This park was originally known as Cooper Gore. A "gore" is a small triangular park, a meaning derived from the definition of a gore as a triangular piece of material inserted in a garment, sail, etc. to widen it or change its shape. It derives from the Old English word gara meaning corner. Other gore parks in Brooklyn include Cuyler, Grant, Memorial, and Underhill Gores. The gore at the corner of Orient and Metropolitan Avenues was named for philanthropist, industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper (1791-1883). Cooper was a native New Yorker and workingman's son with less than a year of formal schooling, who became one of the most successful American businessmen of his day. He made his fortune in iron, glue, railroads, real estate and communications. His inventions include the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable and Tom Thumb, America's first functioning steam engine. Cooper also invented Jello--with help from his wife, Sarah, who added fruit to his clarified gelatin. Cooper captured only 81,737 popular votes in his 1876 bid for the presidency as a candidate from the Greenback Party.
Peter Cooper dedicated his life and wealth to philanthropy, to ensure that immigrants and children of the working class would have access to the education that he never had. Believing that education should be "as free as water or air," in 1859 he established the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a coeducational college which continues to provide students with full-tuition scholarships in architecture, art, and engineering. Celebrated features of the institution included a free reading room and the Great Hall, which provided the setting for one of Abraham Lincoln's campaign speeches on February 27, 1860.
In 1821 Cooper purchased a working glue factory in Kips Bay. He stated, "I determined to make the best glue, and found out every method and ingredient looking to that end, and so it has always been in demand." In 1838 he relocated the business to Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn, a strategic site which had access to roads connecting with New York-bound ferries and Long Island farms. When Cooper retired from the glue business in 1865, he sold the factory to family members. The company moved to Smith Island in Newtown Creek in 1878 and left Brooklyn for good in the 20th century. The Gowanda, New York headquarters of the Peter Cooper Glue Company closed in the early 1990s.
The small diamond-shaped parcel at the corner of Orient and Metropolitan Avenues was sold for $2500 to the City of Brooklyn in 1896. It was graded and fenced for use as a park by 1897 and named for Peter Cooper, whose glue factory once stood nearby. According to the 1918 Annual Report of the Brooklyn Department of Parks, there were facilities for tennis (most likely a lawn and a net that could be easily installed and removed) at this tiny park in the 1910s. The park preserves its late-1930s improvements of new oriental plane trees, concrete paths, and wrought iron picket fence.
Orient Grove's new name refers to Orient Avenue. The street may have been so called for its location to the east of Bushwick Avenue, or the street name might nod to the definition of orient as "bright or shining." The word "grove" derives from the Old English graf meaning a small stand of trees or wood without dense undergrowth.