Saw Mill Playground
E. 139 St. bet. Brook Ave. and Willis Ave.
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Saw Mill Playground
This playground is named for the Saw Mill Creek, also known as the Mill Brook, which once flowed by this parkland. The creek originated in Gates Place in the North Bronx, ran along what is now Brook and Webster Avenues, and emptied into the Bronx Kill. Sawmills flourished along the many tributaries of Bronx waterways for more than two hundred years. The early sawmill, devised in 1352 in Europe, was dependent on water as both a power source and a means of transporting goods. Logs were floated down river to sawmills, which cut raw lumber into standardized shapes and sizes for building purposes. Another byproduct of the sawing process was wood pulp, from which paper is made. Due to the abundance of lumber and waterpower in the Hudson River Valley, sawmills became a popular and lucrative industry for 17th Century European settlers.
Adriaen van der Donck constructed the first sawmill in this area around 1650. Located on a creek on the northern end of his property, which stretched from the Spuyten Duyvil Creek (dividing the Bronx from Manhattan) to present-day Yonkers, van der Donck’s mill cut logs and used them to build ship masts. The most famous sawmill in the region was that of Jacobus Van Cortlandt, Mayor of New York from 1710 to 1719, who dammed Tibbett’s Brook in the 1690s to form Mill Pond, now known as Van Cortlandt Lake. Van Cortlandt built a sawmill and a gristmill, used to grind grain, which remained in operation until 1889. By this time, the innovation of steam power made water-powered, colonial-era sawmills nearly obsolete. Saw Mill Creek served as an important boundary throughout the nineteenth century, dividing the lands of the various Bronx heirs, including those of the Bathgate and Morris estates.
Saw Mill Playground, located between East 139th and East 140th Streets and Brook and Willis Avenues, lies in the heart of the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. In the 1850s, Jordan L. Mott (d.1915) purchased 200 acres of lower Morrisania. Mott laid out lots for purchase, and renamed the area after himself. Aside from his real estate interests, Mott was a prodigious inventor and entrepreneur. He earned over fifty patents in his lifetime, beginning at the age of 15. His most famous innovation is a stove for burning anthracite coal. Mott also opened a large iron foundry on the Harlem River, Mott Iron Works, which produced manhole covers for the Bronx, wrought-iron bridges for Central Park, and decorative ironwork used around the world. His business closed in 1906.
Parks acquired the site for Saw Mill Playground in October 1964. Parks and the Department of Education agreed to operate the playground jointly. This arrangement ensures that both students from the nearby school, formerly P.S. 49, now the Mario Salvadori School (M.S. 222), and other residents from the community enjoy the facility. The first stage of construction was completed in 1968, and further improvements in 1969 provided more space for play. After additional renovations, the playground was opened to the public on October 11, 1974. It was named Saw Mill Playground in 1987. In 1997, the playground was renovated with city funds allocated by the City Council, adding new play equipment and handball courts.