A brilliant painter, engineer, and inventor, Robert Fulton (1765-1815) is best known for launching the first commercially successful steamboat. He was born in New Britain, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1765 and as a boy excelled at drawing, painting, and mechanics. Upon completing an apprenticeship to a Philadelphia jeweler, Fulton supported himself as a painter of portraits and landscapes. In 1786 he moved to England to study painting under Benjamin West but grew more interested in engineering and naval warfare. While living in France between 1797 and 1806, Fulton built the submarine Nautilus (1800) and an experimental steam-powered vessel (1803).
With the financial support of Robert Livingston, the U.S. Ambassador to France, Fulton returned to the United States to develop a steam-powered vessel to travel the Hudson River. On August 9-10, 1807, Fulton’s steamboat made the trip upstream from New York City to Albany in thirty-two hours, far faster than a sailing vessel could reliably travel. The steamboat was named the North River Steamboat of Clermont, later shortened to Clermont. Following its success, Fulton built a torpedo boat, a steam frigate used in the War of 1812, and the first steam ferry, the Nassau, which operated on the East River between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan. Fulton died in New York City on February 24, 1815. Fulton Streets in Brooklyn and Manhattan, on opposite shores of the ferry service, were named in his memory. Fulton Park is located between Fulton Street, Chauncey Street, Stuyvesant Street, and Lewis Avenue directly south of the Stuyvesant Heights district of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The community of Bedford was organized by English governor Richard Nicolls in 1677. As it evolved from a quiet farm town to a thriving suburb by the mid-1800s, Bedford became one of Brooklyn’s most ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The Stuyvesant Heights area (designated as a New York City historic district in 1971) became a fashionable residential location around the turn of the century. Many of the gracious brownstone-lined streets were developed during this period, and plans were laid for a new neighborhood park.
At the request of Brooklyn Borough President J.E. Swanstrom, the Board of Estimate resolved to set aside land for a public park along Fulton Street in 1902. The City of New York acquired the land for Parks by condemnation in 1904 at a cost of $308,174.16. Improvements to the park were still underway when the comfort station opened in 1910. The firm of Helmle and Huberty, architects of buildings in Prospect and McGolrick Parks, designed the colonnaded pavilion.
In 1930 a statue depicting Robert Fulton and the Nassau was erected in the park. Created in 1872 by Bohemian artist Caspar Buberl, this statue formerly stood in a niche in the Fulton Ferry House on the Brooklyn waterfront. It was salvaged from the old ferry house, moved to Fulton Park, and dedicated by the Society of Old Brooklynites. Endangered by erosion and faulty seams, the zinc statue was removed, restored, and re-erected in the park by 1935. Further damage required the replacement of the original statue with a new bronze casting on a granite base in 1955.
In 1997-98 Fulton Park underwent reconstruction of the landscape and sprinkler system. The $458,134 capital project was funded by Borough President Golden and Council Member Annette Robinson. Landscape improvements included planting an ornamental garden along Lewis Avenue, restoring sod and trees, installing animal art pavers, adding a terrazzo north arrow rosette, attaching a yardarm to the flagpole, reconstructing the fences, and replacing the wood bench slats. The project also included electrical work and reconstruction of the drainage and water supply. These improvements enhance the beauty and utility of this treasured neighborhood park.