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). An inner suburb of New York City, Yonkers directly borders the Bronx and is located two miles (3 km) north of Manhattan at the municipalities' closest points.
Yonkers' downtown is centered on a plaza known as Getty Square, where the municipal government is located. The area also houses significant local businesses and non-profits, and serves as a major retail hub for Yonkers and the northwest Bronx.
The city is home to several attractions, including the Hudson River Museum; Saw Mill River Daylighting, wherein a parking lot was removed to uncover a river; Science Barge; Sherwood House; 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.
Major shopping areas can be found in Getty Square, on South Broadway, at the Cross County Shopping Center and Westchester's Ridge Hill, and along Central Park Avenue, 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 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, the first lawyer in New York City. 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 was killed in the Peach War. His wife, Mary Doughty, was taken captive and ransomed later.
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 1894, the voters of Yonkers were able to take part, along with the voters of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, in a referendum to determine if they wanted to become part of New York City. While the results were positive elsewhere, the returns were so negative in Yonkers and neighboring 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 IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line, which terminates at 242nd Street just south of the city line, but when Yonkers residents voted against the incorporation, the project was abandoned.
The community was incorporated as a village in the northern part of the Town of Yonkers in 1854 and as a city in 1872. The southern part of the Township became part of the Bronx. Yonkers declined to join New York City, and plans were dropped to extend the new subway up Broadway to Getty Square. Aside from being a manufacturing center, Yonkers also played a key role in the development of entertainment in the United States. In 1888, Scottish-born John Reid founded the first golf course in the United States, St. Andrew's Golf Club, in Yonkers.
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.
Early in the 20th century, Yonkers also hosted a brass era automobile maker, Colt Runabout Company; despite the car's seemingly glowing performance, the company went under. 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 Company, one of the city's largest employers, ceased operation during a labor dispute in June 1954. In 1983, the Otis Elevator Factory finally closed its doors. With the loss of jobs in the city itself, Yonkers became primarily a residential city, and some neighborhoods, such as Crestwood and Park Hill, became popular with wealthy New Yorkers who wished to live outside Manhattan without giving up urban conveniences. Yonkers's 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 prewar homes and apartment buildings, made it a desirable city in which to live. Yonkers' manufacturing sector has also shown a recent resurgence.
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-income housing projects. The City planned to use federal funding for urban renewal efforts within Downtown Yonkers exclusively; other groups, led by the NAACP, felt that the resulting concentration of low-income 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. Over twenty years later, Yonkers' public school system is now among the worst performing in New York State, and private-school enrollment has spiked sharply. After the mandate, crime in Downtown Yonkers increased dramatically and many local homeowners suffered a substantial decrease in property values. Then-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.
Yonkers moved to the center of national/international attention during the summer of 1988, when the city was found in contempt of the federal courts, after it refused to build promised municipal public housing in the eastern portions of the city. It had earlier agreed to do so in a consent decree, after losing the appeal in 1987. Being fined one dollar, doubling every day until the council passed the ordinance set out in the consent decree, Yonkers remained in contempt of the courts until September 9, 1988. On that date, the City Council relented, in the wake of library closures, sanitation cutbacks, while looking at massive city layoffs, which would have been required to continue its resistance to 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 number 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 Arabic speakers in Yonkers. Most of these Arabs come from the Levant region, mainly from 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.
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.