John McNamara, an historian and author, died on Oct. 15 of prostate cancer. He was 91.
Born and raised in the Bronx, McNamara’s interest in local history began in childhood. While exploring the New York borough’s waterways by canoe, he encountered Captain Charles Ferreira, a local lighthouse keeper. Ferreira explained that the Native Americans used to travel the same routes in the same fashion. This bit of information fascinated the boy and sparked a life-long love of historical lore.
Over the next eight decades, McNamara walked every street and canoed or kayaked every waterway in the Bronx. He kept meticulous notes of his travels and published the book “History in Asphalt: The Origin of Bronx Street and Place Names “ in 1978. The text is considered one of the most comprehensive works about the area. McNamara penned three more books about the borough and co-authored two others with Bill Twomey. He also wrote columns for the Bronx Times Reporter, led tourists and locals on walking tours and worked at the New York City Housing Authority for 29 years.
A lifelong adventurer, McNamara once rode the rails across America and chronicled his experiences as a “hobo journalist” for a publication called Sand Dunes. He served with the Army in the Philippines during World War II, and later traveled to South Africa, China, Russia, Europe, South America and the outback of Australia.
McNamara was a co-founder of the Bronx County Historical Society, and a member of the Bronx Old Timers Society, the Kingsbridge Historical Society and the American Name Society. In 1985, the square on the north service road of the Cross Bronx Expressway extension between Randall and Calhoun avenues was named in his honor.