Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) was a storied naval commander whose name graces many streets and locations in this country. Vernon joined the English Navy in 1700, and rose steadily in rank. He was appointed a member of Parliament in 1722, and staunchly opposed the government of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), the head of the Whig party who is regarded as Great Britain’s first prime minister. Meanwhile, tensions were building between England and Spain, whose commercial rivalry was becoming more than either power could bear. Vernon encouraged a confrontation with Spain, and in 1739, Walpole gave way under pressure from the House of Commons and finally declared war on Spain. Vernon’s 1739 capture of Portobello, a town in central Panama on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, won him great popularity. In 1741, he led a joint expedition with the incompetent General Wentworth against the Cartegena and Santiago de Cuba. The expedition failed, and Vernon was recalled. The war ended later that year. Vernon died in 1757.
Admiral Vernon is remembered by the British as “Old Grog,” an affectionate nickname he earned from the grogram cloak he wore in foul weather. Eventually, the name was given to the drink that he had served to his sailors to curb their drunkenness-rum diluted with water.
George Washington’s (1732-1799) half-brother Lawrence is responsible for bringing Vernon’s name to America. Lawrence had served under the admiral in a campaign against the West Indies, and in 1743, built a mansion and town in Fairfax County, Virginia. He called them both Mount Vernon.
In 1842, a turnpike connecting Queens to Brooklyn was built and named Vernon Avenue. The Vernon Avenue Bridge stretched over Newtown Creek, a tributary of the East River that runs inland for three miles and serves as the boundary between Brooklyn and Queens. The bridge connected Long Island City, Queens and Greenpoint, Brooklyn. On October 30, 1965, the City of New York had the Abbey-Smith Wrecking Company remove the bridge because it was no longer needed. Today, the G subway line runs directly under the route of the former bridge. Vernon Avenue has since become Vernon Boulevard, and runs solely along the East River in western Queens, stretching from Long Island City to Astoria.
This small sitting park is bounded by 50th and 51st Avenues, and Vernon Boulevard. The City of New York acquired the land that Vernon Mall occupies by condemnation on January 19, 1907. For decades, the property served as the approach to the Old Vernon Avenue Bridge, but on March 16, 1967, a year and a half after the bridge had been destroyed, the Board of Estimate deemed this land a public place. Although the city retains official jurisdiction over the land, Parks maintains it as parkland. In the late 1960s, the City of New York constructed Vernon Mall, as it exists today, with a walkway lined with seven benches, nine trees and four planting boxes.
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