This playground is named for physician and soldier Hugh Mercer (1726-1777) who military service has included fighting in the Seven Years’ War and being appointed Brigadier-General during the Revolutionary War.
Mercer immigrated to America in 1747 and settled in Pennsylvania after fleeing his native Scotland following his participation in the Jacobite Army against the British Crown. He would soon join the Colonial Militia under King George III, during the Seven Years’ War in 1755 where he would form a close friendship with George Washington. In 1776, he joined the Continental Army and was promoted to Brigadier-General, at Washington’s request. Six months later, Mercer led a brigade during the battle of Princeton and was mortally wounded. He died nine days later on January 12, 1777.
In the 16th century, this part of Greenwich Village was known as Sapokanikan (tobacco field) to the local Lenape tribe. In 1630, Dutch Colonist and Director-General, Wouter Van Twiller cleared and farmed this land. During the latter part of the 18th century, several formally enslaved people, established this part of Manhattan which became known as Little Africa. In 1821, before abolition in New York, free black playwright William Henry Brown, founded the African Grove. Located in the intersection of Mercer and Bleecker Streets, the African Grove launched the career of Ira Aldridge, who went on to play the role of Othello at the Royal Theatre in London, and gave James Hewlett the opportunity to play Shakespeare's Richard III for a diverse audience.
Washington Square became home to the city's affluent by the end of the 19th century. By the 20th century, the area was home to a thriving Italian and Irish immigrant population. This area of Greenwich Village was once occupied by mixed-use buildings, but the area was transformed in the 1950s when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses helped secure federal funds for slum clearance, leading to the development of the adjacent Washington Square Village.
The site of Mercer Playground was vacant for four decades following an unpopular plan to widen Mercer Street. In 1991, the Lower Manhattan Neighbors' Organization Inc. initiated plans to create a playground on the site. Architect Peter Wormser developed the design concept, which provides play spaces for pre-teens. Features include a long snaked path for in-line and roller skating, a large paved path for running games and bicycling, climbing structures, and a spray shower. A decorative wrought-iron fence, adorned with spirals and silhouettes of familiar objects unites the three sections of Mercer Playground.
The community can be justifiably proud in knowing that together they designed their own backyard.