Youth Village Playground
Youth Village Playground is named in honor of the Youth Village Center, a local group that has helped Parks maintain the property since 1979. The Youth Village Center, which now operates a daycare center on Tinton Avenue, was founded in 1959 by Lucille Dreher (1910-1991). Dreher was born in Greenville, South Carolina, the youngest of five children. Her father died while she was an infant, and her mother supported the family by working as a seamstress. Dreher married in 1927, and moved to New York City in 1947. As a resident in the South Bronx for more than three decades, Dreher, and her husband, Reverend Frederick D. Dreher, of Bethel Temple, helped develop teen programs, job training initiatives, and senior citizen activities in the neighborhood. In 1975, Dreher received the honorary title of Locality Mayor for the Bronx because of her dedication and leadership in the community.
Lucille Dreher was passionate about parks and helped turn approximately 30 vacant lots in the Bronx into local gardens and public parks. At one point in the early 1970s, this triangular .27-acre site was littered with trash and debris. For years, Dreher and others in the community hoped they could turn the lot into a park. The Deputy Commissioner of Real Property officially assigned the site to Parks on July 17, 1979. By that time, volunteers from the Youth Village Center, which was originally housed across the street in an old movie theater, had removed an abandoned building on this property and transformed the site into an inviting and peaceful open space with trees, shrubs, and a birch-covered path. In addition to the Youth Village Center, South Bronx Churches and Morrisania Concerned Citizens have been instrumental in helping Parks keep the playground clean and inviting.
This parkland is located in the Bronx neighborhood known as Morrisania. The area was named by the Morris brothers when they acquired the Bronck estate (for whom the Bronx is named), formerly the land of Swedish sea captain Jonas Bronck, in 1670. The most famous member of the Morris family was Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816), one of the leading American politicians during and after the American Revolution. Witty and urbane, his greatest achievement was to write the final draft of the Constitution, giving the document its coherent form and elegant language. In 1790, Gouverneur’s half-brother, Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, proposed the area as a site of the federal capital. Congress tabled his proposal and never voted on it. The Morris family divided up and sold Morrisania in the 1840s. In 1874, the land was annexed to New York City’s 23rd Ward.
Youth Village Playground is bounded by Boston Road, Home Street, and Jackson Avenue. Today’s Boston Road was constructed after the American Revolution, when Lewis Morris rerouted the original road, which had been an old Native American trail turned into a postal route. The road ran north from the lower tip of Manhattan, crossed the Harlem River into the Morris’ lands in the South Bronx, and connected with what was then the main route to Boston. During the early 19th century, Boston Road was the site of a horse railway, then a common way to transport goods and people.
In the spring of 2000, Youth Village Playground underwent a $210,000 renovation funded by Mayor Giuliani. The renovation included the addition of a new multi-color play unit featuring slides and ladders with safety surfacing, as well as new shrubs and plantings, fencing, asphalt, World’s Fair benches, and concrete curbing. The renovation also brought a piece of animal art to the park, a small, light green concrete frog resides near the play unit.