Belmont Playground is located on the southeast corner of Belmont Avenue and E. 182nd Street in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx. The namesake of the playground, avenue, and neighborhood was the estate of the Lorillard family, who made their fortune in the tobacco business. In 1760 Pierre Lorillard opened a snuff-grinding factory in a rented house on Chatham Street in lower Manhattan. He was killed by British troops during the occupation of New York in the late 1770s, and his two sons Peter and George took over the firm in 1792.
The brothers Lorillard maintained the administrative offices in Manhattan but relocated the manufacturing operations north to a grist mill on the Bronx River. By the end of the 18th century, their factory produced more chewing tobacco, snuff, and cigars than any other facility in the country. In 1870 the old wooden mill was replaced with a stone factory building (known as the Lorillard Snuff Mill), which presently serves as a restaurant in the nearby New York Botanical Garden in Bronx Park. Peter Lorillard's grave in the cemetery at St. Peter's Church, Westchester is also a landmark of sorts; his tombstone is shaped like a snuffbox.
As the Lorillards' enterprise grew, so did their land holdings in the Bronx. By the middle of the 19th century, the Belmont estate totaled 661 acres. Its centerpiece was the Lorillard mansion, which was built in the 1850s. After the Civil War, the Lorillards moved the business to New Jersey and donated their mansion to the Hospital for Incurables (now St. Barnabas Hospital). Within the next few decades, many of the old estates and farms in the area were divided by new city streets and sold off by real estate developers; however, not all of the land fell into private hands. In 1888-89 the City of New York acquired land for Bronx Park. The former Lorillard mansion became part of the New York Botanical Garden, and the elegant building served as a police station and later an art and science museum until it burned down in the 1920s.
Parks acquired the land for Belmont Playground in three parcels, the first in 1936. When the new facility opened the following year, it was furnished with a variety of play equipment and featured a specially designated area for the popular pastime of roller-skating. Two adjacent parcels were acquired by the City of New York in 1941 for the site of the West Bronx Vocational High School; however, the school was never built, and the Board of Education surrendered the property in 1954. By improving and developing this land for recreational use, Parks more than doubled the playground’s area. The expanded park contained one jungle gym, one wading pool, two slides, eight seesaws, seventeen swings, and forty-seven benches. There were also facilities for basketball, handball, softball, shuffleboard, and boccie. The two parcels were officially assigned to Parks in 1961.
In 1995 Council Member Jose Rivera secured appropriations for the $1,381,000 capital reconstruction of the upper portion of Belmont Playground. Construction took place in 1997-98. Improvements included the installation of new steel play equipment, swings, safety surfacing, spray shower, benches, paving, curbs, north arrow rosette, drinking fountain, and water and drainage systems. A generous planting program helped to green the park with 33 Silver Linden and Redspire Calery Pear trees, over 200 shrubs, 200 daffodils, and extensive groundcover. Also, the handball courts and comfort station were renovated, and a yardarm was affixed to the flagpole. The park's horse-inspired design took its cue from another Belmont—the racetrack in Queens. Cast iron horse medallions were set in the new steel fences; a weathervane shaped like a trotting horse was installed atop the comfort station; and a new cast stone horse invites children to saddle up and ride.
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