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Continental Army Plaza

Continental Army Plaza

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

This park takes its name from the striking equestrian sculpture of George Washington (1732 1799) -- Commander in Chief and first President of the United States (1789 1797) -- which serves as its centerpiece.

The plaza, bounded by Roebling, South Fourth, and South Fifth Streets, was first built by the Department of Public Works (also known as Plant and Structures), in conjunction with the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge, which opened in 1903. The opening of the bridge transformed the surrounding community from an upper class resort to a district comprised of working class immigrants. Federal Works Progress Administration funds were applied toward the renovation of the plaza in 1936 in order to improve access to the monument, repair the balustrade, and install streetlighting. Also around this time a pavilion was removed from the site. In 1938 the plaza and monument were transferred to the custody of the Department of Parks.

Opposite the park stands the former home of the Williamsburgh Trust Company. This distinguished domed structure, now the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church in Exile, was designed by the firm of Helmle & Huberty (who also designed the Prospect Park Boathouse and the McGolrick Park Shelter Pavilion). It was opened in 1906.

The statue of George Washington was dedicated in 1906, and was presented to the City by Congressman James R. Howe and the Committee of Supervision and Construction. It was sculpted by Henry Mervin Shrady (1871 1922), a life long New Yorker, who was commissioned to make the statue after winning a design competition in 1901. Washington at Valley Forge was his first major public work. He subsequently created other major public monuments including the Grant Memorial at the foot of the Capital Grounds in Washington, D.C., and the Robert E. Lee equestrian statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. George Washington at Valley Forge was cast at Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn. It is anchored to a granite base designed by Lord and Hewlett.

Shrady depicts the Commander in Chief during the six month period from December 1777 to June 1778 when the Continental Army was encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania between Philadelphia, where the British were stationed, and York, the temporary seat of the Continental Congress. Though the winter took a terrible toll, with an estimated one fourth of the 10,000 soldiers perishing, the army left in the spring intact, largely due to Washington’s capacity as a leader. Shrady’s image in bronze portrays Washington in a vulnerable pose of contemplation, shrouded in a cloak to protect him from the severe weather--a far cry from the proud pose of benediction which may be seen in Henry Kirke Brown’s equestrian statue of the commander in Union Square, Manhattan.

The recent renovation of the park raised the level of the lower plaza for better access. Other improvements included new paving, benches and plantings, redesign of the balustrades, inclusion of a performance area and a directional medallion indicating the orientation and distance of Valley Forge Memorial Park. In addition the sculpture and pedestal underwent cleaning and conservation. The project was completed at a cost of $1,100,000 through funds allocated by Council Member Victor L. Robles.

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