For his latest book, Bill Twomey went to previously uncharted waters in the Bronx.
Twomey has published several books on the history of the borough, but he had never written one on Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Woodlawn and Spuyten Duyvil until Northwest Bronx.
Twomey collaborated on the project with his friend Tom Casey, whose photo and post card collection they mined for treasures from the Bronx’s past. The book was released through Arcadia Publishing on Monday, May 2.
Arcadia pitched the Northwest Bronx title to Twomey because he had already produced three other Bronx books for the publisher. Twomey, somewhat unfamiliar with this section of the Bronx, nevertheless agreed to tackle the subject.
“I thought it’d be a challenge for me because I’ve never written much about the northwest Bronx and I’ve always lived in the east Bronx,” Twomey said.
Arcadia’s books are photo-driven, so Twomey, 69, started by looking through his picture collection. That’s when he realized he needed help.
Casey lives in Riverdale and owns the world’s largest collection of Bronx-related postcards, with over 5,000. Twomey figured that the prolific collector would have anything that was missing from his own collection, plus more.
The pair used Twomey’s previous books as a template and selected a total of 300 images from their respective collections. Eventually, they whittled it down to the 230 that appear in the book. They divided them into seven geographic areas: Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil, Kingsbridge, Fordham, Van Cortlandt Park, Bedford Park and Woodlawn.
Bronx neighborhoods don’t have set borders and Casey said the classifications are meant to spur debate rather than settle them.
“Neighborhood boundary lines were always fluctuating,” he said. “If anyone has an argument with us on where we put an image its quite alright to disagree with us.”
The book’s oldest images date back to 1866. They are from the old Jerome Park thoroughbred racetrack, which was where the now-empty reservoir sits. The track hosted the original Belmont Stakes. It generated many of the borough’s earliest photographs because horse owners were among the few individuals from that era who could afford to have photographs taken.
Each author also has a favorite image in the book. Twomey’s is from the Word War II era, taken at Hunter, now Lehman, College. It is a group shot of women who were in the Navy and used the college as their training base.
Casey picked a shot from the early 1900s of a family of about seven in their Sunday best at the New York Botanical Garden.
“You can see one of the buildings that still exists today,” Casey said. “You can also see all the decorations and architectural elements of it that are gone.”