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Morris Mesa

Morris Mesa

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.
Morris Mesa refers to the plateau of parkland named after the prominent Morris family of the Bronx.  In 1670, brothers Richard (c.1616-1669) and Lewis Morris (c.1601-1691) bought property in the Bronx.  Today, the Bronx neighborhoods Morrisania and Morris Heights honor this family.

Three great-grandchildren of Richard Morris earned fame as statesmen: Staats Long Morris (1728-1806) served as a British officer and later in the English Parliament.  He died a resident of England.  His brother, Yale-educated Lewis Morris (1726-1798), was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He earned the rank of major general in the Westchester militia, served in the Continental Congress (1775-1777), and. worked on a committee with George Washington (1732-1799) to provide the colonies with military supplies. In 1783, Lewis sent a letter to the Continental Congress recommending that Morrisania be made capital of the United States. The suggestion went unconsidered. Lewis served frequently in the state legislature and died at his estate in Morrisania.

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), the most remembered of the Morris family, and half-brother of Staats Long and Lewis, graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1768.  He later served in the New York Provincial Congress (1775-1777), the Continental Congress (1778-1779) and as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention (1787).  While he served in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, he developed a reputation as one of its most outspoken delegates. His rank and diplomacy amongst his fellow delegates allowed him to construct much of the language used in the final draft of the U.S. Constitution, which dictates the organization of the U.S. government.  Lawyers, judges, and citizens alike have debated and interpreted his words for more than 200 years since the document was drafted. Morris advocated the decimal currency that, with some modifications by Thomas Jefferson, forms the basis of the United States currency system.

While Morris served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he argued in favor of centralized government, going so far as to recommend that the president serve a life-term and have the power to nominate senators. Morris was appointed Minister to France in 1792, after having opposed the French Revolution and attempting to aid in King Louis XVI’s escape.  Morris was invited by his friend, Alexander Hamilton, to author sections of the Federalist Papers (1788), but he declined.

Morris Mesa is situated near the Cross-Bronx Expressway, between Morris Avenue and the Grand Concourse. It is one of 44 park parcels that Parks acquired in the wake of construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The six lane expressway cuts through rail, sewer, and utility lines, 113 roads, a subway line, and seven highways, none of which could be disrupted during its construction (1948-1963).  The expressway proved such a difficult engineering problem that moving the Bronx River 500 feet to accommodate it was considered a minor project. Because of the great cost of acquiring properties along the proposed route, it was necessary for engineers to minimize their use of space as much as possible.  The Fordham gneiss, the bedrock that underlies the Bronx, is particularly difficult to blast and posed an additional challenge to construction since valuable properties on either side of the highway’s path could not be damaged during the blasting.
One mile of the highway in East Tremont required, according to the calculations of Arterial Coordinator Robert Moses (1888-1981), the demolition of 54 apartment buildings and the relocation of 5,000 people. The cost of compensating homeowners ran into the millions of dollars. Lillian Edelstein, a local resident, led the Tenants’ Association in its opposition to the construction. It was suggested that, if Moses had built that section of the highway in a straight line rather than through the neighborhood of East Tremont, only six run-down tenement houses would have been sacrificed.  Indeed there was much discrepancy between the official rationale, that the apartment buildings in East Tremont were unsavory tenements, and the popular view that they were residential properties in great demand.

When construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway started, the more affluent families of East Tremont began to move out of the neighborhood, and poverty and physical deterioration took hold. Today, however, East Tremont is improving.  New apartment buildings have been built and old ones restored.

Park Information

Directions to Morris Mesa



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