While returning from Manhattan to the Bronx this morning on a bicycle I noticed this brickwork from the Third Avenue Bridge.
The JL Mott Iron Works. This area is so steeped in industrial history. The JL stands for Jordan Lawrence Jr.
Jordan’s grandfather Jacob was at one-time acting New York Mayor while his father, the original Jordan Lawrence was an influential industrialist and inventor of many practical things, the coal burning stove amongst them. It was the Father JL who purchased his first plot of land here in 1828 and established his 1841 iron works one block over from here when the railroads finally went through. His foundry was right across Third Avenue from the Bruckner Bar, where 133rd and 134th once met the Harlem River. Leading the machine age into our neighborhood did not make him a popular man at the time.
In those days the south Bronx was farmland; green, pristine, quiet. “The City” was down by the Village. It was bad enough he named this area after himself, “Mott Haven”, but now here he was building a dirty factory and the locals resented it. Still, his expansion from iron fences and gates into the finest quality bathroom products helped him catch on quickly, and soon he was selling bathtubs to the WhiteHouse and iron for the Capitol Building dome. His factory even crafted two much larger than life size cast iron sculptures of pointer dogs to cap La Casa de los Perros (House of the Dogs) a now-famous building in Guadalajara, Mexico, which was quite a distance away back in 1896.
But his greatest influence was right here at home.
As a supplier of essential New York City municipal items like manhole covers, sewer grates and cast iron light posts, JL Sr. made gobs of money and bought up much of the south Bronx, then turned it all over to JL Jr. who expanded his fathers business by building the brick extension by the Bruckner Bar, still standing and emblazoned in brick with his name. (Like father, like son I guess.)
We know he did this about the same time the ClockTower was being built because the buildings are in near identical Richardsonian Romanesque style.
JL Mott IronWorks was so successful they even launched a leather bound product catalog in 1878.
This map from 1885, the year the ClockTower broke ground, shows Mott’s impressive influence. He turned rolling farmland into an urban, industrial street grid in only 40 years with factory’s at every corner, first metal works, saw mills and stone yards, later piano and furniture and ice factories.
The south Bronx would never be farmland again.
Unless you count José’s garden.