Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Straddling Brooklyn and Queens, Highland Park is situated on a high plateau that commands dramatic views of nearby cemeteries, East New York, Woodhaven, the Rockaways, and the Atlantic Ocean. In 1856 the City of Brooklyn acquired land here for the site of the Ridgewood Reservoir, which operated from the 1860s until 1985. In 1891 the City of Brooklyn purchased the land surrounding the reservoir for park purposes under the jurisdiction of the Highland Park Society.
The Brooklyn Department of Parks initiated substantial improvements to the property, then known as Ridgewood Park. Between 1901 and 1905 several new structures were built, including a combined music stand and tool house, a shelter house, a rustic bridge, and two rustic arbors. Landscaping efforts laid out roads and footpaths, created a new lake with a fountain, and reclaimed a swamp for the site of a flower garden. The 1905 Department of Parks Annual Report noted that “It was the general consensus of opinion that this flower garden was one of the most unique and superb seen in any of the parks hereabouts.”
Also in 1905, Parks extended the property to the south by purchasing the Schenck estate, which included a Dutch-style farmhouse. Johannes Schenck emigrated from Holland to the colony of New York in 1683 and worked as a teacher and town clerk in Flatbush, New York, and Bushwick. Sources differ as to whether Johannes or one of his descendants built the farmhouse which stood on the road from New Lots to Jamaica; reported dates of construction range between 1686 and 1765. After the Schenck family sold the property in 1905, the farmhouse served as a club house, a lunch room, and a storage facility for Highland Park. It was removed after 1940.
Highland Park took its present shape in 1906-08, when Parks acquired a third parcel to the west from the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity. The park became a favorite spot for the people of Brooklyn and Queens. Athletes could play on football fields, baseball fields, and 28 tennis courts—and skate on the frozen pond in winter. An aquatic garden with water lilies and other water plants was created in 1907, and the children’s farm gardens were planted in 1915. The Dawn of Glory World War I monument by sculptor Pietro Montana was dedicated in 1925.
Recent projects have improved recreational and educational facilities at Highland Park. In 1991 the westernmost parcel was named Vito P. Battista Playground in memory of the architect, educator, and civic activist who served on Community School Board 19 and Community Planning Board 5. With assistance from the GreenThumb program, students from P.S. 140 in Bushwick revived the children’s farm gardens in 1991, and students from P.S. 771 in Brighton Beach have joined with GreenThumb to maintain the gardens. In 1998 the playground in Upper Highland Park was renovated. The two-phase requirements contract provided new playground equipment, safety surfacing, and asphalt.
As Parks employees, volunteers, and students help to maintain and improve the park, nature also lends a hand. Ridgewood Reservoir has not been in use since 1989; the last of its three sections was drained in that year. Trees, shrubs, and other plants have taken root in the three basins, creating a thriving young forest on the site of the former reservoir.
- Jackie Robinson Parkway
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