Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
arl Schurz Park, named by the Board of Aldermen in 1910 for the soldier, statesman, and journalist Carl Schurz (1829-1906), overlooks the turbulent waters of Hell Gate. The first known Dutch owner of the land was Sybout Claessen who was granted the property in 1646 by the Dutch West India Company. Jacob Walton, a subsequent owner, built the first house on the site in 1770. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army built a fort surrounding the Walton residence to guard the strategic shipping passage of Hell Gate. After a British attack on September 8, 1776, the house was destroyed and the Americans were forced to retreat from the fort, which the British retained until the end of the war in 1783.
The land was purchased from Walton’s heirs in 1798 by Archibald Gracie, a Scottish shipping magnate. He built a mansion there in 1799, where his illustrious guests included future United States president John Quincy Adams and future French king Louis Phillippe. The estate, sold by Gracie in 1819, was acquired by the City from the Wheaton family in 1891. The first home of the Museum of the City of New York, from 1924-32, the mansion has served as the official residence of New York’s mayors since Fiorello LaGuardia moved there in 1942.
The southern portion of the park was set aside by the City as East River Park in 1876. The former Gracie estate was added in 1891 and a new landscape design by Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons was completed in 1902. Maud Sargent relandscaped the park in 1939 when the East River Drive underpass was under construction. Charles Haffen’s sculpture of Peter Pan, created in 1928 for a fountain in the lobby of the old Paramount Theater, was installed in the park in 1975.
The park name honors Schurz, a native of Cologne, Germany. It was strongly supported by the large German community of adjacent Yorkville. After emigrating to the United States in 1852, Schurz quickly made his reputation as a skilled orator and proved to be instrumental to Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election campaign. His most significant political offices were that of United States Senator from Missouri (1869-1875), and Secretary of the Interior (1877-81) during the Hayes administration. In his later years, Schurz was editor of the New York Tribune and an editorial writer for Harper’s Weekly. Schurz is also honored by Karl Bitter’s statue of 1913, located at Morningside Drive and 116th Street.
Recent improvements include rebuilding of the stairs, the complete restoration of the playground and the opening of Carl’s Dog Run. These and other projects, including the planting of flowers, have been accomplished through a partnership between Parks and the Carl Schurz Park Association, which has demonstrated the community’s commitment to restoring, maintaining, and preserving this park since it formed in 1974.
- New York
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