This playground is named in honor of DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), the distinguished New York statesman who served ten terms as mayor and three as governor. Born in Little Britain, New York, Clinton received his primary education from King’s College (now Columbia University) and was admitted to the bar in 1786. Clinton served on the New York State Legislature from 1792 to 1802 and as a member of the United States Senate in 1802 and 1803. He resigned from the Senate in 1803 and was appointed New York City Mayor. During his 10 years in office, Clinton sponsored the construction of a new city hall in Manhattan (which continues to be used today), and founded the New York Historical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, the New York City Public School system, and the Orphans Asylum.
The Mayor’s most recognizable initiative, which was unveiled in 1811, was the Manhattan grid street system. This milestone in city planning promoted a systematic development of the island. The plan utilized rectangular blocks to maximize the city’s efficiency and ease of use. The layout arranged 12 north-south avenues perpendicular to 155 east-west cross streets in defiance of Manhattan’s rugged geography. The commission’s plan astutely predicted and accommodated the exponential growth that would occur during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Also in 1811, Clinton proposed a 363-mile long canal following a depression through the Appalachian Mountains to connect Lake Erie to the Hudson River. Clinton estimated that the waterway’s cost would be $6 million, nearly three-fourths of the United States budget at that time. Brilliantly, Clinton financed the project through the sale of government bonds that were supplemented by a modest state tax on salt. On October 26, 1825, workers completed the Erie Canal, three years ahead of schedule and within the allotted budget. The magnitude of the engineering achievement was equaled only by the miraculous wealth of commerce it provided. The canal unlocked the riches of the inner United States and routed them to the City of New York. The canal’s 83 water locks transformed the City into a cultural and economic center and also stimulated the beginning of the American westward migration. This singular accomplishment has led many historians to name DeWitt Clinton “the most important New Yorker ever.” Perhaps Clinton’s only political failure was an unsuccessful bid for the United States Presidency in 1812.
The Dutch farmers who founded this community in 1645 named the area Whitestone for a large white boulder that broke the tides along the shore. The farmers purchased the land from the Matinecock Native Americans at the price of one ax per fifty acres. In 1735, the discovery of clay deposits precipitated widespread growth of pottery manufacturing. The discovery of a hot spring on 14th Street and Old Whitestone Avenue during the mid-19th century brought the area fame as a sanctuary for anemic patients. During this period, New Yorkers referred to the neighborhood as Iron Springs. During DeWitt Clinton’s time as governor (1817-23, 1825-28), the neighborhood was known as Clintonville, hence the playground’s name. Another park named for Clinton is located in Manhattan’s Clinton neighborhood, between 11th and 12th Avenues and 52nd and 54th Street.
Clintonville Playground is bounded by 17th Avenue, 17th Road, and Clintonville Street. Parks maintains the property with help from the Board of Education, and the playground is used by students at JHS 194 (William Carr Junior High School). The site was originally known as JHS 194 Playground, but was renamed Clintonville Playgorund in 1985. When the playground opened in 1959, the facility contained swings, a seesaw, a pipe-frame exercise unit, volleyball courts, a softball field, and kinder play equipment. Today, the site boasts four handball courts, basketball standards, tennis courts, a comfort station, benches, and a variety of play equipment.