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Rock Garden Park

Hiawatha Falls Rock Garden Community Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This park is named Hiawatha Falls for the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha (1855) by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), for whom nearby Longfellow Avenue is named. Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, and attended Bowdoin College. He graduated in 1825, with Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), who wrote The Scarlet Letter (1850). Longfellow became famous for poems such as Evangeline (1847) and Paul Revere’s Ride (1861). He was also a noted scholar of foreign languages, teaching at Bowdoin (1829-1835) and Harvard (1836-1854), and translating Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1867. The Song of Hiawatha tells the story of the legendary Onondaga chief who is credited with having founded the Iroquois Confederation. The poem chronicles his rite of passage into adulthood. Its theme of self-reliance and individual discovery especially suits this park, which was the fruit of the Crotona Park East community’s determination and initiative.

Because the land was once dominated by large rock formations inhospitable to development, the site became a dumping ground for construction debris and trash, making it an eyesore and a haven for rats. The Crotona Park East community, led by Dave Reid and Oscar Morrillo, with help from the activists of the Mid-Bronx Desperados, established a GreenThumb garden. The success of the garden inspired the City of New York to turn the site into a permanent green space in 1999.

The design for the new park worked with the challenging landscape and made use of the existing stones. Parks added waterspouts to a large rock formation abutting Longfellow Avenue, turning it into a waterfall. The stone-bordered asphalt path branches off to a lookout terrace with stone walls and steel shading that provides a magnificent view of the Bronx’s cityscape. A basketball court and play equipment provide opportunities for recreation. Underneath the flagpole is a large concrete compass. Funding for the project came from Councilmember Jose Rivera, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and totaled $1,586,000.

This park was one of ten recipients of a New York City Art Commission Design Award for 1998. The award commended the way that “…the landscape architects have created a charming and natural setting for various activities in a design that creatively meets community needs while adapting to extremely difficult terrain.”

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