Francis Lewis Park
Francis Lewis Park
This park honors Francis Lewis (1713-1802), an early American merchant, patriot, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Born in Llandaff, Wales, Lewis became an orphan at a young age. He completed a merchant apprenticeship in London and then traveled to America in 1738. The entrepreneur established a successful trading company in both New York City and Philadelphia, and grew rich by supplying goods to British troops during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). In 1745, Lewis married Elizabeth Annesley, the sister of a business partner. Having accumulated great wealth, Lewis retired from trade in 1765 and moved to Whitestone, New York.
Lewis’s political career began in 1774, when he served as a New York delegate to the Provincial Convention. The convention elected Lewis to the Continental Congress, where he served from 1775 to 1779. On July 4, 1776, Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the colonies forever absolved from allegiance to the British crown. In the fall of 1776, the British destroyed Lewis’s Whitestone property and abducted his wife Elizabeth. After her release, Annesly died prematurely in 1779, perhaps due in part to the harsh conditions of her captivity. During the course of the Revolutionary War (1776-1781), Lewis served on two powerful committees: the Secret Committee, which imported munitions, and the Marine Committee, which administered naval affairs. Defeated for re-election to the Continental Congress in 1779, Lewis nevertheless was appointed to the Board of Admiralty, which replaced the Marine Committee. In the years before his death, Francis Lewis served as a vestryman for Trinity Church in New York City.
The Whitestone community that Lewis made his home has a long and rich history. Dutch farmers founded Whitestone in 1645, naming the area for a large white boulder that broke the tides along the shore. The Dutch purchased the land from the Matinecock Native Americans at the price of one ax per fifty acres. In 1735, the discovery of clay deposits stimulated the widespread growth of pottery manufacturing. During DeWitt Clinton’s tenure as New York State Governor (1817-23, 1825-8), the community referred to itself as Clintonville. The discovery of a hot spring on 14 Street and Old Whitestone Avenue during the mid-19th century brought the area renown as a sanctuary for anemic patients. During this period, New Yorkers referred to the town as Iron Springs.
Francis Lewis Park is bounded by Third Avenue, 147 Street, the East River, and Parsons Boulevard. In 1937, Parks acquired the property from the private estate of Edwin H. Brown. The park consists of 9.231 acres above water and 7.631 acres below water. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (1939) designed by Othmar H. Ammann crosses over the western side of the property. The park consists of winding paths that lead to two scenic overlooks equipped with benches and game tables. Both overlooks feature spectacular views of the bridge and the East River, while the lower overlook provides beach access.
In 1992, Francis Lewis Park received a $466,000 renovation. The project reconstructed the shoreline, overlook, and embankment areas of the park in order to correct a severe erosion problem, prevent future degradation, and improve views of the river. Additionally, the flagpole on the upper overlook received a decorative granite base. In 1999, through the efforts of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, the park received the addition of a bocce court.