Bronx History and Facts: A Beginner’s Guide to NYC’s Best Borough

It’s been a while since we wrote about our borough’s rich history and fun facts so we figured we’d close out October with some fun tidbits of information on The Bronx.

The first thing you need to know, especially if you’re not from The Bronx is that we are, in fact, the best of the five boroughs of New York City. This isn’t an opinion but a historical fact.

Ok, so MAYBE it’s more of an opinion but allow us to show you why it’s more than a simple opinion.

So where do we begin?

Beautiful art deco on the Grand Concourse

For starters, we are the ONLY borough with the article “The” in its name as in The Bronx.

According to Bronx County historian Lloyd Ultan, “The” stuck as part of the name when the borough was named after the Bronx River which runs right through it (which was named after the first European settler in our borough, Jonas Broncks).

The Bronx River runs past the Snuff Mill in the Botanical Gardens

Just remember to put some respect on our name and ALWAYS capitalize that ‘T’ because it’s The Bronx and not the Bronx.

Now we can talk about the fact that we have beautiful City Island, one of New York City’s most unique communities that seems more like New England than NYC with its dozens of excellent seafood restaurants or we can talk about how New York City’s REAL Little Italy is, in fact, not on Mulberry Street in Manhattan but on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx.

Or we can talk about how our greatest resource is our people.

Did you know that The Bronx was declared the most diverse county in America? According to the Census Bureau, if you take two random Bronxites, there’s an 89.7% chance that they will be of a different race and ethnicity. Sorry Queens.

Mexican folkloric dancing during a block party

Speaking of diversity, The Bronx is still home to the largest population of ethnic Albanians outside of Albania. It’s also home to the largest Garifuna population and it’s still home to the largest Puerto Rican population in the country of any county.

We are also home to one of the largest African populations in the country and even the Mexican population is one of NYC’s largest if not the largest. In fact, the first cultural center for Mexican studies East of the Mississippi was established right here in The Bronx at Lehman College.

Other groups that call The Bronx home in large numbers are Dominicans, Bangladeshi, Italians, and we’re still home to the largest Puerto Rican population of any county in America.

Let’s not forget the Irish of which Woodlawn is considered to be the Irish capital and center of life in New York City.

Puerto Rican Bomba dancing at Rincón Criollo ala Casa de Chema Community Garden

At one point The Bronx was the most Jewish borough of New York City during the first half of the 20th century with up to 57% of the borough identifying as such and the majority were centered in and around the South Bronx.

No other borough has ever reached anywhere near that percentage to this day.

All of this diversity of people living together has led to The Bronx simply being one of the most beautiful places in the world when it comes to all types of people living side by side.

It’s no wonder that’s why Hip Hop and Salsa were born in The Bronx with all these influences constantly bombarding us.

Even the borough itself is as diverse as its people from the packed urban streets of the South Bronx to suburban Throggs Neck, Country Club and nautical City Island to the quietness of the estates of Fieldston, some of the largest such properties in New York City.

Salsa dancing at “El Polvorín” in Port Morris

It’s not just the only borough on the mainland continental United States but it’s the GREENEST borough with the highest percentage of its land as dedicated parkland and home of the largest park in New York City and the third largest park, Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt respectively.

If you know, you know…

We are a borough of artists and creators like the Piccirilli Brothers who carved the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in DC as well as the lions Patience and Fortitude at the New York Public Library’s main branch on 5th Avenue.

Did you know that the frame for the capital dome in DC was made right here in The Bronx in Mott Haven?

You’ll also find New York City’s only freshwater river, The Bronx River where on its banks in the New York Botanical Garden you’ll find the largest track of the original forest that covered the city before the colonizers invaded.

An old Jewish synagogue in the Grand Concourse is a Christian church.

This is where you’ll find the Grand Concourse, one of the most famous streets in Bronx and city which is home to one of the largest collections of art deco buildings in the world.

We are the home of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, names revered in the fashion world across the globe.

We are the place where Stan Lee was raised and eventually began the greatest super hero franchise of all time and where even Batman was born.

This is where Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was born and raised molding her into one of the greatest legal minds of our nation.

Parkchester, the world’s largest condo development and once a restricted white-only community is now a thriving multicultural home of people from all corners of the world.

Where one of the most famous astrophysicists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, was raised first in Castle Hill before moving to Riverdale (and yes it’s still The Bronx even if they don’t write it on their mail).

Cultural icons like Cardi B and J Lo lived here in the Boogie Down Bronx, names and faces known around the world.

This is where AOC, perhaps the most popular elected official in congress in history that we don’t need to remind you of her full name, was born and eventually came back as a young adult and took down one of the biggest political bosses in New York City.

Beautiful Van Cortlandt Park, NYC’s third largest park.

Who knows? She might just be the first Latina president in America.

The Bronx is the borough that is known for having burned; the poorest borough, and the unhealthiest county of New York State and while those are are harsh realities, it doesn’t define us nor is it our end all and be all.

Bronx Victory Memorial at Pelham Bay Park

We are a borough of dreams and hopes where people face some of the toughest odds in the city and perhaps the nation but yet we somehow manage to survive and excel like no other when we excel.

Survival is written in our DNA and we too, shall get through this pandemic and subsequent economic crisis.

So whenever anyone wants to talk bad about The Bronx, remind them of who we really are, what we did from nothing except our minds, ingenuity, and drive.

Stay strong and proud, my Bronx!

This is why we will always defend The Bronx against gentrification and those who want to erase our wonderful history good or bad.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.