Skip to Main Content

Skip To Search

The Official New York City WebsiteResidentsBusinessVisitorsGovernmentOffice of the Mayornyc.gov always open


October 2004 - Capital Project of the Month

Ft. Greene Park



Project Team: John Krawchuk, Jamie Schroeder, Linda Lawton, Paul Schubert, Stuart Johnson, Dewberry Inc.

Ft. Greene Park is located in the Ft. Greene Landmark District in Community board 2 and Council District 35. It is bounded by Myrtle and Dekalb Avenues, Washington Park , and St. Edwards Street in Brooklyn . The rehabilitation and conservation of the Prison Ship Martyrs monument will provide the community with much-needed spaces in which it can assemble for patriotic, cultural and social events as well as restore a significant memorial in the city’s collection.


Prison Ship Martyrs Monument



Design Intent

The project will entail the historic reconstruction of the Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial site, including the crypt and annex, the Doric column and urn, the bronze eagles and granite light shafts, the central memorial plaza, the wings, and the landscaping. The work will include masonry stabilization, bronze conservation, waterproofing, paving, site reconstruction, an electric service upgrade, and the addition of architectural and security lighting.

Additional Information

Fort Greene Park

The monument will be partially reconstructed, and sections will be stabilized to seal the masonry envelopes and interiors. All existing bronze-work at the column and crypt will be stabilized, provided with new patinas and coatings, and furnished with new fasteners and historic ornament as needed. The column will be outfitted with a new access stair to be used for maintenance. Four new bronze eagles, cast from the originals, will be installed in their original locations in the corners of the central plaza.

The McKim, Mead & White paving pattern will be partially reconstructed in the central plaza. The perimeter hedge and benches will also be reinstated. To insure the continued good health of the Olmsted & Vaux London Plane trees, the rest of the plaza area will remain lawn with an automatic irrigation system for the hedges and lawn installed. New paving in the wings will match that in the main plaza. An accessible path will be installed between the comfort station and the back entrance to the central plaza. The concrete pavement will be removed from around a 134 year old elm in the northeast wing and underplanted with groundcover. The elm, all of the trees in the central plaza, and the gingkoes around the wings, will also be pruned and fertilized.


Image of the view from the top of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park.The McKim, Mead & White paving pattern will be partially reconstructed in the central plaza. The perimeter hedge and benches will also be reinstated. To insure the continued good health of the Olmsted & Vaux London Plane trees, the rest of the plaza area will remain lawn with an automatic irrigation system for the hedges and lawn installed. New paving in the wings will match that in the main plaza. An accessible path will be installed between the comfort station and the back entrance to the central plaza. The concrete pavement will be removed from around a 134 year old elm in the northeast wing and underplanted with groundcover. The elm, all of the trees in the central plaza, and the gingkoes around the wings, will also be pruned and fertilized.

The drainage system in the central plaza will be reconstructed and erosion control measures will be taken along the base of the walls around the plaza. Architectural lighting will be installed to illuminate the column, urn and eagles and new security lighting will be installed in the monument plaza. The bronze urn at the top of the column will be simultaneously restored with grant funds obtained by the Fort Greene Park Conservancy from Assemblyman Roger Green and the State Dormitory Authority.


Site History

During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, forts were strategically positioned on the high ground of what is now Fort Greene Park. In 1845, the 33-acre undeveloped and,for the most part, privately-owned property was mapped and designated ‘ Washington Park.’ In 1846, Walt Whitman initiated a campaign to develop the site into the much-needed park. In 1848, the Common Council of Brooklyn and the New York State Legislature agreed upon a payment plan to acquire the property, and by 1850 Brooklyn’s first public park was fully open to the public. Fort Greene Park has evolved through five distinct design periods. The first design was informal and naturalistic, based upon the theories of noted landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing.

The second design period began in 1867 when Olmsted, Vaux & Company were appointed to redesign the site. The new plan introduced the formal, diagonal axis and terracing that still exist. Twin flights of granite steps provided access to the top of the hill where a cross-shaped rustic arbor was built to take advantage of the view and the breezes. The adjacent Saluting Battery sat at the top of the steps. A large, circular open space for public gatherings and military parades was located at the foot of the steps, at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Canton (now St. Edwards) Street. A crypt for the remains of Revolutionary War prisoners of war, known as the Prison Ship Martyrs, was incorporated in a stone retaining wall between the stairs, halfway up the hill. A monument designed to surmount the crypt was never built. As described by Calvert Vaux in the firm’s design proposal, the remainder of the parkland was devoted to “undulating ground…somewhat closely planted…so laid out that it will offer a series of shady walks that will have an outlook over open grassy spaces at intervals.”

Historical Image of the unveiling of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park.




In 1897, the park was renamed Fort Greene Park after the fort which had occupied the site during the War of 1812, which had in turn been named after Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene. In 1898, Brooklyn was consolidated into greater New York City , and the park came under the jurisdiction of the Brooklyn Parks Department.

The third design period began in the early 1900s when McKim, Mead & White won a competition to make improvements to the park and to design a monument to honor the prison ship martyrs. The monument, which still exists, is a granite Doric column topped by a bronze urn. The base is a double, stepped granite platform, centered on a square plaza enclosed by low granite walls. The plaza sits at the top of the hill on the site of Olmsted & Vaux’s arbor. Pairs of short granite piers topped with stone spheres mark the four entrances to the plaza. When it was first built, the plaza was paved in granolithic concrete with brick banding. Rectangular lawn panels set in the pavement marked spaces left vacant for two long pergolas planned for future installation, but which were never built. A formally-clipped privet hedge was planted just inside the walls. Four fluted granite shafts at each corner of the plaza, served as decorative spot lights for the monument, each originally displaying a bronze eagle on the lower pedestal. The bronze eagles were vandalized in the 1960’s and ultimately removed from the park. They are currently publicly displayed at the Parks Headquarters in Central Park. Additional plaza lighting was provided by cast iron lampposts with single-globe luminaries. Cast iron and wood benches sat in the brick band in front of the hedges facing the monument. The front of the monument plaza is approached via a 100-foot wide granite staircase with three flights of steps and two broad landings. The prisoners’ bones were interred in a new crypt located under the second flight of steps. East of the monument is a neoclassical comfort station also designed by McKim, Mead & White. Stanford White died in 1906 with the Fort Greene Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial being his last public work.

The fourth design period began in 1934 with the appointments of new Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Consulting Landscape Architect Gilmore D. Clarke. Under Clarke’s supervision, the monument, steps, and crypt were repaired and a granite enclosure, the “annex,” was installed over the crypt entrance. The monument plaza and the landings between the steps were repaved with alternating bands of granolithic poured-in-place concrete and modular concrete pavers. The perimeter hedge was removed, but planting beds were added to the plaza and the stair landings. Concrete and wood benches ringed the planting beds and faced in toward the monument and out toward the park landscape. Clarke added paved wings to the northeast and southwest sides of the monument plaza, surrounded them with triple rows of Ginkgo trees, and linked them to the rest of the park with new paths. The park path leading to the back of the monument plaza was eliminated and the single-globe luminaries were changed to ones with peaked metal caps.

The most recent reconstruction was accomplished in the early 1970s by landscape architect A.E. Bye and architects Berman, Roberts & Scofidio. Bye removed the concrete paving from the monument plaza and replaced it with a central lawn surrounded by a broad walk of stabilized earth. He also added sixteen trees to the central plaza. He placed concrete and wood benches in an L-shaped arrangement, facing outward. He removed the existing benches from both wings and installed three game tables in the northeast wing and no seating in the other. The Gilmore Clarke pavement in the wings was allowed to remain. The park walkways leading in and out of the southwest wing were eliminated. The plaza is lit with Type “B” lamp posts with DOT #2085 luminaries. The new luminaries were also installed on the existing Clarke lamp posts at the entrances to the wings. Conservation work was also done on the walls, column and crypt.