This Fort Greene playground, located on the south side of Flushing Avenue, was renamed Oxport Playground by Parks in 1996, combining the names of North Portland Avenue to the west, and North Oxford Street to the east. Both streets date back to the first half of the nineteenth century.
In the 1940s, Brooklyn’s large World War II labor force, of which 71,000 were employed in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, prompted the construction of many new housing projects. As additional housing projects were built in the 1950s, the city kept pace with the needs of the increasing enrollment in Fort Greene schools by creating more recreational facilities such as this one. The city acquired this site by condemnation in 1956, and in 1960 it was opened as a jointly operated playground with J.H.S. 265.
The neighborhood of Fort Greene takes its name from the local Revolutionary War fort whose construction in 1776 was supervised by American Major General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786). Greene built Fort Putnam (the original name of Fort Greene) on the high ground now occupied by nearby Fort Greene Park. Although the Continental Army was defeated at the Battle of Long Island in August 1776 and was forced to abandon the fort, their struggle allowed Washington and his forces to escape across the Gowanus Creek. Unfortunately, over 11,500 men and women held captive by the British on prison ships anchored in the East River died from overcrowding, contaminated water, starvation and disease. Hastily buried along the shore, their remains were first moved in 1808 to a tomb on Hudson Avenue, and finally relocated in 1844 to a crypt beneath the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park. Greene assisted Washington in victory at Trenton in 1776, and led a series of successful actions against the British in the Carolinas from 1781 to 1782. Following the war, he retired to Georgia, where he died of sunstroke in 1786. The fort itself was rebuilt for the War of 1812, and renamed for Greene.
The site now occupied by the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard was a tobacco plantation for almost 150 years. In 1781, the plantation was transformed into a shipyard, becoming a major employer for many New Yorkers. By 1870, Fort Greene had become home to over half of Brooklyn’s African-American population, in addition to numerous German, Irish and English immigrants. In recent years, artists, musicians and writers have been drawn to this culturally rich area, which boasts the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the oldest performing arts center in America.
The children of Fort Greene have enjoyed Oxport Playground’s fitness course, new basketball courts, sprinklers, climbing equipment, swings and chess tables since its reconstruction in 1998. This $520,000 project was funded by Council Member Mary Pinkett. A yardarm flagpole, surrounded at its base by a colorful geometric pattern, stands in the center of the playground. As a tribute to Oxport Playground’s name, the park’s wrought-iron fence now also features a stylized rendition of weight-carrying oxen swimming in the ocean.