This playground’s name honors the large Dominican American community of the surrounding Washington Heights neighborhood. Quisqueya, meaning “cradle of life,” is one of two aboriginal names for the island called La Isla Española (Hispaniola) by Christopher Columbus (1451-1506).
The Dominican Republic shares the island with Haiti, meaning “land of mountains,” the other traditional name for Hispaniola. Although, in the 1950s, there were relatively few Dominicans in New York, between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s, more immigrants came to the City from the Dominican Republic than from any other country. Today, three-quarters of all of America’s Dominicans live in the New York region, and Washington Heights is the largest Dominican community in the City. The annual Dominican Day Parade, which takes place on the third Sunday of August, originated in 1981 in Washington Heights before moving to Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
Highbridge Park was assembled piecemeal between 1867 and the 1960s, with the bulk being acquired through condemnation from 1895 to 1901. The parcel that includes today’s Quisqueya Playground was acquired in 1890 and transferred to Parks jurisdiction in 1895. The old Highbridge Water Tower, constructed in 1872 and still one of Manhattan’s most picturesque landmarks, is visible from the southeast corner of the playground. Just to the north of Quisqueya, at 181st Street, is another city landmark, the Washington Bridge. Designed by Charles C. Schneider and Wilhelm Hildenbrand, it has linked Manhattan and the Bronx since 1889.
Quisqueya Playground opened in 1934. Within the site are several London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia), popular in the park system due to their ability to withstand New York’s harsh soil and air conditions. The playground was refurbished in 1998 with $40,034 from Mayor Giuliani. The addition of new safety surfacing, play equipment, and a popular camel play sculpture added to the playground’s recreational facilities.
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