Wednesday, August 19, 2015

267 years and counting

ClockTowerTenants take pride in the historic aspect of our SoBro heritage.

But the ClockTower is not the oldest in the Bronx. 
Not by a long shot.

That distinction belongs to the Van Cortland House, the Bronx’s oldest surviving building, not far from the end of the 1 train line.

Oloff Stevense Van Cortlandt was a Dutch merchant. 

His son Jacobus began to assemble Bronx land in 1691, 
and his son Frederick inherited that land and commissioned the house in 1748.

c1844 oil painting by George Harvey

It would have been plastered back then, but today it reveals its combination of brick detailing (expensive) and Bronx fieldstone, dug and cleared from the farmland (free with labor).

It’s built in the Georgian Style, referring to the British monarchs, but it also incorporated idiosyncratic European detail like faces carved in stone, probably to ward off evil.

The Van Cortland family lived here for 140 years until 1886, the year our ClockTower was built, when it was sold to the city for public parkland.

Through the Revolutionary War it was used as shelter by Rochambeau, Lafayette, and even George Washington, himself, but later is was a police precinct and a bunk house for cowboys herding buffalo on the land.

It wasn’t until 1966-67 that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a National Historic and NYC Landmark.

The interior is landmarked, too, and we’ll take a tour in the weeks ahead.


For now, know we have the third largest park in NYC after Pelham Bay and Staten Island, 300 acres larger than Central Park.

This beautiful “oldest building in the Bronx” is often used for movie exteriors, most recently for Boardwalk Empire.

Folks walk by every day and may not even notice.

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