Riverbend Playground is located in Kingsbridge Heights, near the bend of the Harlem River, where it skirts the northern tip of Manhattan. This “riverbend” is actually the juncture where the river meets the Harlem River Ship Canal. The canal, completed in 1923, was built to expedite the shipping route from the Long Island Sound to the Hudson River, cutting 14 miles off the inconvenient path around the southern tip of Manhattan.
Before the canal, the only link between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers was the un-navigable Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The creek, a .5 mile tidal strait, was notorious for it’s rough waters, caused by the double tides of the two rivers it connected. It’s name comes the phrase spuit den duyvil, Dutch for “in spite of the devil.” The creek, which became the line dividing New York and Bronx Counties, ran to the north of the Marble Hill neighborhood.
The Manhattan and Bronx shorelines changed in 1895 when a section of the Ship Canal was completed to the south of Marble Hill. For 19 years, Marble Hill remained an artificial island, chopped off from Manhattan by the new canal, and separated from the Bronx by the old creek. In 1914, Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled in, connecting Marble Hill to the Bronx, but the official county maps continue to reflect the area's original geography, leaving Marble Hill as part of New York County.
Nearby Kingsbridge Road overlays an old Native American path that stretched from West 225th Street at Bailey Avenue to its junction with Fordham Road. The road, along with the surrounding neighborhood, is named after the historic King’s Bridge that once spanned Spuyten Duyvil Creek at what is now West 230th Street and Kingsbridge Avenue. Originally constructed in 1639 as a toll bridge by local landowner Vredryck Flypson, King’s Bridge was the first bridge to connect Manhattan with the mainland. Both the American and British forces used it extensively during the Revolutionary War. In 1914, when Spuyten Duyvil Creek was filled in, the bridge was torn down.
In 1951, the City purchased the land for Riverbend Playground and the adjacent P.S. 122, located on Bailey and Heath Avenues south of Kingsbridge Road in southern Marble Hill. In 1954, the Board of Estimate approved a resolution for the playground’s construction. It opened on November 20 of that year. Riverbend Playground features London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia), a comfort station, vandal resistant benches, and wrought iron fencing. A handball court, play equipment with safety surfacing, and swings provide entertainment, and in the summer a spray shower and drinking fountain keep students and other park-goers cool, while a yardarm flagpole flies the flags of New York City, Parks, and the United States.