Jennie Jerome Playground
Jennie Jerome Playground
This playground is named to honor Jennie Jerome (1854-1921), best known as the mother of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the great Prime Minister of England who helped lead the Allied Forces to victory in World War II. Jennie Jerome, and the daughter of Leonard Jerome (1817-1891), a wealthy New York financier, patron of the arts, and sportsman, was also a prominent member of English society in her own right.
Jeanette Jerome was born at 426 Henry Street in Brooklyn, and raised in New York City. One of her father’s residences, intended for winter weekends, was located in the Bronx, near the present-day site of Villa Avenue. In 1867, Jennie Jerome traveled to Paris with her mother and two sisters, where they mingled with the European upper classes. A beautiful young woman, Jennie caught the attention of Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), a dashing young English nobleman with strong political ambitions, and they married in 1874. Graceful, witty, and charming, Jennie Jerome Churchill was an immediate success in British high society. She rarely became involved in politics, but was an outspoken opponent of women’s right to vote. Consequently, she and her son Winston were often heckled by enraged suffragettes. After Lord Churchill died in 1895, she occupied herself by editing a short-lived literary magazine and writing several books and plays. Some of her quotes remain famous today, such as “There is no such thing as a moral dress – it’s the people who are moral or immoral,” and “Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.” Jennie Jerome remarried twice and died in 1921.
Jennie Jerome’s father, Leonard Jerome, was a prominent figure in New York society whose successes on the stock market earned him the nickname “The King of Wall Street.” Leonard Jerome was a patron of the arts who founded the American Academy of Music, and was an avid sportsman who helped found the American Jockey Club. In 1866, Jerome, his brothers, and the financier August Belmont (1816-1890) opened the Jerome Park Racetrack in The Northern Bronx. Equipped with a large dining room, magnificent ballroom, and clubhouse accommodations equal to those of the finest hotels, the horseracing track was a smashing success, and soon became the place to be seen for members of New York society. However, the city condemned the racetrack property for use of the New Croton Aqueduct in 1890, and constructed the Jerome Park Reservoir on the site.
Jennie Jerome Playground sits next to Jerome Avenue, which is named for her father. The road was originally laid out in 1874 as a wood plank road named Central Avenue, which connected the Central Bridge (now the Macombs Dam Bridge) with the Jerome Park Racetrack. In 1888, the road was paved and converted into a tree-lined boulevard, and the Board of Aldermen planned to rename it after an alderman. Leonard Jerome’s wife, Kate Hall Jerome, protested, and with her own money had bronze street signs bearing the name “Jerome Avenue” installed on the street. The Board of Aldermen quietly dropped the matter afterward.
This property was acquired in 1950 as part of the condemnation for the adjacent Cross-Bronx Expressway. The parkland contains a flagpole with a yardarm, play equipment, swings, and several London planetrees. Sitting between the Jerome Avenue subway and the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Jennie Jerome Playground provides a place for children and adults to play and relax. A $195,975 renovation in 2000, funded by Mayor Giuliani and Council Member Wendell Foster, included adding play equipment with new safety surfacing.