Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Baisley Pond was created in the 18th century when local farmers dammed three streams in order to power their grain mill. The 30-acre pond and the park are named for David Baisley, a local farmer who owned this land in the early 19th century and operated the mill that was located on the pond.
The City of Brooklyn used its local wells and cisterns for water until 1859. Due to the drastic need for clean water in Manhattan, and sensing that it too would need alternate water sources, the Brooklyn Water Works acquired Baisley Pond for its water supply in 1852. In 1898, the City of Brooklyn voted to become a part of New York City during the consolidation of the five boroughs. This decision was made at least in part to alleviate water supply problems.
While dredging Baisley Pond shortly after its acquisition, Brooklyn city workers made a startling discovery. Buried in the sediment, the remains of an American Mastodon (Mammut americanum), including five molars and a bone fragment, were found. The Mastodon likely lived in the area almost 10,000 years ago, just after the last Ice Age. Today, a sculpture of a Mastodon in Sutphin Playground commemorates the discovery and makes for a unique playmate.
In 1914, the City transferred the northern half of the property to Parks and the site opened to the public in 1919. At the time, Queens was still a predominantly rural area, and the park remained a rustic preserve. In the 1920s, the area was urbanized as developers built hundreds of single-family homes in the neighborhood. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) and the Works Progress Administration constructed recreational facilities in the park, including a boat landing, several playgrounds, tennis and handball courts, baseball diamonds, and a football field.
Development of the area continued and intensified after World War II, with the construction of the Cedar Manor Co-Op, Baisley Park Houses, and Baisley Garden. When Idlewild Airport (later John F. Kennedy International Airport) opened just south of Baisley Park, commercial activity in the area increased tremendously.
The South Extension of the park lay in a state of disarray for decades. Not entirely under the jurisdiction of Parks until the 1960s, it remained a wasteland of old pumping stations and debris. In 1984, Commissioner Stern, with the help of the local community, was finally able to transform this area and unify the park. The newly reconstructed section now includes tennis and handball courts, a running track, an athletic field, cricket mounds, basketball courts, and a playground.
Although the park is used mostly for recreational sports, it remains a vital natural habitat for many species of plant and animal life. Besides its fabled gigantic lily pads, the pond contains red-eared sliders, snapping turtles, musk turtles, and bullfrogs. Eight different varieties of dragonflies and a spectacular array of avian life thrives here as well. In the winter, Canadian geese, mallards, shovelers, coots, grebes, and gulls make their homes here. In the summer, blackbirds, cormorants, herons, egrets, doves, mockingbirds, robins, starlings, warblers, cardinals, and sparrows forage and breed in the area.
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