General Hart Playground
Brig. Gen. Joseph T. Hart Park
What was here before?
Once home to the Canarsie and Matinecock tribes, Woodside was known as "suicide's paradise" for its snake-infested swamps and wolf-ridden woodlands in the colonial era. The Dutch gave Massachusetts colonist Father John Doughty a charter for 13,000 acres in 1642. In the mid-1800s, several mansions were built by a contingent of wealthy men from Charleston, South Carolina. Developer Benjamin Hitchcock bought the estate of John Kelly in 1867, which was divided into lots and renamed Woodside. The extension of rail lines and major thoroughfares connected the area to Manhattan, further increasing the population. After World War II (1939-1945), houses in the neighborhood were largely replaced by apartment buildings.
How did this site become a playground?
General Hart Playground was acquired by Parks & Recreation in 1954 as part of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway construction. It opened to the public in 1956. New play equipment and benches were installed in 1996. In 2020, the playground was completely reconstructed to include colorful play equipment and pavement treatments, a spray shower, and basketball courts. The playground is incredibly vital to the neighborhood, where there are few other playgrounds.
Who is this playground named for?
In 1964, the park was named by the City Council for long time borough official Brigadier General Joseph T. Hart (1902-1962), a resident of Elmhurst who led a distinguished military career and civilian life. He joined the National Guard in 1920 and enlisted in the 69th Regiment, which later became the 165th Infantry. Hart rose through the ranks and was named brigadier general in 1940. He served with the 165th in the South Pacific during World War II in the battles of Makin and Saipan and commanded the unit at the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945.
In honor of his exemplary service, General Hart was awarded the Silver Star with a Cluster, the Purple Heart, the American Defense Force Medal, and the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal. After the war, Hart returned to the career he had begun in the Queens Borough President’s Office two decades earlier, serving as Executive Manager to Borough President Maurice Fitzgerald (1897-1951). At the time of his death, he was the Administrator of Audits and Accounts under Borough President John T. Clancy (1903-1985).