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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.

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.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.The New York City and Northern Railway Company (later the New York Central Railroad) connected Yonkers to Manhattan and points north from 1888.A three-mile spur to Getty Square existed until 1943.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.

The community was incorporated as a village in the northern part of the Town of Yonkers in 1854 and as a city in 1872.

Major shopping areas are located 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 24,000-acre (97-square-kilometer) land grant called Colen Donck that ran from the current Manhattan-Bronx border at Marble Hill northwards for 12 miles (19 km), and from the Hudson River eastwards to the Bronx River.

The downtown 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.

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. His wife, Mary Doughty, was taken captive and ransomed later.