This playground honors George S. Goble, who ran an ice pond and icehouse in the Bronx during the 1860s. Adjacent to the playground is Macomb’s Road, named after the merchant and landowner, Alexander Macomb. In 1813, his son Robert Macomb erected a dam that held back the Harlem River at 160th Street. The construction enraged local residents since it blocked large boats sailing the river, and in 1838, a group of disgruntled Westchester farmers tore down the dam with axes.
Goble Playground is part of a long history of recreational parks in New York City. From 1865 to 1895, as the population of the City doubled and the streets teemed with children. Leading reformers lobbied for the creation of a new kind of small park for children — the playground. The earliest playgrounds, called “sand gardens,” appeared in the 1880s on the grounds of settlement houses. Furnished with innovative play equipment like seesaws, and staffed by trained recreation specialists, the playground was designed to be a “healthful influence upon morals and conduct.”
As Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th U.S. President, and President of the Playground Association of America, wrote: “If we would have our citizens contented and law-abiding, we must not sow the seeds of discontent in childhood by denying children their birthright of play.” For these reformers, recreation was not an end in itself: it was directly linked to the preservation of social morality.
Groups such as the New York Society for Parks and Playgrounds formed to raise awareness of the importance of play to children's health. The Society organized parades of mothers and babies, planned public meetings to demonstrate the use of the seesaw, and opened its own playground on Second Avenue and 91st Street. In 1903, the first municipally run playground in the United States, Seward Park, opened on the Lower East Side.
During the Depression, federal aid through the Works Progress Administration enabled the City to greatly expand and improve its play spaces. Under the stewardship of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), new playgrounds were constructed at an astonishing rate throughout the decade. Moses was able to employ more than 80,000 Parks employees, thanks primarily to the influx of money from the federal government for large public works projects.
When Moses took his post in 1934 there were only 119 playgrounds in New York City. By the end of Moses’s reign in 1960, there were 777. Typically these playgrounds were characterized by large asphalt-covered areas adorned with sandboxes, seesaws, metallic jungle gyms and monkey bars, swing sets, and slides. They were designed for the use of a wide age group, from small children to those in early adolescence.
Parks acquired the land for Goble Playground, at the southeast corner of Macombs Road and Goble Place, in two parts: the first section by purchase on October 20, 1936 and the second by condemnation on October 23, 1936. Commissioner Stern named the property Goble Playground on June 10, 1987. In December 1997, a $102,749 renovation sponsored by Mayor Giuliani was completed that added new play equipment, safety surfacing, handball courts, and landscaping.