Fort Greene Park

Fort Greene Playground

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

Fort Greene yesterday was crowded with people who sought, beneath the blue canopy of heaven and in the freedom of the fields, to worship ‘nature and nature’s God.’
--Walt Whitman, June 8, 1846

Fort Greene Park is a landmark, cherished for its history, rolling landscape, trees, and monuments. For 150 years, this noble park has served as a rus in urbe - a country in the city - for Brooklyn. In 1776 American Major General Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) supervised the construction of Fort Putnam on high ground that is now part of the park. During the Battle of Long Island, the Continental Army surrendered the fort and retreated to Manhattan. When the fort was rebuilt for the War of 1812, it was renamed in Greene’s honor.

After the threat of war had passed, locals enjoyed visiting the grounds of the old fort for recreation and relaxation. The City of Brooklyn designated the site for use as a public park in 1845. Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the chief editor at the time of the Brooklyn Eagle and King’s County Democrat, rallied popular support for the project. Whitman appealed for a pleasant retreat for city dwellers, “a place of recreation… where, on hot summer evenings, and Sundays, they can spend a few grateful hours in the enjoyment of wholesome rest and fresh air.” In 1847, the legislature approved an act to secure land on the site of the old fort for what would be called Washington Park, the original name of Fort Greene Park.

In 1867 landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of Central and Prospect Parks, were engaged to prepare a new design for Washington Park. They designed a crypt for the remains of an estimated 11,500 American martyrs who died on British prison ships in New York Harbor during the American Revolution (1776-1789). At the top of the hill was a trellised walk approaching two flights of steps that led down to a circular parade ground in the northwest corner of the park. Olmsted and Vaux proposed that the rest of the hilly site would be “somewhat closely planted, and . . .so laid out that it will offer a series of shady walks that will have an outlook over open grassy spaces.” Washington Park was renamed for Fort Greene in 1897, less than a year before Brooklyn was consolidated into greater New York City. The street that bounds the park on the east is still known as Washington Park.

With funds available for a permanent monument to the prison ship martyrs, the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White was hired in 1905. They designed a new entrance to the crypt and a wide granite stairway leading to a plaza on top of the hill. From its center rose a freestanding Doric column crowned by a bronze lantern. President-elect William Howard Taft attended the monument’s dedication in 1908. McKim, Mead and White also built a neoclassical comfort station (now used as a visitors center). Another series of renovations made in the 1930s further enhanced the classical design of the park. Parks architect Gilmore D. Clarke regraded the grounds, added new trees and shrubs, replaced the winding paths with more formal walks, remodeled the playgrounds, and created new spaces for athletic activities..

In 1995, a $1,166,000 capital reconstruction of this playground was funded by Council Member Mary Pinkett. The project included installing a new spray shower/north arrow rosette, safety surfacing, pavement, benches, and fencing; re-roofing the comfort station; reconstructing the flagpole and the drainage and water systems; and planting new trees, shrubs, and groundcover. The playground’s design pays tribute to the Revolutionary War history of Fort Greene. The new play equipment resembles fortresses, and the new weathervane on top of the comfort station is shaped like a bald eagle and banner reading “1776.” Thirteen stone pillars feature bronze plaques that identify the state trees and animals of the original colonies.

Directions to Fort Greene Park

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