This square honors Private First Class Timothy Donnellan (d. 1918), a local resident who died in World War I. Donnellan arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1916 and enlisted in the 69th New York Regiment from which the Army formed the 165th U.S. Infantry of the famous Rainbow Division.
On June 1, 1918, Donnellan's sister, Mrs. Thomas Loonan, received a letter stating that her brother had been killed defending his post on May 30. On the same day, she received a letter from Donnellan, written a few days before his death. He reported that he was in good health and eager to face the enemy. He also reported that his chaplain, Father Duffy, a New York hero and namesake of Duffy Square, opposite of Times Square, was well. In the same batch of mail were letters from Donnellan's friends, attesting that he had fought like a hero and died at his post.
Donnellan Square sits in the midst of Harlem's Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill historic district. Sugar Hill developed as the most prosperous section of Harlem, and was given its nickname because its residents were said to live "the sweet life." Its citizens have included entertainers such as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Cab Calloway, as well political leaders such as Thurgood Marshall and Roy Wilkins.
At the request of the Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, funding was secured by City Council Member Stanley Michels for Donnellan Square reconstruction. Designed by Gail Wittwer and completed in 2002, the enlarged park now lies between St. Nicholas Avenue and St. Nicholas Place, from 150th Street to just below 149th Street. Fourteen benches stand within the park, and because Donnellan Square falls in a historic district its three new lampposts are replicas of an old-fashion style.
One of the three expanded planting beds holds the community's Christmas Tree, a Norway spruce surrounded by Carefree delight rosebushes and Upright yews. The smaller of the other two planting beds contain Scholar trees, Japanese tree lilacs, Inkberry bushes, Summersweets, Oakleaf hydrangeas, Carefree delight roses, and butterfly bushes. New Buchner Boxes provide onsite water sources so that the community residents that maintain the plantings will no longer have to carry water over by hand.