Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817) was a Polish general and statesmen who distinguished himself in both the American and Polish wars of independence. Kosciuszko, pronounced ko-shoos-ko, was born on February 4, 1746, at Mereczowszczyzna, in what is now Belarus. As a cadet in Warsaw he earned the favor of King Stanislaw II Poniatowski, and was sent to abroad at the expense of the state in 1769. He studied military engineering in Germany, Italy, and France, where he also studied painting. He returned to Poland in 1774, and while employed as her tutor, fell in love with the youngest daughter of the chief of the Ukrainian Cossacks. His plans to elope with her were discovered and the chief’s retainers punished him physically; finally, Kosciuszko was dismissed.
Inspired by the liberal philosophies he had learned abroad, Kosciuszko traveled to America in 1776 and volunteered for the Continental Army. Kosciuszko fortified Philadelphia and earned the rank of colonel of engineers in 1776; and his strategic choice of a defensive position was a direct contribution to the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the war. He spent the next two years planning and constructing the fortress at West Point – now a military academy – and from 1780 to 1782 used his engineering expertise in a variety of military actions. He was highly honored in the newly formed United States and Congress awarded him citizenship, the rank of brigadier general, land, and an annual pension.
After returning to Poland, he took a leading role in Polish rebellion against Prussia and Russia. Despite some victories and the successful defense of Cracow, the outnumbered and under-equipped Polish insurgents were eventually crushed by the combined Russian and Prussian forces. Kosciuszko was seriously wounded and imprisoned in St. Petersburg for two years. He returned to the United States after his release, and lived here for two years. He was close to Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), meeting with him almost daily, and Kosciuszko named him executor of his estate. Kosciuszko then lived in France, and eventually moved to Switzerland. Shortly before his death, he emancipated the peasants on his estate in Poland; after his death, according to his will, Jefferson used the pension and land Kosciuszko had been awarded by Congress to buy and free African-American slaves.
Previously the land that now occupies this park was home to 88 families, a few individuals and a handful of businesses. The city bought the property in 1968 to provide more open space and to build a community pool. The pool was designed by Bedford-Stuyvesant native Morris Lapidus (1902-2001), who also built prestigious resort pools such as the Arawak in the British West Indies and Miami Beach’s Eden Roc and the Fountainbleau Hotel pool, which was used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger (1964).
The park has been known as both Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Pool and Henry Coursey Memorial Playground, but has long been popularly called “K” or Kosciuszko Pool. The park was formally renamed Kosciuszko Pool by Commissioner Stern in 1987.
The pool underwent restorations from 1994 to 2000, which reconstructed the electrical system, renovated the mechanical system, rebuilt the pool and portions of the concrete decks, improved the bathhouse, installed an alarm system and made architectural repairs. Funds for the restorations provided by Mayor Giuliani totaled $2,013,969.
The pool can accommodate up to 920 bathers and measures two hundred thirty feet by one hundred feet. It is complemented by a spray pool, a baby pool, bleachers and a bathhouse. There are pipe sculptures for climbing, which are incorporated into the design of the bathhouse, a large mushroom sculpture, and a flagpole with a yardarm. While Thaddeus Kosciuszko often used water in his fortifications to protect against invading armies, here at Kosciuszko Pool, water brings the community together.