This park honors John Allen Payne (1947-1969), a Sunset Park resident who was killed while serving in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Payne graduated from Fort Hamilton High School in 1967 and entered the Army the following year. His tour of duty in Vietnam began on October 15, 1968, and he ascended to the rank of Staff Sergeant by the age of 22. John Allen Payne died in a helicopter crash in 1969 in the Khanh Hoa province of South Vietnam. The helicopter, carrying Payne and seven other passengers, was en route to Ban Me Thout, Vietnam. For four years the eight passengers were considered missing. The helicopter wreckage was discovered in 1973, at which time Sergeant Payne’s remains were returned to the United States for burial. He is listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. on panel 16W, row 031.
This land was acquired in spring 1940 during the building of the Gowanus Parkway. The lot officially became a park on June 12, 1940. It is one of more than a dozen parks and playgrounds that line the highway now known as the Gowanus Expressway, which runs from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights. The park was named John Allen Payne Park by local law on March 12, 1974. The name was shortened to Payne Park in 1987.
The word “Gowanus” comes from the name of a Native American, Gowane, who was either a member of the Mohawks, or a sachem, or chief, of the Canarsee tribe. Native Americans inhabited this area for centuries before Dutch farmers settled here in the 1640s. The neighborhood of Sunset Park, named for the park built in the 1890s, was home to waves of European immigrants, beginning with groups of Irish fleeing the 1840s potato famine. Norwegians and Finns followed in 1880s and 1890s, establishing sections of Sunset Park known as “Little Norway” and “Finntown” in the early 1900s.
The park contains play equipment with safety surfacing, swings, a spray shower, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, and as a comfort station for community use. Benches provide seats for those seeking rest, and London Planetrees add shade and scenery. The London planetree is known for its ability to survive in harsh urban environments, including dry soil and polluted air. A hybrid of the American sycamore and the Oriental plane tree, the London planetree resembles the American sycamore, but its fruit clusters are borne in pairs rather than singly. The tree takes its name from London, England, where they have flourished.