This playground is named for the 17th century British governor of New York, Colonel Thomas Dongan (1634-1715).
Born in Castletown, Ireland, Colonel Dongan was dispatched by the Duke of York in 1683 to govern New York following the controversial tenure of Major Edmund Andros. Having previously served as military governor of Tangier, Dongan held an understanding of colonial administrations. Within months of his arrival, Dongan established the first representative assembly of the province, organized the colony into counties, and drafted the document that supplied the first civil framework for New York City, “Dongan’s Charter.”
In October of 1683 an election chose a delegation of 18 assemblymen. This first representative assembly in New York’s history met for three weeks in Manhattan, and completed their session with the drafting of a “Charter of Liberties and Privileges” pushed along by Dongan. The charter set up the administrative framework for the colony (governor, governor’s council, assembly), announced basic rights (trial by jury, no taxation without representations), and established religious liberty (limited to Christians).
The charter also parceled the colony into 12 “shires” or counties, counting New York (Manhattan), Kings (including modern-day Brooklyn, and the Dutch communities of western Long Island), Queens (the English towns of western Long Island), Richmond (Staten Island), Suffolk (the eastern remainder of Long Island) amongst them. As in England, these “shire” units were to serve as the basis of local government. Each had administrative and military positions all appointed by the governor. The shires also served as election districts whose landholding white males were empowered to elect representatives to the Assembly. The Assembly awarded cash to Dongan for his efforts, and the Charter was passed along to the Duke of York for final approval.
Furthermore, Dongan issued an additional charter for the government of New York City. “Dongan’s Charter,” as it has since been called, made New York City a self-governing corporation, with special rights within the geographic area of Colonial New York. The city was divided into five wards plus an outer ward comprising the remaining sections of Manhattan north of the lower tip.
Dongan returned to Ireland as the Earl of Limerick in the spring of 1691. He left his New York estate to his nephews, and to Staten Island, he left the memory of his name. Dongan Street, Dongan Hills, and Dongan Hall all honor his influence as governor, and Castleton Avenue and Castleton Corners recall his birthplace. Thomas Dongan died in 1715 at the age of 81. Dongan Hills is home to the third oldest building in New York City, the Billiou-Stillwell-Perrine House at 1476 Richmond Road, which dates from before Dongan’s arrival in New York. Dongan’s home, however, burned to the ground on Christmas Day 1878, almost 200 years after his death.
This playground has been known by three different names since its opening on August 21, 1968. It was first called P.S. 52 Playground, for the adjacent school. On March 24, 1986, Commissioner Stern renamed the property Mason Playground for nearby Mason Avenue, and eleven years later, in the summer of 1997, he renamed it for Dongan.
Dongan Playground, bounded by Dongan Hills Avenue, Mason Avenue, and Buel Avenue, has received two major renovations since its opening. On June 2, 1987, the facility reopened after a $641,000 renovation. The two-year reconstruction project included redesigning the play area, restoring basketball and handball courts, resurfacing the tennis area, repairing drainage and water supply systems, and installing new benches, fencing and shrubs. In 1996, Mayor Giuliani provided $138,662 for the installation of new play equipment and the addition of safety surfacing.