Davis Playground

Davis Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This playground honors Staten Island native William T. Davis (1862-1945), a local historian, an amateur scientist, and an early advocate of the Staten Island Park System. Born in New Brighton, Staten Island, Davis lived in the borough his entire life. He was employed by the New York Produce Exchange for nearly thirty years.

Throughout his life, Davis was very curious about the world around him. He was particularly interested in local history and natural sciences. Although Davis received little formal education in the sciences, he developed a wide range of knowledge through observation, experience, and the guidance of such distinguished naturalists as Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934), first director of the New York Botanical Gardens, and Charles Leng (1859-1941). In 1881, while still working for the New York Produce Exchange, he helped to found the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, and became its first curator.

In 1909, Davis retired and began to indulge in his interests full time. He was a prolific writer who published many papers for scientific organizations and compiled a five-volume history entitled “Staten Island and its People,” published in 1930. He also helped establish the Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary in New Springville in 1933 and the Staten Island Zoo in West Brighton three years later. The sanctuary opened as a 260-acre nature education center and became the first wildlife sanctuary in New York. In 1982, it was officially designated the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge.

Davis was also an amateur entomologist and studied several species of insects. Over time, he became an international authority on the cicada, which makes its home on Staten Island. Cicadas are among the longest living insects in the world; when they are exactly seventeen years old, they emerge from the ground to mate. They spend most of their lives underground and survive by sucking the juice of tree roots. An inch and a half long with bulging red eyes, cicadas are renown for the loud noise they make above ground.

Jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, this playground opened in 1969 as the Public School 31 or William T. Davis School Playground. Originally, the Board of Education had intended to build P.S. 31 on the site of Mahoney Playground, which is located on Beechwood Avenue. Community pressure quashed the idea of building on top of a playground, and the current site of P.S. 31 was chosen instead. In 1985, Parks renamed this parkland to honor William T. Davis. Today, Davis Playground contains a wide-open asphalt area, a basketball court, and several benches. Children can often be seen playing double-dutch, hopscotch, basketball, or socializing in this community area.

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