The ironclad naval vessel Monitor maintained many features of the Princeton’s earlier designs. Construction started on October 15, 1861 in Greenpoint’s Continental Iron Works and the vessel sailed 100 days later. With full provisions and crew aboard, the Monitor steamed south to confront the Confederate ironclad , C.S.S. Virginia (originally named Merrimack). That vessel had been captured, raised, and refitted when the Confederate army seized the Norfolk shipyard a few months prior. On March 9, 1862 the two ships met off the coastline of Virginia and battled for five hours. Though the battle ended in a stalemate, Ericsson’s Monitor had succeeded in protecting Union shipping lanes and maintaining the Union blockade of the South.
The native Keshaechqueren originally inhabited this part of Brooklyn. Dutch mercantilists and farmers, arriving in 1638, rapidly developed it into a hub of seafaring commerce. In the 1850s, the community swelled with new residents, of primarily Irish and English descent, when two ferry lines began regularly scheduled runs from the Greenpoint coastline to Manhattan’s East Side. With the almost simultaneous addition of big businesses like the shipbuilding firm Continental Iron Works and fuel provider Astral Oil Works, Greenpoint began to compete on a national level with older naval foundries in Boston and Norfolk.
From the decades following the Civil War through the 20th century, Greenpoint’s population has steadily grown. In the early 1950s, the community began to suffer strain as several waves of immigration met with limited economic opportunities in the neighborhood. Greenpoint’s outdated schools, some built in the late 1890s, rapidly became overcrowded. In 1954, the Board of Education proposed moving the students and faculty of Junior High School 126 from its obsolete four-story building at Meserole Avenue, Lorimer, and Guernsey Streets to a new location with better facilities. The recommendation was approved and the intersection of Manhattan Avenue and Leonard Street was chosen as the site of the new school and an accompanying playlot.
Several years after the completion of the school, construction on the playground had yet to begin. In 1968, several Greenpoint women, who were concerned about the status of the vacant site, petitioned Parks to accelerate its pace of design and construction. On July 8, 1969, the completed playground opened. Jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, it features an area for roller skating, two basketball/volleyball courts, two handball courts, a sitting area with tables for basic board games, as well as various trees and several scattered planters.
In 1998, this site and its adjoining school became part of Operation GreenThumb. GreenThumb outfits community groups with seeds, bulbs, cement, gloves, and bulletin boards – many of the materials that bring a garden into community life. Ericsson Playground is receiving a $775,000 reconstruction of the site’s asphalt playing field, sponsored by Councilman Kenneth K Fisher, to be completed in 2002.