What was here before?
Van Pelt Manor, which dated to 1672, housed eight generations of Van Pelts on this site along what is now 81st Street. Both Continental Army General George Washington (1732-1799) and British General William Howe (1729-1814) used it at different times as a military prison during the Revolutionary War (1776-1781). The house was ultimately torn down after a fire in 1952.
Opposite the manor was a milestone. The current stone that is the centerpiece of this park is a replica of the oldest remaining milestone in New York City. Though the sandstone original is at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the granite reproduction installed in 1917 occupies the same spot where the original was placed in 1741. It stands three feet high and has a base measuring one square foot. One side reads: “8-1/4 Miles to New York and 2-1/2 Miles to Denyse’s Ferry.” The other is inscribed: “10-1/2 Miles to New York Ferry 15 Miles to Jamaica.”
How did this site become a park?
In 1910, Townsend Cortelyou Van Pelt deeded the manor and the stone to the city for one dollar on the “express condition that the said premises be used and maintained as a site for exhibiting and preserving thereon a certain old Dutch milestone.” A contemporary of Van Pelt recalled him saying, “You see that hole on the top of the milestone; well, that is where I cracked black walnuts and my father cracked walnuts, and so on ever since the milestone was first erected.” The city agreed to fence off a 300 square foot area that enclosed the stone and set it on a concrete base.
In June 1924, Parks acquired an additional plot of land by condemnation bringing the total land area to a half-acre. In 1988 Parks installed tables and benches and planted trees, and it remains a pleasant sitting area for residents.