Strong Street Playground
William L. Strong (1827-1900) was the last mayor of New York City before the consolidation of the five boroughs. He was a millionaire who ran a reform administration, appointing Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) police commissioner, enforcing Sunday blue laws (which banned the sale of alcohol on Sunday), and distributing city appointments across party lines. Though his politics would ultimately cost him reelection in a city with a fickle taste for reform, he opposed the corruption of the Tammany Hall political machine. He was also the first mayor to recognize the important difference between the destitute and the criminal, initiating the establishment of a separate Corrections Department. During his administration (1895-1897), the city annexed the part of the Bronx east of the Bronx River, however, Strong was a vocal opponent of the consolidation of Greater New York. The bill passed despite his veto and took effect in 1898.
This playground is located within Old Fort Four Park. Colonel Rufus Putnam built Fort Four in 1777 after General George Washington ordered the construction of outer defenses throughout the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Putnam’s Fort Four was the largest such fortification in the area. Commanding a view for miles in all directions, it could protect American outposts along the Harlem River. But in the fall of 1779, British forces led by Sir Henry Clinton destroyed the fort. In 1914, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a flagstaff and bronze tablet to commemorate the patriots who fought here.
The Jerome Park Racetrack occupied the land from 1876 to 1890 but was later closed to make room for the Jerome Park Reservoir, first filled in 1905. The reservoir held 773 million gallons of water. Both the racetrack and the reservoir were named for Leonard W. Jerome (1817-1891), who helped found three different racetracks and the American Jockey Club, was a patron of the arts, and established the Academy of Music. His daughter, Jennie Jerome (1854-1921), was the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill and the mother of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II.
The City of New York first acquired this property, located at Strong Street and Reservoir Avenue, by condemnation in 1895 as part of the Jerome Park Reservoir proceedings. The Bronx Parks Department received jurisdiction in two parcels; the first in 1913 and the second in 1931, and the playground opened in 1934. The facility included a basketball court, paddle tennis, seesaw, swings, and a shower basin. The park benefited from an extensive rehabilitation in 1988, which installed new play equipment, benches, drinking fountains, and included a repair of the steps. Ten years later, Fort Four Park received a $150,000 renovation sponsored by Mayor Giuliani. This time, new safety surfacing and asphalt was installed, the playground equipment was remodeled, and a community garden was opened.
This park features a colorful structure with a music wall and a variety of overhead ladders, loops, bridges, and slides. In May 2000, the playground received an $808,000 renovation funded by Council Member Aldolfo Carrion, Jr. The property now offers teen and tot play equipment, safety surfacing, pavement, a flagpole, game tables, benches, fencing, a north arrow rosette, animal art, and a spray shower. Strong Street Playground is certainly a fun place for local residents to enjoy, and equally important, it is a place of historical significance.
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