Yonkers is the fourth most populous city in the U.S. state of New York (behind New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester), and the most populous city in Westchester County, with a population of 195,976 (according to the 2010 Census). Yonkers borders the New York City borough of the Bronx and is located two miles (3 km) north of Manhattan at the cities' closest points.
The city is home to several attractions, including: the Saw Mill River Daylighting, wherein a parking lot was removed to uncover a river; the Hudson River Museum; the Sherwood House; the Science Barge; ; and Yonkers Raceway, a harness racing track that has renovated its grounds and clubhouse and added legalized video slot machine gambling in 2006 in a "racino" called Empire City. There are also many large shopping areas in Getty Square, on South Broadway, the Cross County Shopping Center; Ridge Hill Shopping Center and along Central Park Avenue (NY 100), informally called "Central Ave" by area residents, a name it takes officially a few miles north in White Plains.
The land on which the city is built was once part of a 24,000 acre (97 km²) land grant called Colen Donck that ran from the current Manhattan/Bronx border at Marble Hill northwards for , and from the Hudson River eastwards to the Bronx River. This grant was purchased in July 1645 by Adriaen van der Donck, a lawyer, scholar, and author who had emerged as a leader of the New Netherland colony. Van der Donck was known locally as the Jonkheer or Jonker (etymologically, "young gentleman," derivation of old Dutch jong (young) and heer ("lord"); in effect, "Esquire"), a word from which the name "Yonkers" is directly derived. Van der Donck built a saw mill near where the Nepperhan Creek met the Hudson; the Nepperhan is now also known as the Saw Mill River. Van der Donck and his family were killed in the Peach Tree War.
Near the site of van der Donck's mill is Philipse Manor Hall, a Colonial-era manor house which today serves as a museum and archive, offering many glimpses into life before the American Revolution. The original structure (later enlarged) was built around 1682 by Frederick Philipse and his wife Margaret Hardenbroeck. Frederick was a wealthy Dutchman who by the time of his death had amassed an enormous estate, which encompassed the entire modern City of Yonkers, as well as several other Hudson River towns. Philipse's great-grandson, Frederick Philipse III, was a prominent Loyalist during the American Revolution, who, because of his political leanings, was forced to flee to England. All the lands that belonged to the Philipse family were confiscated and sold.
For its first two hundred years, Yonkers was a small farming town with an active industrial waterfront. Yonkers's later growth rested largely on developing industry. In 1853, Elisha Otis invented the first safety elevator and the Otis Elevator Company, opened the first elevator factory in the world on the banks of the Hudson near what is now Vark Street. It relocated to larger quarters (now the Yonkers Public Library) in the 1880s. Around the same time, the Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company (in the Saw Mill River Valley) expanded to 45 buildings, 800 looms, and over 4,000 workers and was known as one of the premier carpet producing centers in the world. In 1892, Smith carpets were sent to Moscow for the tsar's coronation.
In 1894, the voters of Yonkers were able to take part, along with the voters of Kings, Queens and Richmond Counties, in a referendum to determine if they wanted to become part of a "Greater New York City". While the results were positive elsewhere, the returns were so negative in Yonkers and Mount Vernon that those two areas were not included in the consolidated city, and remained independent. Still, some residents call the city "the sixth borough" referring to its location on the New York City border, its urban character and the failed merger vote. A subway connection was planned between Getty Square and the New York City subway line, but when Yonkers residents voted against the incorporation, the project was abandoned.
Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic, was invented in Yonkers circa 1906 by Leo Baekeland, and manufactured there until the late 1920s. Today, two of the former Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company loft buildings located at 540 and 578 Nepperhan Avenue have been repurposed to house the YoHo Artist Community, a collective group of talented artists that works out of private studios there.
Yonkers was also the headquarters of the Waring Hat Company, at the time the nation's largest hat manufacturer. World War II saw the city's factories manufacture such items as tents and blankets in the Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Factory and tanks in the Otis Elevator factory.
After World War II, however, with increased competition from less expensive imports, Yonkers lost much of its manufacturing activity. The Alexander Smith Carpet mill fell on hard times and ceased operation on June 24, 1954. In 1983, the Otis Elevator Factory finally closed its doors. With the loss of jobs in the city itself, Yonkers (predominantly the east side) became primarily a residential city and some neighborhoods of the city, such as Crestwood, became popular with wealthy New Yorkers wishing to live outside the city but not in an entirely suburban environment. Yonkers' excellent transportation infrastructure, including three commuter railroad lines (now two, the Harlem and Hudson Lines) and five parkways and thruways, as well as its 15-minute drive from Manhattan and picturesque "period" homes and apartments, made it a desirable city in which to live. Yonkers' manufacturing sector has recently shown a resurgence. A Kawasaki railroad cars assembly plant opened in 1986 in the former Otis plant, producing the new R142A, R143 and R160B cars for the New York City Subway, and the PA4 and upcoming PA5 series for PATH.
On January 4, 1940, Yonkers resident Edwin Howard Armstrong transmitted the first FM radio broadcast (on station W2XCR) from the Yonkers home of C.R. Runyon, a co-experimenter. Yonkers also had the longest running pirate radio station, owned by Allan Weiner during the 1970s through the 1980s.
In 1960, the Census Bureau reported Yonkers's population as 95.8% white and 4.0% black. The city's struggles with racial discrimination and segregation were highlighted in a decades-long federal lawsuit. After a 1985 decision and an unsuccessful appeal, Yonkers' schools were integrated in 1988. The federal judge, Leonard B. Sand, ruled that Yonkers had engaged in institutional segregation in housing and school policies for over 40 years and tied the illegal concentration of public housing and private housing discrimination to the city's resistance to ending racial isolation in its public schools.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Yonkers developed a national reputation for racial tension, based on a long-term battle between the City of Yonkers and the NAACP over the building of subsidized low-rent housing. The City wanted to use federal funds to create or expand high-rise housing projects in southwest Yonkers; other groups, led by the NAACP, felt that concentrating subsidized housing in traditionally poor neighborhoods perpetuated poverty. The climax of the battle came when United States district court Judge Leonard Sand imposed a fine on Yonkers which started at $1 and doubled every day until the City capitulated to the federally mandated plan.
Mayor Nicholas Wasicsko, in his first term, fought to save the city from financial disaster and bring about unity. He was a lonely figure in city politics at the time, which was scarred with the stigma of the "Balkanization of Yonkers." He succeeded in helping to end the city's contempt of the courts, but was voted out of office as a result. Yonkers still suffers the stigma of having bitterly opposed desegregation.
The Irish-American community is prominent in Yonkers, and the city hosts one of the nation's oldest St. Patrick's Day parades. There is also home to a large Italian-American community, and the city hosts a large Columbus Day festival with a Miss Italian-American pageant.Yonkers also has a significant Portuguese population.
Another large community is the Slavic community. In the early and mid 20th Century a large amount of people emigrated from Poland, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Croatia. Recently a large number of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia have called Yonkers home. The Slavic community is centered around St. Casimir's Roman Catholic Church, Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, and St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church. Yonkers still has a large Slavic community. The city also has a "stanytsia" (branch) of Plast. Yonkers also has a large Arab population, coinciding with the high percentage of Arab speakers in Yonkers. Most of these Arabs come from The Levant, from mainly the countries of Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon, and are of the Christian faith. The Arabic community specifically Jordanian currently has three churches in the city, Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, and Christ the Savior Melkite Church. The community settled in Yonkers in the late 1940s and has since continued a steady growth.
There also once was a significant Jewish population (the Broadway plays Hello Dolly! and Lost in Yonkers both take place within the Yonkers Jewish community). However, it has dwindled. In the 2000s, some areas bordering similar neighborhoods in Riverdale began seeing an influx of Orthodox Jews. Subsequently, Riverdale Hatzalah Volunteer Ambulance Service began serving some neighborhoods in the southwest section of the city. There is also a small Jewish Cemetery, the Sherwood Park Cemetery.