This playground, like the adjacent housing project, street, and neighborhood, takes its name from the Edenwald Estate, which stood near Boston Road, Light Street and Conner Street. From 1900 to 1913, John H. Eden owned the north central Bronx estate whose name in German means ‘Eden’s Forest.’ Some time after Eden sold the estate, it became a Hebrew Orphan Asylum. After World War II, the City acquired the land in order to build the 2,036-unit housing development, which houses approximately 6,000 residents.
Schieffelin Avenue, which runs adjacent to this playground, honors the Bronx family that owned land in Edenwald, near Eastchester Road. Eugene Schieffelin, a wealthy drug manufacturer and theatre aficionado, brought European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) to New York City as part of his attempt to introduce every bird mentioned the works of Shakespeare into the United States. Shakespeare’s sole reference to the European starling appears in King Henry IV, “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”
Eugene Schieffelin did not manage to introduce Shakespeare’s other birds into the United States, but succeeded beyond his wildest hopes with the starling. He brought 80 of the birds into Central Park in 1880 and another 40 the following year. The European starling spread through the city, country, and continent. By 1950, it had made its way into every state of America and every province of Canada. In America alone, there are an estimated 140 million starlings.
The European starling is a dark bird with a small tail. During the spring and summer, it can be identified by its yellow bill. In the winter, its bill is black and it can be recognized by the white speckles at the tips of its feathers. Its song is long and varied, but it can also imitate the calls of other birds. Some view the starling as beneficial because it eats insects and small animals that are close to the ground, controlling pest populations. However, the starling has also had many negative effects on its new home. As the population of starlings grew, competition for nesting space drove other birds from the cities.
Flocks of starlings have the tendency to descend on farms during the fall and winter, destroying the crops they encounter. Large numbers of starlings have also been sucked into the engines of airplanes, causing fatal crashes. When meeting in large groups, the starlings often leave droppings that stain buildings and cars, and pollute city ponds and waterways. In London, England, a flock of starlings once sat on the hands of the famed clock tower that houses the bell Big Ben, causing it to run slowly. With a lesson learned from the United Kingdom, the United States Congress passed a law in 1910 making it illegal to import starlings.
The City acquired this land on November 28, 1950, and it was named for the adjacent houses on June 26, 1954. Borough President Fernando Ferrer financed a $335,000 reconstruction of Edenwald Playground, completed on November 15, 1995.