This playground takes its name from its location on Decatur Street, named prior to 1835, which runs from Fulton Street in Brooklyn to Myrtle Avenue in Queens. Street and playground honor the American naval hero Stephen Decatur (1779-1820). Decatur was born in Sinnepuxent (still called thatΑ--look in a world atlas), Maryland. He was the son of Stephen Decatur, who had been a French naval officer before emigrating to America in search of greater religious freedom. He followed in his father’s tradition and took his first seafaring job at age seventeen with a Philadelphia shipping firm. In 1798, at the outbreak of America’s naval hostilities with France, he traveled to protect American trading interests in the West Indies on the frigate United States with Commodore John Barry, the Navy’s first commander-in-chief (for whom a park is named in Fort Greene).
Decatur gained international fame and a promotion to captain in the Tripolitan War of 1804, a dispute which erupted over America’s refusal to pay tribute to the nations of North Africa (then known as the Barbary states). His capture and burning of the frigate Philadelphia, after it had fallen into enemy hands, was said by Admiral Nelson to be "the most bold and daring act of the age." Decatur further distinguished himself in the War of 1812 with his command of the United States and the President and his remarkable victory over the British frigate, the Macedonian.
While serving on the Navy Board of Commissioners (1816-20), Decatur was challenged to a duel by James Barron in a libel dispute. Decatur had served on a court martial that had tried Barron for surrendering the American ship Chesapeake to the British in 1808. Following a protracted exchange of correspondence, pistols were drawn at dawn of March 22, 1820. Decatur died from gunshot wounds that night; Barron was injured but survived.
Decatur Playground, jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, was acquired by the City in 1941 for recreation. It opened to the public in 1942. The playground is enjoyed by students of the adjacent IS 35 (erected 1946-47), also called Stephen Decatur Junior High School, and by the children of Bedford-Stuyvesant. A renovation funded by Borough President Golden was completed in 1997. Additions to the playground include a tennis court, a grove of pear trees, and a community garden.