By the time of annexation, lower Westchester contained the communities from which the Bronx would grow. In the town of Morrisania, the core villages of Mott Haven, Melrose, and Morrisania would expand into larger neighborhoods. But in 1865, they were the ideal place for “the erection of small dwellings in the suburbs, where each family could have a house to itself, and thus realize something of the comforts and decencies of home.” The town of West Farms, meanwhile, “had the appearance of an unimproved farming district” but would later provide the vacant land for the future neighborhoods of Hunts Point-Crotona Park East. With neither villages nor neighborhoods, the Hunts Point-West Farms tract was a far cry from the “socially depressed and physically blighted” South Bronx of the 1960s and 1970s or even the resurgent area of the late 1990s.1
Only seven miles from City Hall, Mott Haven is the southern tip of the Bronx, bounded on the north by 149th Street and on the south by the Harlem and East rivers. Currently part of Community District 1, Mott Haven has had suburban villas and run-down tenements, elegant townhouses and modest cottages, and businesses of all kinds. It has been the home of notable New Yorkers from Gouverneur Morris, member of the federal Constitutional Convention, American Minister to France, and member of the 1807 New York Commission, to Dutch Schultz, boodegger and gangster of the 1920s and '30s.2 Throughout, Mott Haven has sheltered different waves of native-born and immigrant Americans, sometimes providing a refuge from the city's ills and sometimes contributing to them.
Mott Haven grew from four suburban subdivisions that developed after commuter rail service began in the 1840s (see map 2.1). These became part