Looking Back: The History of Riverdale


Manhattan College students know Riverdale as their home away from home. Students enjoy grabbing pizza at Broadway Joe’s in between classes, blowing off steam in Van Cortlandt Park and toasting to the weekend at An Beal Bocht Cafe. These locations are staples for Jaspers, but it wasn’t always this way.

Riverdale was originally farmland until the 1840’s, when the hustle and bustle of the city became too overwhelming and affluent New Yorkers moved to the rolling hills to build estates.

An outbreak of cholera in lower Manhattan also served as incentive for families to flee the borough. In 1853, the construction of a bridge over Spuyten Duyvil Creek for the Hudson River Railroad also contributed to the migration of wealthy New Yorkers to the suburbs.

As reported by the New York Times, history professor at Columbia University explains these migrations as the “suburban ideal,” as the setting served as compromise for those seeking the benefits of rural and urban life. Those new Riverdale residents relied on public transportation for their commutes into Manhattan.

As Riverdale developed, adding houses and businesses for its growing population, Van Cortlandt Park remained untouched by the developments of its surrounding. After the glaciers that covered New York City melted 20,000 years ago, the Lenape hunted and farmed on the land that Riverdale elementary schools use for soccer practice. Today, it’s the third largest park in New York City, with 1,146 acres. Inside the park, “The Rock” is a popular lookout spot, where students can survey the former Van Cortlandt estate that was sold to the City of New York in 1888.

Before becoming a museum, the oldest home in the Bronx housed George Washington and the city’s records during the Revolutionary War.

Manhattan College didn’t find its way to the Bronx until 1922, when the campus needed more space than 131st and Broadway could provide. Since the move, Manhattan College acquired existing buildings and new property, increasing the residential population of the college as it grew to be more established.

One of the acquired properties is Gaelic Park, which originally served as the Irish-American community’s field for hurling and Gaelic football before being purchased by the college in 1991.

Since then, Gaelic Park has been the home field for Jaspers as well as a destination for concerts and other cultural events throughout the year. Leo Hall is another acquired and renovated building, which originally housed Fanny Farmer Candy Shops Inc. Factory, but was renovated in 1964. Dormitories such as Lee and Horan used to be private residences that now house hundreds of Jaspers.

Today, Riverdale is the last stop on the beloved 1 train. It’s seen many changes throughout the years, but it’s authenticity remains the same. Having one of the highest median residence values in New York City, the neighborhood is sought after for it’s low crime rate, well-rated education system and excellent businesses.

The neighborhood offers a great view of the Hudson River, as well as the New Jersey Palisades.

Although the Bronx and Riverdale are home to a diverse group of people, the spirit of the community brings many together.

In “The One and Nine,” a song by Irish-American band Shilelagh Law, puts into words how wonderful life is in the Bronx. The song serves as an anthem for many Manhattan College students and sports teams. These lyrics hit home:

“Bronx bound uptown, that’s my line. Don’t look like much, but it’s all mine. The end of the road is all I know, 242nd street, I’m almost home.”

One thought on “Looking Back: The History of Riverdale

  1. Was it Dennis Day our old alum who sang the old Jasper Song
    “Give my regards to Broadway and remember me to the Jaspers there tell all the gang on 242nd Street etc.

Comments are closed.