Did You Know? | The Bronx has its own Stonehenge and it’s getting a makeover

grand central stones
The Grand Central Stones have been sitting at Van Cortlandt Park for more than 100 years and this month, they are getting a makeover.
Photo ET Rodriguez

After a brief hiatus, “Did You Know” is back. Test your knowledge of Bronx history with our monthly column, featuring interesting and otherwise unknown tidbits that expand on the lore of what is often referred to as the forgotten borough. And check back at the beginning of each month for the latest installment. 

Off the last stop on the 1 train, across the wide stretch of Van Cortlandt Park, about half a mile up the Putnam Greenway and tucked away off a walking trail sit the Grand Central Stones — 13 pillars, each standing at approximately 10-feet tall, making the Bronx home to its very own Stonehenge.

The Grand Central Stones, named after the eponymous train station, have been standing in Van Cortlandt Park for nearly 120 years. Made from limestone to marble to different types of granite, the stones were placed in the park by the New York Central Railroad in 1905 to test which rock would best weather the elements for use in building Grand Central Station (which was constructed from 1903 to 1913).

After a year, two types of stone were selected for the curtain wall of Grand Central Station — granite for the bottom parts and limestone for the top.

“I don’t know exactly what you can tell within one year,” chuckled Christina Taylor, deputy director of the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance. “But they’ve been up for 100 years now – so I guess any one of them would have worked.”

Originally there were 15 different stones, but records don’t show any trace of what happened to the other two, according to Taylor, who has worked for the park for more than 20 years. “It’s not like someone could have picked them up and walked away with them,” she said.

The whereabouts of the two missing stones remains an unsolved mystery, but the remaining 13 recently received a much-needed makeover.

“It looks like it hasn’t been touched in 20-30 years,” said Chris Lannelli, site supervisor of Woodlawn Cemetery’s Bridge to Crafts Careers program and training director of The Door – a New York City-based organization founded in 1972 to empower young people to reach their potential.

Woodlawn’s Bridge to Crafts Careers, founded as a pilot in 2015 by the World Monuments Fund, offers 10-week internships in their preservation training and landscape restoration programs — the latter of which launched in 2020. Then this year, Bridge to Crafts Careers added a bronze program to help care for park statues with a total of approximately 35 interns.

The pilot at Woodlawn was so successful that World Monuments Fund expanded the program to the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Eight weeks are dedicated to working with masons certified by OSHA — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — and other instructors, and the other two focus on getting OSHA training and developing skills to help with future employment like interviewing techniques, life skills and caring about one’s immediate environment.

“It’s about teaching people how to care for their community,” said Jonathan Clemente, the program’s director. “How to clean sidewalks, how to plant street trees and mulch them, how to remove graffiti, paint signs — how to take care of your neighbor.”

For three days, 15 interns worked to repoint the stones – removing and replacing the old mortar between joints, the space between bricks and stones. They mixed cement, used pix axes and power washers to clean the stones and also learned how to use power tools such as circular saws.

“I like to be outside fixing things so that when people go back to whichever thing was fixed, they can look at it and have a good time,” said intern Alana Griffin, 22, who lives on Manhattan’s Lower East side and makes the nearly 90-minute commute to the Northwest Bronx because she likes to work with her hands. “You can see the stark contrast from start to finish.”

Woodlawn Cemetery Bridge to Crafts Careers intern Josue Perez repoints stones in Van Cortlandt Park — removing old mortar between joints and replacing it with fresh cement. Photo courtesy Chris Lannelli

Lannelli, the site supervisor, said, “We’re working on it and people said, ‘I’ve been walking by here for like 20 years [and] I’ve never noticed.'”

Van Cortlandt Park was also home to a train station stop along the New York and Putnam railroad which took its last ride in 1958. Remnants of the station can be seen south of the park’s 18-acre freshwater lake. While the weather is still mild, venture a walk up the Putnam Greenway and take a gander at a piece of New York City history right here in the Bronx.

Know any obscure facts about the Bronx that you’d like the Bronx Times to feature in its column? Let us know by dropping an email to editorial@bxtimes.com with “Did You Know” in the subject line.

Reach ET Rodriguez at etrodriguez317@gmail.com. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes