This triangle honors Reverend Oliver Paul Barnhill (d. 1934) who led the congregation at the Fordham Manor (Dutch) Reformed Church from 1924 to 1934. Reverend Barnhill was born in LaGrange, Kentucky and attended, in succession, Poplar Grove Academy, Center College, and Princeton University, where he received an M.A. He served as an assistant at the Memorial Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn for twelve years and as associate pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church from 1916 to 1923. Based on his credentials and what the New York Evening Telegram described as "an exceedingly agreeable personality," he was asked to serve as pastor of the Fordham Manor Reformed Church; he started on October 7, 1923.
Reverend Barnhill proved to be an able pastor. He was a moving and eloquent speaker, and had a knack for social organization. The church expanded with the purchase of the nearby Clarke house for use as a parsonage. The cost of this acquisition, however, drove the church into financial troubles. Reverend Barnhill led his congregation through the trauma of the Great Depression, but it proved to be his final task as a pastor. On Sunday, March 18, 1934, Reverend Barnhill gave what was reported to be a beautiful communion service, and subsequently died of a heart attack.
Barnhill Triangle sits on what was once a right-of-way for the Old Croton Aqueduct. The construction of the Old Croton Aqueduct was one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century. The Croton river was dammed and a forty-one mile tunnel and bridge structure was erected for the project; it opened in 1842. The aqueduct allowed for further growth and development of New York City by alleviating two of the city's worst problems: fire and cholera. The abundant supply ensured that enough water would be available to put out fires, and stop the epidemics caused by contaminated water. Although it was built to last for centuries, the Old Croton Aqueduct served the City for less than 50 years. It was doomed not by its engineering or construction, which were both superb, but by its own success: the aqueduct enabled New York to expand so rapidly and so successfully that it was unable to provide enough water for the exploding populace.
In 1890, the New Croton Aqueduct opened (essentially a tunnel blasted through rock), which eventually replaced the Old Croton Aqueduct. The old aqueduct continued to deliver water to Manhattan, gradually decreasing flow until 1955. While the aqueduct itself is no longer useful, its right-of-way was turned over to Parks and remains some of the city's oldest parkland. The transfer of right-of-way was made under the condition that the land be used only for "park and playground purposes." To that end, shrubs and trees, including Callery pears and London planetrees, have been planted in Barnhill Triangle and benches invite passersby to sit and enjoy the greenery.
Recently, Barnhill Triangle was renovated as part of the Greenstreets program. Initiated in 1986 and revived in 1994, Greenstreets is a program that plants trees and shrubs in some of the city's smallest parks, squares, and traffic islands and triangles.