Captain Tilly Park
Captain Tilly Park
Captain George H. Tilly Park is named for a local son of a prominent Jamaica family who was killed while fighting in the American subjugation of the Philippines in 1899. The Tilly family once owned the land on which this park sits. At the turn of the last century, the bulk of the wooded land and pond (The Goose Pond) which comprise Captain George H. Tilly Park was owned by the Highland Park Society, a group of Jamaica landowners who raised ducks and geese at the site.
In 1908, the landowners deeded the property to New York City for one dollar, insisting only that it always be used as a park. At first, the park, situated at 165th Street between Highland and 85th Avenue, in Jamaica Hills, was called Highland Park. By 1912, to avoid confusion with Highland Park in Cypress Hills, it was renamed Upland Park. In 1935, city officials renamed the property Captain George Tilly Park in his memory.
Captain Tilly (1863-1899) was assigned to the Army Signal Corp, and stationed at Lloilo, Philippines, on the Isle de Panay during the war. By provision of the Treaty of Paris in 1899, the United States annexed the Philippine Islands, a former Spanish colony, as a prize for its victory over Spain in the Spanish—American War (1898). Having removed Spanish rule, the United States sought to impose its own will upon the Philippines, but met resistance from Filipino rebels seeking independence from foreign rule.
On May 22, 1899, Tilly was dispatched to Escalante on the Isle de Negros to repair a damaged telegraph cable, and journeyed there with a small group aboard the steamer Recorder. Although Captain Tilly and his landing party were informed that the residents of Escalante were peaceful, he was warned nonetheless not to wear his uniform upon landing to avoid inflaming resentment. Ignoring the warning, Tilly and his group landed and proceeded to the island’s cable office. Once inside the building, they were fired upon from all sides and made quickly back to the beach and their launch. Some of Tilly’s men panicked and put the launch to sea before Tilly and the rest of the party arrived. Tilly and the remaining men swam for the launch under fire, and all but Tilly reached the boat safely. His body was later recovered and buried nearby.
In 1941, a monument dedicated to the heroes of the Spanish—American War was erected in the park by the Captain George H. Tilly Camp No. 66 of Jamaica. For the next 20 years, until the climb up the hill became too difficult, the veterans of Tilly Camp No. 66, along with women in the Auxiliary, made a pilgrimage to the park every Memorial Day, holding a brief service at the monument and laying a wreath upon it.
Over the years, there have been several renovations of Tilly Park. By 1995, the springs that fed the pond had dried up and the pond was covered with an algae bloom. Members of the Jamaica Hill Community Association secured funding from the City Council for park restoration, which excavated and deepened the pond, installed a new clay liner and filtration system to keep the water clean, dug a well, constructed an island in the pond to provide a refuge for wildlife, and extended the playground. New plantings and sod were also installed in the park. The park continues to serve the neighborhood as a site for concerts and other popular events.
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