Half Nelson Playground is located between Nelson and Woodycrest Avenues, south of West 166th Street, in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. The neighborhood abounds with place names that originated with Native Americans, colonial-era settlers, and 19th century engineers, farmers, and estate owners.
The Weckquaesgeek Indians formerly inhabited the area and called it Nuasin. This word is translated as “middle place”Â or “the land between”Â the Harlem River and Cromwell’s Creek. The Weckquaesgeeks called the Harlem River the Muscoota, which means “River among the green sedge”Â (grassy plants which have solid stems). Cromwell’s Creek, formerly known by the Indian name Mentipathe, flowed into the Harlem River near where Yankee Stadium is located, after following a course along what are now River and Jerome Avenues. Local colonists renamed this creek for James Cromwell, who owned a mill on the water.
In the 18th century, this region was called Devoe’s Point for local landowner Frederick Devoe. By the second half of the 19th century, the area was known as Highbridge, named for New York City’s oldest surviving bridge which was built between 1840 and 1848 to transport water from the Croton Aqueduct across the Harlem River to Manhattan.
As late as the second half of the 19th century, much of the surrounding land was occupied by family farms and country estates. Woodycrest Avenue, which borders the playground to the east, was named after the “Woody Crest”Â estate that belonged to the Ketchum family. Mrs. Ketchum inherited this thickly-forested, elevated, sixty-acre tract from her grandfather, who had farmed it in the 1790s. Nelson Avenue, which borders the playground to the west, was probably named for local landowners by the name of Nelson. A man named Nelson was listed as a member of a local agricultural society in 1821, and an I. Nelson owned a house and farm nearby in 1867.
After World War II, residents appealed for the construction of a playground. The City of New York acquired .878 acre of land in 1951 and assigned the site to Parks. The new playground opened in 1952. In 1996 Parks acquired an adjacent .27 acre tract to the south which expanded the playground to 1.148 acres.
A $1,172,000 reconstruction of Half Nelson Playground and completed in 1998. The project included new play equipment for tots and older children, a basketball court, handball courts, picnic tables, benches, drinking fountains, safety surfacing, pavements, curbs, and gates. The drainage and water supply systems were reconstructed, and a yardarm was attached to the flagpole.