Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Name that Neighborhood: what exactly is a Throgs Neck?
Some New York neighborhoods are simply named for their location on a map (East Village, Midtown). Others are given prefabricated designations (SoHo, DUMBO). But a few retain names that link them intimately with their pasts. Other entries in this series can be found here.
What is a Throgs Neck? And why isn't it a Throggs Neck?
Of course that's the name of a pleasant peninsular neighborhood in the Bronx. Many people with cars are probably as familiar with the Throgs Neck Bridge, a 1,800-foot Robert Moses/Othmar Ammann production which connects the Bronx to Queens. But where did that unusual name come from? Is a throg some kind of creature native to New England?
The "Neck" part is easy. The slender Throg's Neck peninsula dangles where the East Rivers finally empties into the Long Island Sound. The neighborhood expands up the peninsula and out through the mainland.
For the throg, you'll have to go back to the Dutch occupation of the region to find the answer. There was of course a contentious relationship between the Dutch and the British regarding territorial boundaries in the New World, a dispute that resulted in the eventual takeover of all Dutch lands in 1664. However, over 20 years earlier, the leader of the New Amsterdam colony, William Keift, seemed to take a more charitable view towards individual English families, especially those fleeing British rule due to religious intolerance.
The most famous of these satellite English settlements on alleged Dutch soil was that of Anne Hutchinson, a charismatic and determined leader who fled Massachusetts and Rhode Island out of religious persecution by the Puritans. Perhaps simmering with delight at Englishmen fleeing their own kind, Keift allowed Hutchinson and her flock to settle in the areas that are now called Pelham and Eastchester today. The Hutchinson River, which runs through these areas, reminds us of the impact of this ballsy lady.
Just a year earlier (1642) however, Keift allowed another persecuted religious leader to settle just downstream. The Rev. John Throggmorton (or Throgmorton or Throckmorton, take your pick, depending on which ancient document you prefer) and 35 others families were allowed to settle on this peninsula, valuable real estate if your living required contact with water, but dangerous because of the potential of being bottled in by an enemy.
The land had previously been known as Vredeland by the Dutch (or 'land of peace') owing to the lush natural beauty of the region. They dropped the old peaceful name and changed it to Throggmorton’s Neck.
Keift, who frequently provoked Indian anger, may have thought that additional European settlements could be used as a buffer against Lenape attacks to New Amsterdam, just 24 miles south. Eventually the Indians did attack; in one horrifying massacre on September 20, 1643, tribes exterminated the Hutchinson settlement, then traveled down to do the same to the Throggmortons. (Few in the future Bronx neighborhood escape the slaughter, including the borough's namesake Jonas Bronck.)
Many families on Throggmorton’s Neck were brutally massacred, although a passing boat managed to rescue a few distraught family members. Strangely enough, Throggmorton himself was away that day. He never returned the area which would forever keep his name.
Within 150 years, the name would be shortened to Throgg's Neck. Or, better yet, according to George Washington himself, "Frog's Neck."
You may have noticed that John's last name has two g's in it, while most common spellings have only one. Legend has it that this is another thing you can blame on Robert Moses. Not exactly known for reaching out to communities for their thoughts and opinions, Moses decided to drop a 'g' in 1955 when the bridge started construction, believing it would fit on more traffic signs without an additional and needless letter. Who cares if it was in use that way for over 300 years!
Purists prefer Throggs Neck. It is Throggs Neck. Either way, it's an unforgettable name, with an unforgettable story.
BELOW: A bridge to lesser consonants -- construction workers greet drivers at the grand opening of the Throgs Neck Bridge, opened in 1961