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Parks Named For Local Leaders or Community Activists

Parks honors local figures who contributed in ways large and small to make the city a better place. Many women led efforts to protect the environment, preserve the history of their communities, and make parks safer for their friends, family, and neighbors.

A girl enjoys her local park?s swing.

An early version of a modern-day community activist is Russian-born Sophie Irene Simon Loeb (1876-1929). Loeb began her career as a teacher, and later worked at the New York Evening World as a reporter. Loeb advocated for welfare for widowed mothers, on behalf of immigrant issues, and in favor of housing reform. Parks honored Loeb with both a playground on the Lower East Side and a decorative fountain in Central Park.

Margaret Isabel Carman (1890-1976) was born to a prominent family rich in history. Her father, Ringgold W. Carman was a member of the Union Army and a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Captain Henry "Lighthouse Harry" Lee. A lifelong member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, after retiring from her teaching career at Flushing High School in 1960, Carman devoted herself to propagating and maintaining Flushing's abundant history. For ten years, Ms. Carman served as the President of the Bowne House Historical Society (Bowne House is located in Flushing's Weeping Beech Park). Carman's efforts also resulted in the opening of the Flushing Freedom Trail, which stops along historical sites in Flushing, many of which are associated with the Underground Railroad leading southern slaves to freedom. Designed to heighten the awareness of Flushing's rich heritage, the 1.3-mile trail begins at the John Bowne House and includes the Kingsland Homestead, New York City's oldest house of worship, the Friends Quaker Meeting House, Flushing Town Hall, the nursery of Samuel Bowne Parsons, and the Aspinwall House, a station on the Underground Railroad.

A protected salt marsh in Udalls Cove, 1992. Photo: Michael Feller

Udalls Cove, on the shore of the Long Island Sound in far eastern Queens, has been a conservation work in progress since the late 1960s, and several women now honored at the site played a part in its preservation. Virginia Michels Dent (1922-2005) spent time around Flushing Bay in Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a child, and when she and her husband Tom bought a house that backed onto Udalls Cove, she worked to protect the marsh from development. They joined with others to create the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee in 1969, with the goal of creating a park preserve, which was established in 1972. In 1989, the Parks Department designated a portion of Udalls Cove at the northern tip of Little Neck Parkway as Virginia Point in honor of Ms. Dent's work. Aurora Gareiss (1909-2000), who moved to Douglaston, Queens in 1943 also lived in a home overlooking Udalls Cove and helped form the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee. In 1985, the Parks Department named the pond on Douglaston's "back road" for Gareiss.

Queens has many areas in which to explore the natural environment. Another such place is Oakland Lake in Alley Pond Park, where Gertrude Waldeyer (1908-1988) raised awareness of the spot's natural wetlands. Her efforts prompted the formation of the Oakland Lake and Ravine Conservation Committee, were the impetus for the designation of the southwest end of the lake as a New York State Freshwater Wetland, and brought to a halt illegal dumping in the ravine. The promenade around Oakland Lake has been named Gertrude Waldeyer Promenade in Ms. Waldeyer's honor. Also in Douglaston, Catherine Turner Richardson (1903-1988) was an active member of the Douglaston Garden Club and a catalyst for the group's participation in beautifying Douglaston Park. She is honored with a park at Douglaston Parkway and 42nd Avenue.

Two women pose on a park bench.

Mary Whalen (1917-1987) was active in her community of Woodhaven, organizing the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation. She is honored in Forest Park with Mary Whalen Playground. Patricia Brackley (1940-1999) was a dedicated gardener and local volunteer. She volunteered by renovating Cronston Triangle in the Rockaways, designing plantings, seats, and a sprinkler system. After fighting cancer for several years, she passed away in 1999. Parks renamed the triangle that Brackley cared for in honor of her in 2000.

In the Bronx, Florence "Cass" Gallagher (1912-1983) was dedicated to preserving Van Cortlandt Park and was a founder of the original "Friends of Van Cortlandt Park." In her honor, the nature trail in the park's northwest woods was named Cass Gallagher Nature Trail and formally opened on October 17, 1984. In Riverdale, Phyllis Post Goodman (1932-1995) was instrumental in preserving a plot of land along 230th Street in the 1970s and is honored with a spot along the Henry Hudson Parkway at Kappock Street.

Staten Island has many acres of natural land, and Gretta Moulton (1911-1971) was someone who believed in outdoor education. She helped galvanize support to preserve parts of the Staten Island Greenbelt that were threatened by development. As a Girl Scout leader, she worked to preserve High Rock Camp and create an environmental education center. Moulton is honored with an ornamental gate at the entrance to High Rock Park.

Parks has a history of offering opportunities for seniors to get crafty!

But preservation and conservation are only part of the mission of Parks. New York City is, of course, primarily urban, and its parks also function as centers for the community, places to learn and grow, and oases to relax and recreate. Many neighborhoods rely on the care and attention of devoted volunteers, and women play a key part in spearheading these efforts. Agnes Haywood (1907-1983) had a long career of community service in her Williamsbridge, Bronx neighborhood. She worked on behalf of education and equal rights issues. At the time of her death in October 1983 at the age of 76, she was president of the Williamsbridge Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women. In 1985, the community gathered to dedicate Agnes Haywood Playground in her memory.

Also in the Bronx, a grove within Ewen Park was named for Sandra Mayer, who formed the Friends of Ewen Park. Mayer worked hard to clean up the park and raise funds for the park's upkeep. Ruth MacLaughlin ( -1968) helped develop vest pocket parks and fought to protect the parkland which eventually bore her name. Aileen B. Ryan (1913-1987) was a New York City Councilmember for 17 years, as well as a former teacher and a charter member of the Bronx County Historical Society. She is honored with the Aileen B. Ryan Recreation Complex in Pelham Bay Park.

In Brooklyn, Frances Hamburger Sternberg (1920-1990) contributed extensively to the social and political life of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods. Her life of public service included chairing the Friends of Lindsay Park Committee. She also served as chairperson of Community Board 1 and campaign advisor to State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol. In 1990, the City renamed Lindsay Park for Sternberg.

August 6, 1943 shot of mothers, strollers, and babies in the park.

In the same neighborhood, Carnegie Playground in Cooper Park honors Margaret Carnegie (1910-1993), who moved to Greenpoint from the Bronx in 1953. She became deeply involved in the community for the next forty years of her life, working with the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation, and the Independent Friends of McCarren Park and the McCarren Pool Restoration, the Council for the Aging, the Williamsburg Greenpoint Independent Democrats. In neighboring Williamsburg, Thelma Martinez (1918-1987) was a 30-year resident of the Williamsburg Houses and was especially committed to Williamsburg Playground, which was renamed for her in 1989.

Hattie Carthan (1900-1984) was a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who always had an interest in trees. When she noticed conditions in her neighborhood beginning to deteriorate, Mrs. Carthan began replanting trees there, and in the process, helped found the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood Tree Corps and the Green Guerillas. The Tree Corps began in 1971 as a way to teach young people how to care for trees. As a volunteer organization providing supplies, advice, and encouragement for all types of urban community green spaces, the Green Guerillas were the force behind the resurgence of the community garden movement in the 1970s. The organization began informally in 1974 with tactics as simple as throwing water balloons filled with seeds into abandoned lots; the positive response showed the overwhelming need for more green space in the inner city. Mrs. Carthan also led the charge to preserve a particular Southern magnolia tree that became a symbol of the neighborhood. The tree, rare in the northeast, was brought on a ship from North Carolina in 1885. Carthan not only succeeded in having a wall built to protect the tree but also spearheaded the successful attempt to designate it an official city landmark in 1970. It is one of only two trees to be designated as such (and after the 1998 death of the Weeping beech in Queens, the only tree still standing). Carthan continued her campaign by convincing the City to convert three nearby abandoned homes into the Magnolia Tree Earth Center.

A young girl and her dog share a carousel ride.

Women sometimes have literally given their lives to make their communities better. Maria Hernandez (1953-1989) worked to rid her block of drugs and drug dealers by organizing block parties, athletic activities, and social gatherings. On the morning of August 8, 1989, Hernandez was struck by five shots fired through the window of her Starr Street home and died soon after. Her block, her Bushwick neighborhood, and the entire city mourned the death of a brave and dedicated woman. The City Council voted soon thereafter to rename Bushwick Park for her.

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917) was the first American citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church. In 1889, Pope Leo XIII sent Cabrini and her missionaries to the United States to aid Italian immigrants. In Manhattan, Cabrini taught at St. Joachim's parish, the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, and the Transfiguration Catholic Church. She also taught at St. Rita of Cascia in the Bronx and the Church of St. Stephen (now Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen's Church) in Brooklyn. After Pope Pius XII canonized her, New York City honored her by naming Northern Avenue, in Washington Heights, Cabrini Boulevard. In 1992 the City renamed the small park on President Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn for Mother Cabrini, and Parks took over the site in 1993.

In Manhattan, many women have helped beautify, educate, or otherwise help their neighborhood. Mary O'Connor (1911-1991) was a well-known community activist and resident of Tudor City. She was active on Community Board 6 and helped secure official landmark designation for Tudor City. She is honored with the Mary O'Connor Playground.

Mae Grant was a local activist and tenant of East Harlem's Carver Houses. Ms. Grant served as president of the tenant association from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. She established a community food program and otherwise helped her neighbors secure apartments and jobs. Mae Grant Park is located at 104th Street and Park Avenue.

Elsewhere in Manhattan, Reverend Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park commemorates Reverend Linnette C. Williamson (1923-1990) of the Christ Community Church of Harlem. Reverend Williamson was instrumental in developing the concept of the vest-pocket park and helped open the very first vest-pocket park, located at 65 West 128th Street. The concept resonated with Mayor John V. Lindsay and his Parks Commissioner Thomas P. F. Hoving, and Parks developed many vest-pocket parks during this era.

Fort Tryon Park´s Anne Loftus Playground was named in 1990 for Anne Susan Cahill Loftus (1925-1989), an Inwood resident and district manager of Community Board 12.

Social worker May Mathews (1887-1974) worked for many years helping the residents of the Clinton neighborhood of Manhattan. She came to live at Hartley House, a settlement house on West 46th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues, in 1903, took over the management of Hartley House in 1904, and remained as its head social worker until 1954. In 1972, the park just to the southwest of Hartley House was renamed for Mathews-- and in 2007, Parks re-renamed the park "Matthews-Palmer Playground" to honor Alexandra Palmer, who served as Parks' neighborhood liaison for the site and who was instrumental in getting the park named for Matthews.

Ilka Tanya Payan Park, located on Broadway between 156th and 157th streets, honors Ilka Tanya Payan (1943-1996). A community leader, immigration attorney, columnist and Spanish-language soap star, Payan lived a full life. Payan contracted HIV in 1986 and dealt with her condition privately until 1993 when she spent her remaining three years speaking out on behalf of AIDS issues.

Related Links

Agnes Haywood Playground
Aileen B. Ryan Recreational Complex
Anne Loftus Playground Carman Green
Carnegie Playground
Catherine Turner Richardson Park
Gertrude Waldeyer Promenade at Oakland Lake
Hattie Carthan Garden
Hattie Carthan Playground
High Rock Park (Gretta Moulton)
Ilka Tanya Payan Park
Loeb Fountain
Loeb Playground
Mae Grant Playground
Maria Hernandez Park
Mary O'Connor Playground
Mary Whalen Playground
May Mathews Playground
Mother Cabrini Park
Patricia A. Brackley
Phyllis Post Goodman Park
Reverend Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park
Ruth MacLaughlin Playground
Sternberg Park
Thelma Martinez Playground

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