This park is named for Hugh McLaughlin, Jr. (1823-1904), a local civic leader with tremendous influence in Brooklyn politics and in the religious life of his community. He was the youngest of ten children born to Irish immigrants who arrived in Brooklyn early in the nineteenth century. McLaughlin began his career as a fishmonger and later became the master foreman at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Fort Greene. A devout Catholic as well as an astute businessman, McLaughlin eventually amassed a fortune through successful real estate speculation.
McLaughlin developed an interest in politics early in life, and his position of respect among working class Americans made him a valuable asset to the Democratic Party. Although he lost the Kings County Sheriff’s election in 1860, McLaughlin did serve three terms as the Registrar of Kings County, beginning in 1861. For nearly fifty years, McLaughlin dominated Brooklyn politics, fighting against both Tammany Hall and the City of Brooklyn’s incorporation into the City of New York. He continued to be participate in City Hall business even after his official retirement earned him the affectionate title “The Sage of Willoughby Street.”
According to some sources, McLaughlin paid for the burials of most of the poor Irish in Brooklyn at the end of the nineteenth century, but his modesty prevented him from making his generosity known before his death. McLaughlin died of heart failure at his Remsen Street home on December 7, 1904, after returning from a game of dominoes with his friends in the Veteran Firemen’s Club in the basement of Borough Hall. Following his death, his wife, a convert to Catholicism, received the title of Marchioness from the Pope and raised the funds necessary to build the Church of St. Hugh in Huntington, Long Island in her husband’s memory.
McLaughlin Park is located in Vinegar Hill, which acquired its name in 1800 when John Jackson bought a large tract of land on the northeastern edge of Downtown Brooklyn and named it after the 1798 final battle of the Irish Revolution. The first European settlers drawn to this area were Dutch traders and farmers who bought it from the original inhabitants, the Delaware Indians. Irish Americans began arriving in the beginning of the nineteenth century and many of them soon found employment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and worshiped at the Cathedral of St. James on adjacent Cathedral Place, otherwise known as Father James F. Hinchey Place.
McLaughlin Park was acquired by condemnation in 1884. In 1905, one year after McLaughlin’s death and in honor of his devotion to civic service, the Board of Aldermen named the park for him. A yardarm flagpole stands in the middle of this playground, which features handball and basketball courts, a baseball diamond, climbing equipment, swings and a shower sprinkler area. McLaughlin Park is lined with London planetrees that provide the park with a welcomed shade.