Mott Haven and Hart Island part of Historic Districts Council’s ‘Six to Celebrate 2017’

A row of homes that are part of the Mott Haven East Historic District on East 140th Street between Willis and Brook avenues is indicative of the structures that can be found in the community’s three historic districts.
Photo courtesy of MHHDA

Two historical locations in the borough have been selected for a designation that spotlights the city’s rich heritage.

The Historic Districts Council, as part of its Six To Celebrate 2017, has selected and highlighted the historical significance of Mott Haven and Hart Island

The Six to Celebrate is a designation that the advocacy organization uses to set preservation priorities and channel resources to historical communities in need of recognition across the city, according to HDC.

In Mott Haven, which has town houses dating to the 19th century, HDC is working with Samuel Brooks at the Mott Haven Historic Districts Association.

In the case of Hart Island, which has a Civil War history and has been the city’s Potter’s Field since 1869, HDC is working with the City Island Historical Society and Hart Island Project.

HDC will assist the groups with their goals: for Hart Island, helping to get it placement on the National Registry of Historic Places; for Mott Haven, gaining more recognition for the community’s three historic districts, said Simeon Bankoff, HDC executive director.

“The goal is to be where we can do the most good and be the most helpful,” said Bankoff, explaining the Six to Celebrate selection process. “We felt in both of these cases, the associations as groups had very clear goals in mind that we can help…bring them some attention.”

Bankoff said that in Hart Island’s case, people on City Island may be familiar with it, but most people in the city aren’t.

“It has been in operation since the Civil War and is the largest municipal cemetery,” said Bankoff of the island.

Barbara Dolensek, CIHS vice-president, said that the group is looking to get the Hart Island placed on the National Register of Historic Places before the NYC Department of Correction, which has jurisdiction over the cemetery and island, dismantles historic buildings or artifacts dating back to the 19th century.

“It would bring positive attention to the island which it has not had,” said Dolensek, adding that its history goes beyond being a burial ground for the indigent.

The island was used to train regiments during the Civil War, there were burials there during the war, and the island has been used for a variety of uses: from helping women overcome hysteria to youth drug use rehabilitation.

Brooks said that as commercial and residential development continues to intensify in Mott Haven in recent years, it is even more important to focus on the area’s history.

“Everyone is focused on new building, the towers and the waterfront; I am saying let’s not forget how this whole thing started,” said Brooks, adding that he plans to bring heritage tourism into the community as well as a ‘Mott Haven Decorator Show House’ to raise funds to showcase up and coming interior designers.

“When you get selected by the Six to Celebrate, with it comes a wealth of technical support,” said Brooks, adding he is planning to create programming for adults, as well as for schoolchildren.

Mott Haven is home to three historic districts: Mott Haven East, Mott Haven and Bertine Block.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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