This park is named after Leonard W. Jerome (1817-1891), a prominent and wealthy Brooklyn citizen. He was a successful stock speculator, making and losing several fortunes and, in the process, earning the nickname the King of Wall Street. He was also the principal owner of The New York Times for several years, the founder of the American Academy of Music, and the maternal grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), Great Britain’s legendary World War II Prime Minister.
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 the Bronx, 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. The appointments were lavish, with a large dining room, a magnificent ballroom, and clubhouse accommodations comparable to a luxury hotel. In 1867, the Belmont Stakes, one of the three major horse races that constitute the Triple Crown, was held at Jerome Park, and it remained there until 1890. Jerome Park’s urbane attractions came to an end in 1890, when the city condemned the property for the Jerome Park Reservoir of the New Croton Aqueduct.
Jerome’s daughter Jennie Jerome (1854-1921) became the mother of Winston Churchill. Jeanette Jerome was born at 426 Henry Street in Brooklyn, and grew up in various residences in New York City. In 1867, her mother took her and her two sisters to Paris, after her father became involved in a scandal. There she mingled with the European upper classes, and in 1873 she met Lord Randolph Churchill (1849-1895), a dashing young English nobleman with an immaculate pedigree and political ambitions. They married in 1874. Beautiful, witty, and charming, Jenny was an immediate success in British society. While she did not involve herself in her husband’s political career, she was an outspoken opponent of women’s suffrage, and she and her son Winston were often heckled by suffragettes. After Lord Churchill died in 1895, Jennie occupied herself by editing a short-lived literary magazine and writing several books and plays. She remarried twice and died in 1921.
This parkland, located at West 165th Street and bounded by Jerome Avenue, Anderson Avenue, and P.S. 73, was acquired in 1923 by the Board of Education. After constructing P.S. 73, the Board of Education had no further need for the remaining parcel and transferred it back to the city. In 1934, Parks accepted title of the land and constructed a playground.
Jerome Avenue was originally laid out in 1874 as a plank road named Central Avenue, which connected the Central Bridge (now the Macomb’s Dam Bridge) with the Jerome Park Racetrack. In 1888, it was paved and converted into a tree-lined boulevard, and the Board of Aldermen planned to name it after an alderman. Outraged upon hearing this, Kate Hall Jerome, Leonard Jerome’s widow, had expensive bronze street signs cast bearing the name “Jerome Avenue.” She then paid workmen to install her Jerome Avenue signs on poles along the avenue. Seeing the lengths that Mrs. Jerome went to in order to have the street named for her husband, the Board of Aldermen quietly dropped the matter, and the unknown alderman’s name slipped between the cracks of history.