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The Many Names of Van Nest

The Bronx River neighborhood of Van Nest has the distinction of having had more nicknames than perhaps any other Bronx community, and not all of them complimentary.

While many local train stations are named after their neighborhoods, for Van Nest it was the other way around.When the New York and New Haven Railroad was being built in the 1800s, the vicinity of Unionport and White Plains Roads looked like a likely spot for a station and depot.There was at the time no organized community on the site, so a director of the railroad took the opportunity of naming the station after himself.When a community eventually grew alongside the station, it took the station’s name of Van Nest.

Van Nest spread out over the rippling terrain of an old glacial moraine.Its many low-lying spots were great for collecting rainwater, prompting bespattered travelers to dub the place “Mud West.”After Van Nest became part of New York City in 1895, the city built embankments across the low spots to bring all the local streets up to an even grade.This left many houses below street level, and so Mud West now became known as “the Sunken City.”To this day you can still see many old houses with retrofitted front entrances cut into what originally were their second floors.

The old heart of the neighborhood gave it yet another name, “Five Corners,” from the confluence of Unionport and White Plains Roads.The name of Five Corners in turn became the title of a 1987 film set in the east Bronx, starring Jodie Foster, Tim Robbins, and John Turturro.Writer John Patrick Shanley, himself nicknamed “the Bard of the Bronx,” based the film on his own youth in Van Nest.

Stephen Paul DeVillo

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The Bronx River Alliance is a coordinated voice for the river that works in partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, resource for the communities through which it flows.

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