Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Marble Hill, Mahattan

Tucked away in a corner of The Bronx is an area called Marble Hill, an area that is technically part of Manhattan. The story starts in 1895 when the Harlem River Shipping Canal was dug, separating Marble Hill from the rest of Manhattan, and creating an island. In 1914, the old Harlem River bed was filled, attaching Marble Hill to The Bronx. Landfill has changed many areas of New York but this creation of dual affiliation is unique.

In 1939, during the consolidation negotiations that set the borough boundaries, the Bronx borough president planted the Bronx flag in this area, claiming Marble Hill as part of the Bronx. The fifty residents protested and in 1984, forty years later, the New York State Legislature officially declared Marble Hill as part of Manhattan. Politically, it is part of the Manhattan, voting with Manhattan, but the US Postal Service lists the area as part of the Bronx. The telephone company takes a middle of the road approach, giving the area a Bronx area code but listing the residences in both the Manhattan and Bronx directories.

Marble Hill gets its name from dolomite marble which was quarried here as early as the 1600's and was used in building federal buildings in lower Manhattan such as the Bank of United States, the Merchants Exchange, and the Assay Office, whose marble pediment is on display at the Metropolitan Museum. Unfortunately this marble weathered badly and buildings built with it seemed to melt away. By 1840 quarry operations ceased and the quarry is now hidden under the Harlem River. The name Marble Hill was coined in 1891 as part of the real estate development plan.

In keeping with the inclusive mood generated by the dual location, there are quirky and oddly beautiful homes, a cedar shingled church that was established in 1825, a curving street tracing the foot print of the now gone fort built by General Washington, Target and Marshall's mega stores, a strip mall, and an Applebee. Putting it all together, we might wonder, "Am I really in Manhattan?"

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