Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NYC Parks: Seward Park

By Jeff Myers

Seward Park spans three acres of green space to the Lower East Side. Located north of East Broadway and east of Essex Street, the park offers visitors a shady relief to the hustle of the big old city. The park, named after Manhattan Senator William Henry Seward (1801-1872), was the very first publically ran playground in the US and a model for many others. With an opulent past and plenty of room to play, Seward Park New York is probably one of the Lower East Side's treasures.

In the latter 1890s the Outdoor Recreation League (ORL) worked to bring organised games to public playgrounds. The ORL was instrumental in establishing playgrounds in civic parks and is important to history of Seward Park.

In 1897, the land that would one day become Seward Park was obtained by the city. The ORL transformed the area into a playground, including a children's garden and a running track. Opening on October 17, 1903, the park's other discoveries including gymnastic equipment and recreation pavilion, marbe baths, and meeting rooms made it a model for future play areas across the nation.

The history of Seward Park continues in the 1930s and 1940s, when the park went through a series of transformations. A part of the park's east side was taken over by the the city's government and used for street purposes. In 1936, the park acquired the Schiff fountain from Rutgers Park. The alteration was finished by the addition of more playgrounds, shuffleboard, horseshoe courts and an area for roller and an ice skating area.

The 1950s saw more transformations in Seward Park history. As the encompassing Lower East Side neighborhood grew, another section of the park was redeveloped by NYC. Many streets were closed and houses were built to replace tenement buildings.

The prevailing history of Seward Park is suggested by a 1999 refurbishment that payed homage to the initial ORL plan. The park now includes a central oval with a spray shower and map of the Lower East Side, period lighting and furniture, and quotations from local residents spanning the neighborhood's rich history. These changes brought the park closer to it's original 1903 appearance. With it's stunning curving paths, sports facilities, playgrounds, plenty of benches, Seward Park is still a favorite place for residents of the Big Apple and visitors to play.

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