Jerome Playground South

Jerome Playground South

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

This park takes its name from adjacent Jerome Avenue. The avenue bears the name of Leonard W. Jerome (1817-1891), a prominent and wealthy citizen of New York City who created the Jerome Park Racetrack on land that he had purchased in the present-day Bronx. He was a successful stock speculator, making and losing several fortunes and earning the nickname “King of Wall Street” in the process. He was also a principal owner of The New York Times for several years, founder of the American Academy of Music, and maternal grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill.

Jerome was an avid sportsman and enjoyed yachting and horse racing. He helped found the American Jockey Club, and he built the Jerome Park Racetrack in conjunction with his brothers and the financier August Belmont (1816-1890). The track opened on September 25, 1866, and it marked the return of thoroughbred racing to the metropolitan area after a hiatus during the Civil War. In 1867, the Belmont Stakes, one of three major horse races that constitute the Triple Crown, was first held at Jerome Park, and it remained there until 1889. Jerome Park’s urbane attractions came to an end in 1890, when the city condemned the property for the New Croton Aqueduct. Today the former racetrack is the site of the Jerome Park Reservoir. The remainder of Jerome’s land, to the east of the reservoir, was used to build five schools, including the Bronx High School of Science and DeWitt Clinton High School.

In 1867, Jerome became involved in a scandalous escapade and his wife, Kate Hall Jerome, promptly took their three daughters to Paris. The rich American family fit well in European high society. In 1873, one of Jerome’s daughters, Jennie Jerome (1854-1921), met Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), a dashing young English nobleman with an immaculate pedigree and strong political ambitions. They married in 1874 and soon had a child, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Britain’s legendary World War II Prime Minister.

Jerome Avenue was laid out in 1874 as a plank road. It was named Central Avenue because it connected the Central Bridge (now the Macomb’s 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. 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.

The City and Parks acquired this property in 1950 as part of the condemnation ordered to accomodate construction of the adjacent Cross-Bronx Expressway. There are numerous parks of similar size found near many of the highways constructed in that period. Each of these parks is specially equipped to serve a particular recreational purpose. This park contains two handball courts.

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