This parkland honors Major William F. Deegan (1882-1932), an influential Bronx veteran, architect, and politician. William Francis Deegan was the son of Irish immigrants, and studied architecture at Cooper Union in Manhattan. At age 25, when World War I broke out, he served as a staff officer in the 105th Field Artillery. Later in the war, he served as a major with the Army Corps of Engineers under General George W. Goethals (1858-1928), and oversaw the construction of Army bases in the New York City area.
After the war, Deegan distinguished himself as a public servant. He worked to build a support network for veterans of military service, and played an integral part in founding the American Legion in 1919. In addition to his work as an architect (he worked for many important firms, including McKim, Mead, and White), Deegan, a Bronx Democrat, served as president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce and as the Tenement Housing Commissioner under Mayor James J. Walker. He also held the position of chairman of the Mayor’s Committee for Welcoming Distinguished Guests, (the city’s official greeter). He died on April 4, 1932, following an appendectomy.
The six-lane Major Deegan Expressway follows the Bronx shore of the Harlem River for eight and a half miles, from the Triborough Bridge to the New York State Thruway. It connects the Bronx to upstate New York, and it passes important Bronx landmarks including Yankee Stadium and the regal High Bridge. The Expressway also passes by many bridges that link the Bronx and Manhattan including the University Heights, Washington, Macombs Dam, Madison Avenue, Willis Avenue, and Third Avenue bridges.
The Major Deegan Expressway was constructed in piecemeal fashion. On April 30, 1937, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia renamed the westerly approach to the Triborough Bridge the Major William F. Deegan Boulevard. Meanwhile, Robert Moses was planning a “relief route” connecting the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Expressways to ease congestion on the Henry Hudson and Bronx River Parkways. The first portion of Moses’s project, which connected the Triborough Bridge and the Grand Concourse, was laid out in 1939. Five years later, Moses had built a stretch of highway running north along the former route of River Road. In 1956, Moses extended the highway from 144th Street through Van Cortlandt Park and officially named it the Major Deegan Expressway. It was designated as part of Interstate 87 in 1958.
Deegan Rock is located at the junction of East 138th Street, the Major William F. Deegan Expressway, and the Grand Concourse. It lies along the tracks of the former New York Central Rail Road, which now serve Norfolk Southern freight and Metro North passenger trains. The city acquired this land as a pre-existing public space in 1896. The memorial to Deegan, a seven and a half-foot tall Concord granite rock, was dedicated in 1935. Eight years later, a local law closed the small portion of Mott Avenue that remained after the Grand Concourse expansion assigned the land to Parks. This park opened the following year as Mott Avenue Park. It was renamed Deegan Rock in 1997.