Pelham Bay Park

Pelican Bay Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Pelican Bay Playground is reminder of an old and nearly forgotten name for Hunter Island. It takes its name from the Pell family, who once owned 9,000 acres of land in the eastern half of the Bronx and Westchester County. Although there are no indigenous pelicans in the Long Island Sound region, John Pell (1643-1700) chose to name the island for the long-beaked bird that his family adopted as a mascot. The Pell family coat-of-arms has a pelican on the crest, and pelicans are carved on the square granite posts of the family burial plot.

John Pell’s uncle, Thomas Pell (1613-1669), purchased the land from Siwanoy Native Americans on June 27, 1654, with an agreement that the land be surveyed every year. Unlike previous settlers, Pell allowed the Siwanoy to remain on the land. John Pell also maintained a peaceful relationship with the Siwanoy after he inherited his uncle’s property in 1669. Arriving from England in 1671, John Pell completed the construction of the family mansion in 1675. Pell established himself as a law officer, judiciously mediating in the property disputes between the dueling English settlements of Eastchester and Westchester, and was eventually elected to the State Assembly. John Pell died in 1700, and between 1780 and 1850 the Pell family gradually sold off the land.

Pelican Bay Playground sits across the promenade from section seven of Orchard Beach. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981) constructed Orchard Beach in 1936. Moses’s ambitious eight million dollar plan to renovate the area called for a parking lot, bathhouse, and, most impressive, 115 new acres of land created from over three million cubic yards of landfill joining Rodman’s Neck and Hunter Island. Construction crews added white sand from the Rockaways in Queens and Sandy Hook, New Jersey to the beach at a rate of 4,000 cubic yards a day. A 50-foot-wide promenade was built parallel to the shore and a massive 1,400 foot-long, 250 foot-wide mall led to the 90,000-square-foot bathhouse, which also offered a restaurant and other concessions.

Although this pastoral waterfront area had been used as a campground for decades, Parks officially acquired 1700 acres of Pelham Bay Park property in 1888, with other parcels added throughout the years. Pelican Bay Playground opened along with Orchard Beach on July 26, 1936. The playground featured slides, swings, seesaws, and a jungle gym. In 1999, Parks renovated Pelican Bay Playground as part of a $2.6 million Orchard Beach project with funds provided by the State Environmental Quality Bond Act and matching funds from Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Today, Pelican Bay Playground offers boat play equipment with safety surfacing, game tables and benches, a drinking fountain, a tire swing, spring animals, and pelican animal art in the spray area.

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

Know Before You Go

Nature Centers
Pelham Bay Nature Center

The Pelham Bay Nature Center is closed to the public for the season and will re-open in April 2022.

Nature Centers
Orchard Beach Nature Center

Orchard Beach Nature Center is closed to the public.

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