Before The Passionists (BP): Using The Lives Of Frederick & Susan Allien To Learn About Local Riverdale, Bronx History
by Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.
In 1924 members of the Passionist Congregation bought the estate of Frederick and Susan Allien on Palisade Avenue in Riverdale, NY. Known for years as the St. Vincent Strambi Retreat, it is now the home of the Riverdale Research Center under the direction of Fr. Tom Berry, C.P. Adjacent to the Passionist Spiritual Center, it commands an impressive view of the Hudson River.
Who were Frederick and Susan Allien? What was the lifestyle of these individuals who sold land to the Passionists? Answering that question, in turn, led me to probe the social structure of the Riverdale section of the Bronx during the World War I era. Frequently, historians of religious history miss an opportunity to contribute to the larger social history of an area if they fail to examine the life and culture of original landholders. Information in religious history can be used as a vehicle of greater historical understanding.
City Directories are a good place to start . Frederick Allien, states the 1922/23 New York City Directory, [A-R; R. 67A at the New York Public Library] is an inves[tment] sec[retary] with a h[ome] on Palisade Ave and Sigma Place. He was affiliated with H.G. Campbell and Company, located in Riverdale.
To find out more I went to the Lehman College Archives in the Bronx to examine the Riverdale News from 1915-1924. The newspaper pre-dates the present day Riverdale Press. In the early part of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for local newspapers, secular and Catholic, to describe the pulse of daily life with surprising detail. My intuition told me that newspapers were a place to learn about the Alliens. I was not disappointed.