Both this playground and the adjacent Bartlett Street are named in honor of Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795), signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first Governor of New Hampshire. Dr. Josiah Bartlett was in many ways an ordinary man who achieved greatness by acting with distinction in extraordinary times. Unlike many other prominent men of his day, he had no family, wealth, or party connections to elevate him in society. Born the son of a shoemaker in Amesbury, Massachusetts, Bartlett began studying medicine at age 16. Five years later, he finished his studies and traveled to New Hampshire, where he established his medical practice in Kingston. There, Bartlett gained a reputation not only as a trustworthy physician, but also as a gentleman whose duties, whatever they may be, were always discharged with promptness and fidelity.
Bartlett earned his first public office in 1765 when he was elected to the legislature of the province of New Hampshire. He quickly became opposed to the mercenary views of the royal governor. In 1774, the governor dismissed Bartlett from his positions as justice of the peace and removed him from his militia command. The following year, Bartlett was elected to represent the colony of New Hampshire at the Continental Congress in Yorktown. He was re-elected in 1776 when the Congress relocated to Philadelphia. Since the Congress decided votes would be taken beginning with the northernmost colony, Bartlett was the first to vote in favor of the resolution for a declaration of independence. Though he remained New Hampshire’s representative in the Continental Congress after being re-elected in 1778, Bartlett spent most of his time in New Hampshire, where he continued his work toward the interests of his state.
Although he had no legal training, Bartlett was appointed chief justice in the Court of Common Pleas in 1779, and from 1788-1790 he served as the chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. Bartlett served in the convention for the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, and continued to be elected to public office. He was elected as a Senator in 1789, but declined the position. In 1791, he was elected President of the State of New Hampshire, and became its first Governor when the title of the office was changed in 1792. Bartlett served the office until retiring from public service in 1794. He died in 1795, at the age of 66.
The City of New York acquired this land by condemnation in 1956 to be jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. The playground opened on June 18, 1960, as P.S. 168 Playground, and featured handball courts, basketball courts, game tables, jungle gyms, a shower basin, and slides. In 1980, the Board of Education decided that P.S. 168, built in 1912, was no longer needed for educational purposes, and the Board passed a resolution surrendering the building to the Division of Real Property. The Yeshiva school system in Brooklyn now owns and operates the P.S. 168 site.
In 1985, Parks renamed the parkland Bartlett Playground. The playground now features basketball and handball courts, play equipment with safety surfacing, a comfort station, spray showers, drinking fountains, benches, swings, and picnic tables. Today, the playground serves both as a memorial to a devoted patriot and a place of rest and recreation for people of all ages.