Irving Square Park

Irving Square Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This Bushwick park occupies a full city block, bounded by Knickerbocker and Wilson Avenues and Halsey and Weirfield Streets. It has not been confirmed how Irving Square Park got its name; however, the name of one of the bordering streets may offer a clue. Beloved American writer Washington Irving (1783-1859) penned A History of New York (1809) under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. The word knickerbocker has come to mean a descendant of the Dutch settlers of New York, but it also refers to full breeches gathered and banded just below the knee, or long bloomers worn as underwear (also knickers). A more recent use of the word is the New York Knickerbockers basketball team.

The likely honoree of this lovely park is Washington Irving. He was a short story writer, essayist, poet, travel writer, biographer, historian, and columnist who created some of the most popular essays and tales in American literature. Irving was born in New York City as the youngest of eleven children. He studied law between 1798 and 1802 and traveled in Europe between 1804 and 1806. Soon after his return to New York, Irving was admitted to the bar and became a partner in the family hardware business.

He launched his writing career in journals and newspapers, including Morning Chronicle (1802-03) and Salmagundi (1807-08). Irving established his literary reputation with A History of New York (1809), a comic account of Dutch colonial days. After the death of his fiancée, Irving returned to Europe for seventeen years, from 1815 to 1832. Further literary success followed with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1820), which featured the tales “Rip van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and Bracebridge Hall (1822). Irving worked for the American embassies in Madrid and London and produced several works on Spanish subjects, such as Columbus (1828), Conquest of Granada (1829), and The Alhambra (1832).

In 1832 Irving was welcomed back to New York as the first American author to have achieved international fame. He toured the southern and western United States and wrote The Crayon Miscellany and A Tour of the Prairies (both 1835). In 1836 Irving moved to Irvington, New York where he established his estate, Sunnyside, on the east bank of the Hudson River. His stay was interrupted from 1842 to 1846 when he served as U.S. minister to Spain. Irving spent the last years of his life in Tarrytown. His later publications included Wolfert’s Roost (1855) and his five-volume Life of Washington (1855-59). Irving died at Sunnyside on November 28, 1859.

In 1895 the County of Kings purchased this parcel of land from Henry Roth and his wife for $70,000. In 1896 the park was graded and planted, and new curving paths were laid. It was enclosed with an iron picket fence. Three years later all of the City of Brooklyn and the County of Kings were incorporated into the City of New York. Irving Square was laid out with curving paths and planted with trees. In 1905 a brick shelter with bluestone trim was erected in the center of the park.

New playground facilities including swings, sandpit, spray shower, and handball and basketball courts were installed in 1958. Six years later, park improvements included a new recreation building, additional playground equipment, and landscaping. The playground was moved to the eastern part of Irving Square in 1985, and the former play area was converted into a seating area with a stage. Between 2006 and 2008 two major projects totaling $3 million completely renovated the park and playground and added a public plaza and garden area. Irving Square Park now features new historic gates, a small performance space and a re-graded central lawn with pear trees, evergreens and flowers.

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