Captain Tilly Park (Queens, NY)

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  • Captain George H. Tilly Park is named for a local son of a prominent Jamaica family, who was killed while fighting in the American subjugation of the Philippines in 1899. By provision of the Treaty of Paris in 1899, the United States annexed the Philippine Islands, a former Spanish colony, as a prize for its victory over Spain in the Spanish American War (1898). Having removed Spanish rule, the United States sought to impose its own will upon the Philippines, but was met with resistance from Filipino rebels seeking independence from foreign rule. This conflict continued in many guises until the Philippines gained independence in 1945.

    Captain Tilly (1863-1899) was assigned to the Army Signal Corp and stationed at Lloilo, Philippines, on the Isle de Panay during the war. On May 22, 1899, Tilly was dispatched to Escalante on the Isle de Negros to repair a damaged telegraph cable, and journeyed there with a small group aboard the steamer Recorder. Although Captain Tilly and his landing party were informed that the residents of Escalante were peaceful, he was warned nonetheless not to wear his uniform upon landing as to not inflame resentment. Ignoring the warning, Tilly and his group landed and proceeded to the island’s cable office. Once inside the building, they were fired upon from all sides and made quickly back to the beach and their launch. Some of Tilly’s men panicked and put the launch to sea before Tilly and the rest of the party arrived. Tilly and the remaining men swam for the launch under fire, and all but Tilly reached the boat safely. He was declared missing and presumed dead. A relief party led by General “Hell Roaring Jake” Smith returned to Escalante later to demand retrieval of Tilly’s body. It was recovered badly mutilated and promptly buried nearby.

    The Tilly family once owned the land on which this park sits. At the turn of the last century, the bulk of the wooded land and pond (The Goose Pond) which comprise Captain George H. Tilly Park was owned by the Highland Park Society, a group of Jamaica landowners who raised ducks and geese at the site. In 1908, the landowners deeded the property to New York City for one dollar, insisting only that it always be used as a park. At first the park, situated at 165th Street between Highland and 85th Avenue, in Jamaica Hills, was called Highland Park. By 1912, to avoid confusion with Highland Park in Cypress Hills, it was renamed Upland Park. In 1935, city officials, bowing to the request that the park be named after the Tilly son, dubbed the property Captain George Tilly Park in his memory.

    In 1941, a monument dedicated to the heroes of the Spanish-American War was erected in the park by the Captain George H. Tilly Camp No. 66 of Jamaica. For the next 20 years, until the climb up the hill became too difficult, the veterans of Tilly Camp No. 66, along with women in the Auxiliary, made a pilgrimage to the park every Memorial Day, holding a brief service at the monument and laying a wreath upon it.

    Over the years, there have been several renovations of Tilly Park; the last was completed in the summer of 1998. By 1995, the springs that fed the pond had dried up and the pond was covered with an algae bloom. The landscaping had fallen into disrepair, as had the comfort station. Members of the Jamaica Hill Community Association looked to Council Member Morton Povman for help, and he secured funding from the City Council for park restoration. The recent restoration included a full excavation and deepening of the pond, the installation of a new clay liner and filtration system to keep the water clean, the digging of a well, the construction of an island in the pond to provide a refuge for wildlife, and an extension of the playground. New plantings and sod were also installed in the park. Additional money was contributed by Borough President Claire Shulman to fund a renovation of the comfort station.

    In recent years, there have been two huge Tilly Park cleanups sponsored by Parks, in which many people from the community participated, along with members of the Jamaica Hill Community Association. The park continues to serve the neighborhood as a site for concerts and other popular events.

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