This park honors Henry B. Dawson (1821-1889), who lived in this section of Hunts Point in the Bronx after emigrating from England with his parents at the age of 13. While pursuing a business career, he crusaded against alcohol, and for a short time in 1847 edited a temperance newspaper. He left the business world in 1856 and began making a reputation for himself as a self-taught historian with the publication of several essays and his first book, Battles of the United States by Sea and Land (1858). In 1866 he purchased The Historical Magazine and was its editor until 1876 when it ceased publication. The original inhabitants of Hunts Point were Native Americans of the Weckquaesgeek tribe, who raised corn and tobacco, and called their land Quinnahung, or Planting Neck. In the 17th century, the Weckquaesgeek were displaced by European settlers. They renamed the peninsula Hunts Point for Thomas Hunt, who settled here in 1670. The newcomers built elaborate estates and farmed the land as well.
Originally part of West Farms in what was then lower Westchester County, Hunts Point became part of the Bronx in 1874. It underwent significant growth after the IRT subway line to Manhattan was built in 1908. Urban development put an end to the farms and mansions, and now Hunts Point has become famous for the Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest produce market in the United States.
In 1942, at a meeting of the Board of Estimate, Bronx Borough President James Lyons (1890-1966) requested that the block bounded by Dawson Street, Stebbins Avenue, East 163rd Street, and Rogers Place be laid out as a park, extending the playground which already existed at P.S. 60. On May 1, 1950, Parks acquired the property and in 1957 Dawson Playground opened.
In 1999, the park underwent reconstruction with funds allocated by the mayor. Colorful adventure equipment and swings on a safety surface were added. Children can also climb on the concrete bear play sculpture and cool off in the summer under the spray shower. There are benches in various parts of the park and London plane trees (Platanus x acerifolia) provide greenery and shade.