Ron Schliessman is one of the most dedicated Bronx historians to grace our borough. He grew up on B Street in Schuylerville, the son of an avid biker and photographer who took pleasure in photographing the streets of the Bronx. After graduation from Cornell University, Ron took a job with the government that allowed him time to follow in his father’s footsteps in capturing now historic scenes throughout the borough on film. He set up a dark room in his basement and developed his own work which he readily made available to those who showed an interest.
He joined his friend, John McNamara, on numerous canoe excursions throughout our waterways including the Bronx Kill, the Harlem River and the islets that dotted the Long Island Sound shoreline. Together they followed the inland water routes used by the Siwanoy centuries earlier and fully documented their journeys. Some of these exciting adventures have led to a number of interviews by the press which have been written up and preserved in the files of the Bronx County Historical Society where Ron served a term as president.
Like his father, Ron also served a stint as sexton with St. Peter’s P. E. Church on Westchester Avenue. He dutifully copied their lengthy official history in longhand from their journals in his spare time. Another interesting experience at that church came when he found that the janitor was using the wooden name plates from the huge World War I memorial that stood where the Owen Dolen Center was later built at the southwest corner of Westchester and East Tremont Avenues for firewood. He immediately stopped him and arranged for the preservation of some of those historic items. One can be found in the Huntington Free Library and others are preserved with the Bronx County Historical Society and elsewhere.
I have many fond memories of traveling about the borough with Ron photographing important scenes before they changed. These journeys were generally made on Sunday or holiday mornings when it was quiet. One took us to the Ebling Brewery in the winter of 1993 where we captured the old building from various angles. We noticed some vagrants entering the structure from Eagle Avenue and investigated to see what was going on. They had moved into the building and were gathering firewood which they brought back to burn in a 55 gallon drum which they were using for both heat and cooking. Other trips took us to the Baychester area and then Westchester Square where we photographed the old Ferris Family Cemetery on Commerce Street that was relatively clear and accessible at the time. Ron took any number of photographs of the existing tombstones as well as overall shots. Other days took us to other areas but each was a mini adventure which I now hold as a cherished memory.
Ron’s writings and photographs were not his only contribution to Bronx history, he also created a number of postcards which are very collectible today and can often to found on eBay. After his wife passed away, Ron moved upstate and also spent some time in Florida. Today he is happily ensconced with his family in upstate Franklin, New York where he continues to add to the storehouse of Bronx memories. His latest contribution was a postcard which he and his brother, Warren, created last year. It shows a streetcar on City Island Road near the old Colonial Inn and the duo created the card in two forms, black and white, and sepia. The history of the Bronx is considerably richer and more fully documented today thanks to the efforts of the Schliessman family.