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Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Westerleigh Park and the neighborhood of Westerleigh take their name from the Westerleigh Collegiate Institute of Staten Island, once located nearby. The institute was founded at the end of the 19th century, an unusual and defining period in area history. The Westerleigh neighborhood’s late 19th-early 20th century charm and ‘simple-life’ philosophy are protected by special zoning laws, implemented in 1989 that have helped to maintain the bygone character. As a result, traffic and noise levels are considerably lower than in other areas of Staten Island, and community life is active and close-knit.
First purchased in 1848 by John Vanderbilt, the Westerleigh property was sold by his daughter Sarah to Christopher S. Williams and William H. Boole in 1887. Williams and Boole bought the property on behalf of the National Prohibition Party, for the creation of a summer retreat. By July of the next year, the National Prohibition Campground Association had built a large camping facility–complete with ballfields, tennis courts, a lecture platform, a bowling alley, stables, woodlands, ponds, and a spring–to provide months of productive relaxation to members of the Party and followers of the Prohibition Movement. This period was the height of the anti-alcohol movement, and the Campground was busy with meetings, lectures, and religious services in addition to more recreational activities.
In 1891, a permanent multi-purpose facility called University Temple was built. Among the visiting lecturers invited to speak were former president Theodore Roosevelt and the outspoken populist William Jennings Bryant. Westerleigh’s many summertime residents included John St. John, a one-time presidential candidate and staunch advocate for the rights of working children.
The number of visitors to the camp declined slowly but steadily as the 1880s came to a close. Westerleigh made the transition from a tent-dotted summer community to a real neighborhood with year round residents. Permanent streets and sidewalks were laid, and the Dutch Colonial and Victorian houses that are still characteristic in the area were built. Westerleigh Collegiate Institute was founded in 1895. It was the first school on Staten Island to provide a complete kindergarten-college education. The neighborhood, previously called National Prohibition Park, gradually came to be known as Westerleigh.
The site of Westerleigh Park, bounded by Maine, Springfield, Neal Dow, and Willard avenues, was donated to the City in 1907 by the National Prohibition Park Company. At that time, it was a part of the 15-acre ‘picnic grove,’ or ‘pleasure grove’ of the National Prohibition Park complex. The property was donated with the understanding that it would be used for public recreational purposes and events. In 1923, the Staten Island Parks Department constructed a large octagonal bandstand in the park. Concerts in Westerleigh Park quickly became popular, drawing crowds of up to 500. Children’s plays were also performed at the bandstand. The popularity of Westerleigh Park’s concerts has continued throughout the 20th century. Facilities in the park also include a comfort station and numerous benches.
In 1999, the sidewalks and pavement in the park were restored at a cost $53,840, and lawn and irrigation improvements were completed for $158,635. Both projects were funded by Mayor Giuliani. In addition to the central bandstand, Westerleigh Park contains a flagpole with a yardarm and several varieties of plants and trees including American beech (Fagus grandifolia), oaks (Quercus), red maples (Acer rubrum), and dogwoods (Cornus florida). Neighborhood events, including an annual Patriotic Sunday in celebration of Flag Day an Independence Day. A volunteer group called the Friends of Westerleigh Park helps to maintain the thriving parkland.