This Williamsburg playground shares its name with Roebling Street, whose southern end lies at the playground’s northeastern corner, where it intersects with the northern end of Lee Avenue. Known from 1850 to 1885 as Sixth Street, Roebling Street was renamed in 1885 in honor of John Augustus Roebling (1803-1869), designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. Born in Muhlhausen, Prussia, Roebling graduated from the Polytechnic School in Berlin before going on to work for the Prussian government. In 1831, he immigrated to the United States, where he helped found a small Prussian colony near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There, in 1836, he married Johanna Herting, the daughter of another immigrant from Muhlhausen. The two had nine children. In 1837, after farming for several years, Roebling began work as a civil engineer in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.
While working in Harrisburg, Roebling designed and developed his own method for stranding and weaving wire cables. In 1848, he moved to Trenton, New Jersey, where his new technique soon proved so successful that he opened a factory to manufacture his cable. Meanwhile, Roebling’s reputation as a pioneering designer of steel suspension bridges began to grow. During the 1850s and 1860s, Roebling and his eldest son, Washington, built four suspension bridges: two in Pittsburgh, one at Niagara Falls and another across the Ohio River.
After New York State accepted Roebling’s design for a suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan, he was appointed chief engineer. The Brooklyn Bridge, by far Roebling’s most impressive work, was unfortunately to cost him his life. In 1869, as he stood atop the pilings of a ferry slip, taking compass readings, a docking boat bumped into the slip, causing him to fall and trap his foot. He was rushed to his son’s house in nearby Brooklyn Heights, where doctors amputated his toes, but three weeks later he died of a tetanus infection caused by the accident. His son completed the bridge in 1883. At the time it was finished, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge, with a span of 1,595.5 feet. Much to the dismay of many Brooklyn residents at the time, it forever linked the once-independent City of Brooklyn with Manhattan.
Most of this site was acquired in 1941 by the Board of Education as an addition to the already existing Public School 16. After the rest of the block was acquired in 1951, work began in 1955. Operated jointly by the Board of Education and Parks, the P.S. 16 Playground was opened to the public in 1956, featuring a softball diamond, basketball courts, handball courts, a sandpit and tot play equipment. Numerous Platanus Acerifolia, or London Plane trees, were planted in and around the playground to shade visitors.
The playground, once known as Lee Playground because it is located on Lee Avenue, was renamed by Parks in 1995, and in 1999 underwent a $270,000 reconstruction paid for by a Mayoral Requirements Contract, which included the installation of new colorful adventure-play apparatus.