For more than a hundred years, Crotona Park has been one of the most important public parks in the Bronx, a sanctuary of rolling grass, lofty trees, baseball diamonds, a pool, and a peaceful lake. It is the largest park in the South Bronx and the sixth largest in the borough. Bathgate Playground is located at the intersection of Fulton Avenue and East 173rd Street, and bears the name of the Bathgate family, who once owned this property.
The City of New York acquired the property from Andrew Bathgate as part of the consolidation of the Bronx park system in 1888. The great Bathgate Farm was one of the larger farms lying within the Bronx in the 19th century. The Bathgates had once been the managers of the Morris estate, and their farm was originally part of that estate. Known at the time as Bathgate Woods, the area was already famous for its views, trees, and pond. From high points in the present park one can see the Palisades of New Jersey to the west, and the towers of Brooklyn Bridge to the south. The Bathgate family had permitted members of the public to come and picnic on their land at a spot near what is now known as Indian Lake. Although the city planned to name the park for the Bathgates, a dispute with the family led a Parks engineer to name it Crotona, after Croton, an ancient Greek colony in southern Italy famed for its Olympic athletes. Croton is also the name of the old New York City aqueduct, the Westchester County river that feeds it, and the reservoir that once stood on the site of the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
As ice skating grew popular in the Bronx around the turn of the century, Parks paved the perimeter of Indian Pond and installed a warming hut and concession stand for skaters. In the 1930s, Works Progress Administration (WPA) employees built the boathouse on the east side of the pond and entirely rebuilt the area around the lake. Other projects in Crotona Park completed during the tenure of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) included the construction or renovation of five baseball diamonds, twenty tennis courts, twenty-six handball courts, nine playgrounds, four comfort stations, and picnic and sitting areas. The most spectacular addition was the enormous swimming pool and bathhouse complex, designed by lead consultant architect Aymar Embury II, which Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and Commissioner Moses opened on July 24, 1936. A major restoration of the pool and bathhouse was completed in 1984.
Bathgate Playground, adjacent to the Moses-era bathhouse, is the second largest playground within the park. Among its most striking features are Art Deco-style shower sprinklers modeled on pelicans, which echo a similar motif featured on the bathhouse exterior. The sprinklers were added as part of $1 million renovation, funded by Mayor Giuliani, and completed in 1996. Other enhancements include new swings, state-of-the-art play equipment, safety surfacing, steel-rail fencing, an asphalt path, a handicap accessible ramp, landscaping, and new drainage. A flagpole with a yardarm proudly flies the flags of Parks, the City of New York, and the United States. The playground also has chess and checker tables. The children of nearby C.E.S. 4 use the playground, and the neighborhood enjoys the annual “Puppets in the Park” show that is presented at the facility.
Bronx residents treasure Crotona Park and Bathgate Playground for their natural beauty and outstanding recreational facilities. Crotona Park is home to some of the most majestic and varied trees in the city. Around Indian Lake stand native tulip (Liriodendron tulipifera), black cherry (Prunus serotina), hickory (Carya glabra), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) trees, and twenty-three other species, including specimens more than a century old. The 3.3 acre lake provides a home to ducks, turtles, and numerous species of fish. In the southwest corner of the park, generations of gardeners have tended plants and flowers. The old “Farm Garden” was established in the 1930s to teach children about plant science, conservation, nutrition, and hygiene.
Crotona Park and Bathgate Playground host many special programs throughout the year. Since 1984, the Bronx Urban Park Rangers have organized walks and tours that use Indian Lake and the trees and fields around it as an outdoor laboratory. Visitors explore pond ecology, bird-watching, Bronx history, and plant and animal life. The park’s 20 tennis courts are the site of the annual Bronx Pro Tennis Classic.
Directions to Crotona Park
Know Before You Go
The Crotona Park Nature Center is currently closed to the public as we develop the space and exhibits following a recently completed capital reconstruction. The center is expected to open to the public in Spring 2022.
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