Rubin Keltch served in the U.S. Navy in World War II on the patrol gunboat Plymouth. His ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-566 on August 4, 1943, just 90 miles east of Elizabeth City, New Jersey. At the time of his death, Keltch held the Navy Cross, the Purple Heart, and a Presidential Citation.
The names of the streets that form the park boundaries tell much about the history of the Bronx. Elliot Place is named for Elliott (sic) Zborowski de Montsaulvain, who purchased property from the Morris family in the 19th century and enhanced the grounds with elaborate landscaping. Macombs Road takes its name from the Macombs Dam Bridge. The present bridge followed two earlier unsuccessful attempts to build a bridge at 155th Street across the Harlem River. Arthur Macomb, a grist mill owner first built a dam and bridge across the Harlem River in 1813. Local farmers, frustrated by the resulting decrease in river capacity, destroyed the dam in 1836. A second bridge, built in 1861, quickly deteriorated. Today’s Macombs Dam Bridge, completed in 1890, is a 40-foot wide swing drawbridge built in Gothic revival style. It retains its historic name.
Jerome Avenue, once part of Westchester’s Central Avenue, is one of the Bronx’s main thoroughfares. It serves as the dividing line between East and West Bronx.
Its namesake, Leonard W. Jerome (1817-1891), was one of New York’s flamboyant tycoons. (His daughter Jennie (1854-1921) was the mother of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill). Known as “The King of Wall Street,” his passion for horse racing led him to buy 230 acres in the Bronx in 1866 for the construction of the Jerome Park Racetrack, which quickly became a major attraction for New York’s social elite. The racetrack was at one end of Central Avenue.
Originally a wood-plank road, Central Avenue attained new status as the gateway to the racetrack, and by 1888 had become a paved, tree-lined boulevard. Legend has it that the City was about to rename Central Avenue for a local Alderman, when Mrs. Jerome had bronze street signs made bearing the name “Jerome Avenue”, and surreptitiously installed them at great expense. There was no attempt to remove them. Today Jerome Avenue runs the length of the Bronx East Side IRT line in the shadow of its elevated tracks.
Local Law #22 officially named this small triangle Keltch Park in 1944. On the comfort station in the park, a bronze plaque sponsored by the University Heights Post No. 89, Jewish War Veterans of the United States, commemorates Ensign Keltch’s courage. A memorial tree in Poe Park also honors Keltch’s memory.
Keltch Park is located on Jerome Avenue in the University Heights section of the Bronx, and extends from Macombs Road to Elliot Place. The City acquired the property on May 31, 1899 by condemnation, and it was immediately transferred to Parks. In addition to the comfort station, the park contains several benches, while London planetrees (Platanus acerifolia) provide shade and greenery. During the holiday season, Keltch Park is the site of a tree lighting ceremony sponsored by the local community.