This park is named in honor of Abram D. Ditmars (1822-1899), an Astoria native who served as the first mayor of Long Island City. Ditmars was born in Newtown, New York on February 14, 1822 and attended public schools in the area. He later studied law under the auspices of John L. Riker and was admitted to the bar in 1844. In addition to beginning a career in law, Ditmars pursued a lucrative business as a real-estate dealer and was an active member of the Holland Society.
Ditmars’ brief career in politics began when he was elected as the first mayor of Long Island City after the municipality’s formation in 1870. The new city was made up of the Queens villages of Astoria, Ravenswood, Blissville, Bowery Bay, Hunters Point, Dutch Kills, and Steinway, and takes it name from the local newspaper, which had been operating under the name the Long Island City Star since 1865. Long Island City kept its independent charter for almost 30 years, until joining the borough of Queens when it became part of the consolidated City of New York on January 1, 1898.
Ditmars served as mayor from 1870 to 1876 and is best known for his role in an 1871 amendment to the city charter. As a politician, Ditmars benefited from his connection to the Democratic Party, which held a substantial majority in Astoria and Bowery Bay. This association contributed to Ditmars’ election in 1870 as well as his reelection in 1875. Ditmars would resign from the position in 1876, however, and move from Shore Road in Astoria to take up residence in Brooklyn.
In the same year Ditmars married Lavinia Riker, a native of Newtown who was the daughter of his former law tutor. Together they had four children - John R., Anna M., Edward W., and Samuel R. Ditmars. Lavinia Riker Ditmars died in Brooklyn in November 1886, 10 years after her wedding and less than three years before the death of her husband on February 19, 1899.
The City acquired much of the land that is now Ditmars Park on April 1, 1954 by condemnation. The remainder of the park was obtained on September 22, 1955 when the Board of Education surrendered land that had formerly been occupied by P.S. 8. On May 23, 1957 Parks obtained jurisdiction over the two lots and, soon thereafter, oversaw the demolition of an abandoned two-story, brick school building located on the property. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), who believed the area was in need of recreational facilities, then ordered the construction of a playground on the site, that featured with swings, slides, seesaws, boccie, basketball, and handball courts, as well as a sandpit, spray shower, and comfort station.
Located on the eastern side of Steinway Street, bounded by Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue, Ditmars Park has since been supplied with several modern jungle gyms and a flagpole with a yardarm. In 1997, Council Member Peter F. Vallone funded a $266,334 reconstruction of the play equipment, safety surfacing, pavements, and fences at Ditmars Playground.