We missed our city while we’ve been sheltering at home: we missed all the different neighborhoods, cuisines, languages and histories of the five boroughs. We’re starting to peek out the door a bit, we still can’t experience our city in full. So we’re going to take our followers on a tour of 10 NYC neighborhoods where we’ve built. We’ll feature our projects, the history and culture of the neighborhood, and some fun facts along the way.
Now we’re headed up to the charming neighborhood of Williamsbridge in the Bronx.
Any trip to Williamsbridge, or anywhere in the North Bronx for that matter, will have you crossing Gun Hill Road. So what’s up with this name? The answer goes all the way back to the American Revolution! The thoroughfare we know today as Gun Hill Road was once named Kingsbridge Road, was an important artery over which the British and the colonists fought. Kingsbridge Road was part of the Boston Post Road, a system of mail-delivery routes between New York City and Boston, and became one of the first highways in the country!
In January of 1777, colonists dragged a cannon to the top of a hill (in today’s Woodlawn Cemetery) and fired down at the British. The hill became known as Gun Hill and in 1875 Kingsbridge Road was renamed Gun Hill Road in honor of the colonists.
The story behind the name Williamsbridge itself is disputed. Some think the area is named for John Williams, an 18th century farmer credited with building the first bridge over the Bronx River… or maybe he just had a farm close to the bridge. Either way, the area near the bridge was called Williamsbridge, and the name stuck. The northern Bronx was fertile land where farmers, immigrants from Holland, Sweden and later Ireland and other countries, could grow fruits and vegetables and raise livestock for sale in the city.
Migrants and immigrants have always found a home in the Bronx, and in Williamsbridge. Like many of the neighborhoods in which Habitat has worked, Williamsbridge was formerly a heavily Eastern-European Jewish and Italian neighborhood, but became majority Black and Caribbean in the middle of the 20th century.
The area remained fairly rural until the 1840’s, when the railroad began to inspire construction, which really ramped up in the 1920’s, with the IRT (now the @MTA) brought the subway to the area. After the Second World War, the northern Bronx quickly urbanized. Today, Williamsbridge boasts a diversity of residential buildings – semi-detached homes, multi-family co-ops, NYCHA developments and more.
One of those NYCHA developments is the Parkside Senior Center, where we hosted volunteers through our BWK program! The Parkside Center helps Williamsbridge elders keep active and engaged with dance, Zumba & aerobics classes, meditation, group discussions, sewing classes, computer & social media training, healthy meals, coffee talks, ice cream socials & birthday parties, gardening and more!
Multiple co-op buildings also dot the neighborhood, including a new one, which we hope will welcome 56 hard-working families by the end of the year – our project, Sydney House. It’s a gorgeous building, if we do say so ourselves (thanks to our contractors, Mega)! Not only that, but it is the first project under Mayor DeBlasio’s Open Door affordable homeownership program!
Don’t take our word for it! Check out this awesome time-lapse video of construction!
Sydney House is one of our most exciting projects! The building, a joint venture with Habitat NYC and Almat Group, is the largest Habitat project under one roof, anywhere in the world! Homeowners will enjoy bicycle storage, a green roof and more. We broke ground on the project in March of 2018 with a local star-studded ceremony – guests Assemblymember Carl Heastie, Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz Jr., State Senator Jamaal Bailey, Councilmember Andy King, and representatives from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Chase and more joined us on that snowy day!
The families who call Sydney House home will already have some amazing neighbors – the Surrey Co-ops, just across Tilden Street, are tremendous Habitat NYC supporters! They even loaned us their basement to stay warm during the groundbreaking. We are so excited to be your neighbors.
Not that we are biased, but you know how we all love food and drinks (responsibly, of course) here at Habitat NYC… so we’re also pretty excited to be neighbors to the Gun Hill Brewery, just a 10 minute walk from Sydney House! The folks at Gun Hill love history too! You don’t want to miss your shot at trying the Rise Up Rye, inspired by Hamilton Musical.
Another local landmark is the recently-renovated Agnes Haywood playground. The playground is named for local advocate Agnes Haywood, who, among other achievements, helped to organize the Williamsbridge Chapter of the NAACP. A small earthquake shook the Northeast the morning of the playground’s dedication in 1985, Haywood’s friends and family remarked that it was Haywood waking them up to make sure they attended the event.
Habitat NYC has amazing supporters in the Bronx, and we are so thankful for their support. Folks like Rev. Que English of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church. Not only is Rev. Que a champion of housing, but she is a fierce advocate for victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence. We are proud to have her in the Habitat family!
Williamsbridge is a beautiful community, and we are so excited to be the new neighbors in this neighborhood!