Historic Bronx Parks, The Bronx

When the western Bronx was annexed by New York City in 1874, it was only a matter of time until this rural area would experience widespread urban expansion and a surge in population. John Mullaly (1835–1915), regarded as the “father of the Bronx Park system,” was a newspaper reporter and editor who looked upon this future growth with concern for the well-being of city residents and for the intelligent development of the city itself. To this end, he convened a group of men he hoped would help, presenting facts and figures to make his crucial point about the dire need for more open spaces. His argument was that DeWitt Clinton, New York City’s mayor from 1803 to 1807, had planned the city’s parks in 1807 with one acre of park land to every 160 inhabitants. The reality by 1881, however, was that there was just one acre for every 1,500 inhabitants. By contrast, Paris had one acre for every 13 inhabitants at that time. Mullaly proposed that 4,000 acres be set aside for park land in The Bronx. He succeeding in convincing these men and eventually many others, who became known as the New York Park Association (NYPA), founded in 1881.

Regarding what would someday become Pelham Bay Park, Mullaly was notably quoted in the New York Herald: “If we make a park out of this land, it will be the favorite suburban resort of the mass of the population, the toilers of the city: it will be their Newport.” The NYPA’s effort culminated in the 1884 New Parks Act and the City's 1888-90 purchase of lands for Claremont, Crotona, Van Cortlandt, Bronx, St. Mary's, and Pelham Bay Parks, as well as the Mosholu, Bronx, Pelham, and Crotona Parkways that connect the parks to one another. In 1932, 18 years after his death, Mullaly Park in the south Bronx was dedicated in his honor.

2013 marked the 125th anniversary of the consolidation of the Bronx Park system. To celebrate this occasion and raise awareness of these vital resources, the Bronx Parks 125 Anniversary Committee launched a series of programs and symposia. This brochure includes two walking tours, each covering a number of the parks that were part of the original acquisition of 1888-90, and sites in between. Each one takes roughly two hours by foot. With a bike or other mode of transport, these may be covered in much less time. Those who wish may also venture farther to see some of the borough’s other great parks that are not mentioned in this brochure, including two parks and two parkways acquired in 1888-90: Pelham Bay Park, St. Mary’s Park, Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925) and Pelham Parkway (originally called the Bronx and Pelham Parkway).

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