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132nd Street Community Garden

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This garden is named for nearby 132nd Street in Harlem. Colonized by Dutch farmers in the late 1600s, this area was originally named Nieuw Haarlem. The rural community became a battlefield in the American Revolution as the Continental Army repelled the advances of British Troops in a skirmish that spanned Manhattan’s northern end. Evidence of the battle of Harlem Heights appears in records covering the area from 110th Street to at least 164th Street.

After the American Revolution (1776-1783), the neighborhood’s agrarian yield began to wane, resulting in the relocation of many residents to Manhattan’s southern, industrial areas. In the 1880s, with the addition of elevated trains and tenement houses, the neighborhood began to thrive once more. The area quickly expanded into a middle and upper-middle class enclave with aristocratic mansions, elegant brownstones, and spacious apartments. Many European Jews moved uptown from the overcrowded Lower East Side. The first wave of African-Americans moved in at this time, establishing residence around 135th Street.

The subsequent success of local African-American businesses, religious institutions, and community organizations fostered continued immigration to the neighborhood. Harlem became a major center of African-American culture, intellectualism, and the arts in the early 1900s, as a cultural explosion known as the Harlem Renaissance made its impact on the national consciousness. Many artists of the time blended images of both Africa and America into their work as a means of expressing their community’s cultural identity. Writers like Rudolph Fisher (1897-1934), Zora Neale Hurston (1901-1960), and Langston Hughes (1902-1967) worked among the likes of legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949) and such noted musicians as Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), Duke Ellington (1899-1974), and Fletcher Henderson (1898-1952).

Harlem was economically devastated during the Great Depression (1929-1940), and the race riots of 1935 marked the end of the Renaissance. Along with increasing social problems came increased political activism. The Harlem community spawned both Black Nationalist groups, such as Marcus Garvey's (1887-1940) Universal Negro Improvement Association, and groups promoting racial equality, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). From the 1940s onward, Harlem has been a center of agitation for civil rights and better urban conditions. Cultural institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the National Black Theatre have continued to thrive in recent years, ensuring that Harlem will always hold a place of prominence in African American culture.

This garden on 132nd Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard was assigned to Parks in 1997, when the lot received a garden makeover. The Borough President's office funded the installation of a $100,000 water distribution system that keeps the wide variety of trees green. The garden also holds a goldfish pond and several benches. The spirit of the neighborhood lives in gardens like this one, planted and tended by local residents.

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