ukranian, and Russian populations.

While Brooklyn is home to some of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City, it also contains some of the most treasured historic sites. Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, is still an active Army base. It was here that Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee served as young officers in the 1830's. The Lief Erikson Parkway, near 67 Street, is named for the Viking navigator who is believed to have reached North America 500 years before Columbus.

Between 5th and 3rd Streets in Brooklyn was the once Washington Park Playground. Beginning in 1854 it was the home of the team later known as the Brooklyn Dodgers.Up on Fourth Avenue lies the borough's tallest building at 514 feet, the 1929 Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower. In the same vicinity is the Brooklyn Academy of Music which was erected in 1908.

The Pulaski Bridge separates Brooklyn rom the next of New York City's boroughs, Queens. The Borough of Queens, which is home to a population of almost 2 million, was once farmland, and at 108 square miles, is the largest of the five boroughs. Queens was named after Catherine of Braganza, wife of England's King Charles II.

The Queensboro Bridge spans the East River and soars over Roosevelt Island. After its completion in 1909, the population of Queens quadrupled. The bridge is also called the 59th Street Bridge, as in a song by Simon and Garfunkel. Near the foot of the Queensboro Bridge is Silvercup Studios, a former bakery that is now one of New York's largest film studios. This areas was a manufacturing area after the Industrial Revolution. It is sometime referred to as Hollywood East.

The borough of Manhattan, which is home to 1.5 million, is what many think of when they think of New York City. Manhattan is the home of the Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Chrysler Building, Central Park, Tavern on the Green, Washington Square, and a plethora of other parks, museums, shops, and restaurants.

The name Manhattan comes from an Algonquin word meaning "island of hills."Some of the neighborhoods that make up Manhattan are the Upper East Side, known as the silk stocking district, which was once farmland with foraging pigs as late as 1853, the year work began on Central Park. Yorkville, in the east 80's, was once a thriving German community. Yorkville was known for its immigrant enclaves. Churches in this area still hold services in German, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and other languages. Harlem has been the center of African-American culture for nearly a century. At 115 Street is the center of the Italian district that once covered a large part of East Harlem. In 1916 it elected Fiorello LaGuardia to Congress. He later became New York's first Italian-American Mayor.

Central Park is a two-and-one-half mile wide oasis. The Central Park Reservoir is surrounded by a running track. The reservoir was named after Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, who often ran there. Tavern on the Green, which lies off of Central Park, was once a building which housed a flock of municipal sheep that kept the park's grass cropped.

The Borough of the Bronx, which is home to 1,200,000, was named for Jonas Bronk, a Scandinavian and one of the area's first settlers in 1639. Other early settlers were Dutch, French, English, and Swedish. Originally the Bronx was part of Westchester County. It became the borough not an island when it joined New York City in 1898. The Bronx has continued to attract immigrants and is now home to large ethnic populations. At 138th Street is St. Jerome's Church Yankee Stadium is also a sight to behold in the Bronx, located to the right on the Bronx side of the Harlem River.

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