Yonkers, NY and Its Fascinating History
New York state is rich with history, being one of the oldest of the original states and colonies at the beginning of the United States. Yonkers, NY, situated just north of the Bronx and Manhattan, follows this tradition of having a fascinating history and interesting beginnings. This city is currently the fourth most populous city in New York state, and its background is a popular story among locals.
A Land Grant
The city was originally a significant portion of a 24,000-acre land grant named Colen Donck, purchased in 1645 by North America’s first lawyer, Adriaen van der Donck.
In fact, the city’s name is directly derived from van der Donck’s nickname. People referred to him as “jonkheer” or “jonker”, which is the combination of the Dutch word “jong” (meaning young) and “heer” (meaning man)—so, his nickname was essentially “Esquire” or literally “young gentleman”, and with the Dutch pronunciation, “Yonkers” was born.
The young lawyer built a saw mill on the then-called Nepperhan Creek, which is now known as Saw Mill River. The saw mill significantly influenced the fledgling settlement. However, van der Donck was eventually killed in the Peach War, ten years after purchasing the land grant. His wife was also captured for ransom after his death in the brutal attack.
The Dutchman Loyalist in Yonkers, NY
Near to the sawmill, a grand estate stands called the Philipse Manor House. In 1682, a wealthy young Dutchman named Frederick Philipse and his wife Mary Hardenbroeck built the manor, which was later enlarged. By the time of Frederick’s death, he had amassed a fortune and holding large enough that it encompassed the entire modern city of Yonkers and a few other Hudson settlements as well.
However, Frederick Philipse III, the great grandson of Frederick and Mary, was a staunch Loyalist to the English crown. When the American Revolutionary War began, he was forced to flee to England, and his lands were seized by the government and sold.
Industry and Agriculture
Throughout the 19th century, Yonkers, New York, was a hotbed of agriculture with an active industrial waterfront along the rivers. As time went on, the small city began to depend more and more upon its burgeoning industry. In fact, in 1853, Elisha Otis invented the world’s first safety elevator and established the world’s first elevator factory on the banks of the Hudson in Yonkers.
Around the same time, the carpet company Alexander Smith and Sons expanded to 45 buildings and became a major money-maker in the new city.
The city was incorporated into the “town” of Yonkers in 1854 and a city in 1852. The southern part of the town was eventually annexed into a suburb of the massive New York City, and renamed the Bronx. The city was also, at one point, up for annexation of NYC as well, but the response was so negative that they remained an independent city. However, many still refer to Yonkers as the Sixth Borough.
The Present Yonkers
Although it suffered racial tensions in the recent past, today Yonkers is incredibly diverse. Its population includes a large Arab community as well as a recent influx of Orthodox Jewish people. There are also significant African American and Hispanic communities, specifically Dominican and Puerto Rican. Despite being an independent city, Yonkers maintains a close relationship with the massive NYC.
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