This small park is a memorial to a not-quite-gone and not-quite-forgotten water feature of Lower Manhattan. When Dutch colonists settled in Manhattan in the 1620s, they learned from local Native Americans about a small brook that was full of trout. It originated near what is now Gramercy Square, burbled its way through (mostly beneath) Greenwich Village, and emptied into the Hudson at what is now West Houston Street.
Local Native Americans called the stream "Mannette," which was translated as "Devil's Water." Over the years, this name was spelled and respelled and spelled again in a variety of configurations: Minnetta, Menitti, Manetta, Minetta, Mannette, and Minetto. The Dutch called the water Mintje Kill, meaning small stream. In Dutch, "min" translates as little, "tje" is a diminuitive, and "kill" translates as stream. The water was also known as Bestavers Killitie, Bestevaas Kelletye, Bestavens Killitie, Bestavers Killatie, and Bestaver's Killetje.
Several families of free African-Americans, released from slavery by the Dutch, established farms and settled along the Minetta Brook in the 1600s. With African-Americans continuing to settle here in the 18th and 19th centuries, the area became known as "Little Africa." Most of the brook has been covered over, though some Village residents can claim that it flows beneath their basements and sometimes causes flooding. In the lobby of the apartment building at 2 Fifth Avenue, there is a transparent tube that is said to contain murky water spouting up from Minetta Brook.
Minetta Playground is located at Minetta Lane, West 3rd Street, and the Avenue of the Americas. In 1934 Board of Transportation granted the Department of Parks a permit to develop this parcel as a playground which opened the following year. In 1953 the Board of Estimate assigned the site to Parks. The northern side of park included a jungle gym, swings, a see-saw, and benches, and the area south of the open pavilion served as a sitting area, with two octagonal play houses, garden swings, and many benches. In 1996-97 the adjacent McDonalds installed new play equipment, safety surfacing, fences, and gates.