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Morrisania (// morr-ə-SAY-nee-ə) is the historical name for the South Bronx in New York City, New York. The name derives from the powerful and aristocratic Morris family, who at one time owned all of the Manor of Morrisania as well as much of New Jersey. The family includes Lewis Morris, 4th Lord of the Manor, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Gouverneur Morris, penman of the Constitution. They are buried in the crypt at St. Ann's Church of Morrisania.
Today the name is most commonly associated with the village of Morrisania, which is only a small corner of the original Morrisania. It is mostly a low income residential neighborhood geographically located in the southwestern Bronx, New York City. The neighborhood is part of Bronx Community Board 3. Its boundaries, starting from the north and moving clockwise are: the Cross-Bronx Expressway to the north, Crotona-Prospect Avenue to the east, East 161st Street to the south, and Webster Avenue to the west. Third Avenue is the primary thoroughfare through Morrisania. ZIP codes include 10456, 10457, and 10459. The area is patrolled by the 42nd Precinct located at 830 Washington Avenue. NYCHA property in the area is patrolled by P.S.A. 7 at 737 Melrose Avenue in the Melrose section of the Bronx.
Morrisania has a population over 35,000. The majority of residents in the area are of African American, Puerto Rican, and a small but growing Dominican population. The vast majority of households are in public housing.
Morrisania is dominated by public housing complexes of various types, vacant lots, and tenement buildings. Most of the original housing stock which consisted of older multi-unit homes and tenements were structurally damaged by arson and eventually razed by the city. The total land area is over a square mile. The terrain is somewhat hilly.
The landmarked Morris High School Historic District is north of the Forest Houses. The two square blocks between Boston Road, Forest Avenue, and East 166th Street have Morris High School and adjacent brownstones.
Twenty NYCHA developments are located in Morrisania.
From 1670, the land of the neighborhood was the estate of the Morris family in Westchester County. In 1790, Lewis Morris, owner of the estate and signer of the Declaration of Independence, proposed the land as the site of the federal capital.
The area was sparsely populated until 1840, when Gouverneur Morris Jr., son of the famous congressional delegate and grandson of Lewis, allowed a railroad to be built across the property. In 1848, he sold the land next to the line for the development of a new town called Morrisania Village. In 1855, additional settlements along the rail line became the town of Morrisania, with its political center in the original 1840 village. At first the village was an early forerunner of today's bedroom communities, populated by people who worked in Manhattan, but it quickly developed its own local industries and craftsmen as it developed into a full-fledged town (Jackson, 1995). In 1874, the area was annexed to New York City (then consisting only of Manhattan) as part of the Twenty-Third Ward. In 1887, the Third Avenue Elevated was extended to the area to provide easy and quick access to and from Manhattan. By the time the New York City Subway was extended to the area in 1904, a large influx of European immigrants had given the neighborhood an urban character, with tenements replacing houses as the dominant form of dwelling (Jackson, 1995).
In the 1950s along with changing demographics, Robert Moses destroyed various tenements in favor of a colony of public housing. After the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the poverty that East Tremont suffered spread into Morrisania. As a result, and also due to the aggressive 1968 Program for Action, the Third Avenue El closed in 1973. During this time period a wave of arson destroyed or damaged many of the residential, commercial, and industrial structures in the area.
Many social problems associated with poverty, from crime to drug addiction, have plagued the area for some time. Despite crime declines versus their peaks during the crack and heroin epidemics, violent crime continues to be a serious problem in the community. Morrisania has significantly higher drop-out rates and incidents of violence in its schools. Other problems in local schools include low test scores and high truancy rates. Drug addiction is also a serious problem in the community. Due to the lucrative drug trade in the area, many addicts reside in the community. Peer pressure among children who come from broken homes contributes to the high rate of usage. Many households in the area are headed by a single mother, which contributes to the high poverty rate. Single parent homes often have a harder time providing at the same level as two-parent homes. Many of the families living in Morrisania have been in poverty for generations. The incarceration rate in the area is also very high. Morrisania is home to a significant number of inmates currently held in New York state prison and jail facilities.
After a wave of arson ravaged the low income communities of New York City throughout the 1970s, most of the residential structures in Morrisania were left seriously damaged or destroyed. The city began to rehabilitate many formally abandoned tenement style apartment buildings and designate them low income housing beginning in the late 1970s. Also many subsidized attached multi-unit townhouses and newly constructed apartment buildings have been or are being built on vacant lots across the neighborhood.
The neighborhood's name is of somewhat low currency, possibly due to the difficult pronunciation (it is pronounced "mohr-ih-'san-ee-ə", or in the speech of many New Yorkers "mahr-ih-'san-ee-ə") as well as the preference among many to simply refer to the general area as the South Bronx rather than by individual neighborhood names.
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