Fort George Playground
This playground is named for an American Revolutionary era fortification, Fort George, from which American Revolution War soldiers held the British at bay following the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, allowing General George Washington (1732-1799) and his army of colonials to escape safely into Westchester and New Jersey.
General George Washington and his band of American Revolutionaries fell back to Manhattan after their disastrous encounter with British General William Howe’s (1729-1814) combined force of British infantry and Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Having ferried his troops from their Brooklyn encampment across the foggy East River after his Continental Army’s first engagement, Washington ordered a massive retreat up Manhattan to escape the pursuing British forces. When Howe’s men came aground, they found makeshift earthworks and obstacles erected by the colonials to slow down the enemy’s advance. Manned by contingents of reserve soldiers, Colonel William Baxter and his Bucks County Pennsylvania militia held off the British advance, allowing Washington’s army to escape into New Jersey. The last colonial position to fall on Manhattan was Fort George. The current site of George Washington High School contains a plaque, sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which describes the valiant efforts of Baxter and his men against Howe’s forces.
Though Washington’s forces were safely away, New York had fallen to the British. Fortifying the City against future colonial attacks, the British created a daunting network of forts along Manhattan, including a rebuilt fortification on the former site of Fort George. The British abandoned the fort as well as their other garrisoned land holdings in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
War changed the landscape of what is now the Fort George Hill neighborhood. The British cleared forests and built roads on what used to be known as “birch bark country.” Little more than a century later, entrepreneurs built an amusement park in this part of Highbridge Park near George Washington High School. Fort George Amusement Park offered rides like a ferris wheel and toboggan slide; an ice cream parlor; and two music halls, the Star and the Trocadero.
Along with the recreational activities at the park, business ventures were underway. Joseph Schenck sold refreshments at his, “Old Barrel,” where he came to know park patron and cinema owner, Marcus Loew, founder of the chain of movie theaters. The two entertainment-minded men joined forces and funds, adding a vaudeville stage onto Schenck’s Fort George station. Once this proved successful, Loew and Schenck sold the venue in order to buy an amusement park in New Jersey, which they opened in 1910. By 1935 they heeded the call of Hollywood, sold the Jersey park and crossed the country to join the ranks of the California movie makers. Meanwhile in Fort George, the attractions had continued to bring people together from this neighborhood and beyond, from its 1895 opening, until a 1914 fire razed the amusements and this section of the park.
Parks acquired Fort George Hill by condemnation in 1928 as an addition to Highbridge Park. In 1994, Mayor Giuliani contributed $500,000 for new play equipment and safety surfacing. The playground stands in tribute to an important area in New York City.
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