A Brief History of Seward Park

Seward Park (official site) brings three acres of green space to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Located north of East Broadway and east of Essex Street, the park offers visitors a shady relief to the hustle and bustle of the big city. The park, named after New York Senator William Henry Seward (1801-1872), was the very first municipally controlled playground in the United States and a model for many others. With a rich history and plenty of room to play, Seward Park New York is one of the Lower East Side’s treasures.

In the late 1890s the Outdoor Recreation League (ORL) worked to bring organized games to public playgrounds. The ORL was instrumental in establishing playgrounds in municipal 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 track for running and a children’s garden. Opening on October 17, 1903, the park’s other innovations such as a recreation pavilion and gymnastic equipment, marble baths, and meeting rooms made it a model for future playgrounds across the country.

The history of Seward Park continues in the 1930s and 1940s, when the park underwent a series of transformations. A portion of the park’s east side was taken over by the city and used for street purposes. Additionally, in 1936 the park acquired the Schiff fountain from Rutgers Park. The transformation was completed by the addition of a basketball court, more playgrounds, courts for horseshoe and shuffleboard, and an area for roller and ice skating.

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

The current history of Seward Park is marked by a 1999 renovation that payed homage to the original ORL plan. The park now features 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 beautiful curving paths, plenty of benches, playgrounds, and sports facilities, Seward Park is still a favorite place for New Yorkers and visitors alike to play.

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