The Rich History of Hunts Point

By Sandra E. Garcia

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

In the obscurity of the truck shops, car washes, and window repair stores there is a cemetery that lays close to the river in Hunts Point.

Buried in the cemetery is Joseph Rodman Drake, a poet from the 17th century that became very famous in Hunts Point for his eloquent poems about the area. Drake is most popularly known for his verses The American Flag and his book with famed poet Fitz-Green Halleck. Halleck wrote the epitaph on Drake’s tombstone. Drake’s descendant’s continued to reprint his work for over 15 years.

Drake came to Hunts Point via Thomas Hunt, the man whom the neighborhood is named after. Drake died of tuberculosis at 25, and enjoyed a very short-lived fame through his poems. He became the poster boy for the Hunts Point era of the Bronx, and his early death simply raised his popularity, romanticizing him one final time.

The history of Hunts Point is older than most residents can imagine today. When Hunts Point is mentioned many think back to the 70s, the building burnings, prostitutes, the 80s crack epidemic, and the nation’s highest rate of asthma. No one considers the penny factory, or the Locusts house. These places are important in the history of Hunts Point. The names of the streets can give you some insight into the history because most are named after prominent Hunts Point figures.

Halleck Street, for example, is named after Fitz-Green Halleck; Fox Street was named after the Fox family, which was a very prominent family that merged with the Leggett family during the 1850’s. Leggett is also another street in the peninsula. The Bronxites who inhabit the area now just know these streets as places they walk by. Jaimelee Sterling had no clue the streets were named after people.

“I had no idea,” said Sterling. “I imagined they could be other places, or other people, not people that actually used to live in Hunts Point.”

The Bank Note building on Lafayette Street is a Hunts Point area gem. The building was finished in 1909 and was used by the United States to print currency war bonds, stamps, and stock certificates. The building once employed over 2000 people. The older generations in the neighborhood know the building was used to print money but not the extent.

“I know the building was used to print coupons for welfare,” said 58-year-old Elijah Cruz January, who grew up in the neighborhood.

Today the 100-year-old building houses several different businesses and an alternative high school.

The brown brick and slanted positioning on the Lafayette hill of the Bank Note building has become the unofficial emblem of Hunts Point. Most people that drive on the Bruckner recognize it.

“Whenever I see that building I know I am getting close to my sister’s house,” said Carlos Rodriguez, who resides in New Jersey but commutes to Hunts Point weekly.

You can still find remnants of the past in Hunts Point. At the entrance of The Hunts Point Riverside Park, you can see railroad tracks and cobblestones, where the cement has worn away.

The central New York railroad ran through the Bronx. Edward G. Faile was the head of the board, hence, the naming of Faile Street between Garrison and Hunts Point.

If it seems like the people who built the streets of the area were awaiting prominent people to name their streets after, it’s because Hunts Point did not always have paved roads.

Hunts Point has been known as the “skipped” part of the Bronx because of a highway built by Robert Moses, which practically skips Hunts Point and goes directly into Parkchester.

Today you cannot simply take a train to the block on which you live, or drive off the highway straight onto Hunts Point. Usually you must take a bus into the area and then walk some to get to your building.

“I have to take the six train to Hunts Point then the 6 bus to Garrison,” said Francisco Miguel, who recently moved to the area. “I am not used to this, I am used to taking a train and walking a bit, not all the extra travel,” he added.

Today Hunts Point is home to the world’s largest food distribution center. The center distributes food to the tri-state area daily.

Regardless of the perils that have fallen unto the area in present day, Hunts Point is a part of New York City history. The clues are all around the neighborhood. It’s no mystery that Hunts Point was a place for prominent settlers in the past — it’s all in the names of the streets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *