Not long ago I went to the Museum of Bronx History for the first time. Located in the Valentine-Varian House, the Museum is part of the Bronx Historical Society. The house was originally built in 1758, making it more than 250 years old, and is the second oldest house still standing in the Bronx.
Although the museum is small, the exhibits are very informative, and the staff is knowledgeable and engaging. Originally built as a farmhouse, the Valentine-Varian House was occupied by both sides at various times during the American Revolution. You can learn more about the house’s history during a visit, including how the building was moved to its current location during the 1960s.
The other exhibits relate to the long and complex history of the Bronx. I must admit I didn’t know as much about Bronx history as I do about other boroughs, and I learned a lot from my visit. The Bronx’s rich history goes back to Dutch times, and has maintained rich and diverse cultural traditions over the centuries.
Part of that history is represented by this wooden malt shovel, used in a Bronx brewery prior to Prohibition. I didn’t know until I toured the museum that there was strong brewery tradition in the Bronx, primary created by German immigrants who settled there in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The industry grew to 19 breweries before it was disrupted by Prohibition in the 1920s.
One of the most fascinating parts of the museum’s exhibits, at least to me, was the part that traced the economic decline of the South Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, resulting in the decimation of the population in that area and arson-related property destruction. The exhibit then explores efforts to rebuild the South Bronx – efforts that have complex ramifications, both positive and negative. The museum does a good job exploring this recent part of Bronx history, and I engaged in an informative and thought-provoking discussion with the museum staffer who was working on that Saturday afternoon.
There is also one other thing to see while you’re at the museum, located on the museum’s grounds – the statue of the Bronx River Soldier. The granite statue was created by sculptor John Grignola in the late 1890s to commemorate Bronx soldiers who served in the Civil War.
Although the Museum of Bronx History is small, I really enjoyed it. The exhibits are not extensive, and it doesn’t take a huge amount of time to tour the museum, but my conversation with the museum staffer greatly enriched the experience. And I learned that the Bronx Historical Society also offers popular walking tours of various Bronx neighborhoods – something that I will definitely have to do in the future!
If you’re traveling to the Museum of Bronx History by subway, you can take the 4 Train to Mosholu Parkway, or the D to the Norwood-205th Street station.