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History of Playgrounds in New York City

In 1891 Charles Stover created the New York Society for Parks and Playgrounds with the hope that the city would build more playgrounds with play equipment for children. Mayor Seth Low, NYC’s first mayor after the 1898 consolidation of the five boroughs, appointed Stover commissioner of Manhattan Parks. Stover worked with Lillian D. Wald, head of the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side, to establish the Outdoor Recreation League. The league constructed nine playgrounds with swings, slides, and seesaws. Parks began recreation programs in 1902 to promote athletic activity and community involvement in the parks and playgrounds. In October 1903, Seward Park was dedicated as the first municipal park with play equipment. The play equipment served as a model for playgrounds across the city.

The playgrounds of New York City saw great change during the tenure of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Through Federal projects like the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration Moses funded the renovation of playgrounds making sandboxes, wading pools, swings, seesaws, and benches the norm. As Commissioner from 1934 to 1960, Moses increased the number of playgrounds in New York City from 119 to 777. In 1967, during the term of Mayor John V. Lindsay and Parks Commissioner August Heckscher, “adventure” play equipment was first introduced in Central Park. Designed after European models, adventure playgrounds included catwalks, cargo nets, and free form climbing apparatus to encourage creative play.

Classic Playground

Classic Playground is located between Gouverneur Avenue and Orloff Avenue, along Van Cortlandt Park South. The playground features handball courts, basketball courts, a comfort station, benches, slides, swings, a spray shower and play equipment with safety surfacing. Council Member June M. Eisland provided $875,000 in funding that brought new play equipment to the playground in 2002 while preserving the traditional, Robert Moses era environment of Classic Playground.

Woodlawn Playground

Woodlawn Playground is located near Van Cortlandt Park East and 239th Street, and takes its name from the adjacent neighborhood. Woodlawn Playground opened in 1953 and was renovated to accommodate children with special needs in 1995. Today’s playground hosts spring seesaws and play equipment with safety surfacing, picnic area, comfort station, basketball and handball courts and an excellent variety of trees.

Southwest Playground

Located at Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park South, in the southwest corner of Van Cortlandt Park, this playground opened in 1939 as part of the Van Cortlandt Stadium complex.

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Sachkerah Woods Playground

Located in the southeast corner of Van Cortlandt Park, Sachkerah Woods Playground was constructed in 2007 and features new play equipment, a comfort station, drinking fountains, benches, fencing, and surrounding park paths with a handful of picnic tables. (No barbecuing permitted.)

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