Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Bay Park

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

More than three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is the City’s largest park property. Visitors to the park enjoy miles of bridle paths and hiking trails, Orchard Beach, the Bartow-Pell Mansion, two golf courses, and a breathtaking 13-mile saltwater shoreline that hugs the Long Island Sound.

The Siwanoy originally inhabited this area, attracted by the plentiful deer, turtle, and sturgeon. When the Dutch West India Company purchased the land from them in 1639, they termed the area “Vreedelandt,” meaning land of freedom. However, after years of unsuccessful attempts to occupy the land, the Siwanoy still controlled the area. The most famous of these failed communities was the short-lived English colony founded by Anne Hutchinson in what is now the northwest corner of this park. Having fled religious persecution in Puritan Massachusetts, Hutchinson, and most of her party were killed by Native Americans in 1643 amidst conflict between European settlers and the Siwanoy. The nearby Hutchinson River bears her name.

Englishman Thomas Pell (1612-1669) purchased 50,000 acres of land from the Siwanoy in 1654.  In 1666, King Charles II chartered this land as part of the Manor of Pelham.  During the Revolutionary War, Pell's land was a buffer between British-held Manhattan and rebel-held Westchester.  A plaque at Glover's Rock commemorates a battle at Pell Point where Massachusetts Patriots ambushed British and Hessian forces by hiding behind stone walls, which remain at the Split Rock Golf Course. 

After the Pell family sold most of the land, Robert Bartow (1792-1868), a publisher and Pell descendant, purchased the remainder in 1836.  He built the grey stone Bartow-Pell Mansion in 1842 on Shore Road.  The City acquired the estate from the family in 1888, and it became a museum and educational center in 1947. The mansion and its grounds have been maintained by the International Garden Club Incorporated, now known as the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, since 1914.  Another historic residence, Hunter Mansion, was built in 1804. Fragments of its foundation and landscaped features remain.

In the late 1800s, Bronx resident and founder of the New York Parks Association John Mullaly spearheaded a movement to retain some of the natural areas before they were destroyed by overdevelopment. The State Legislature appointed a commission to acquire large tracts of land to form a Bronx parks system. Pelham Bay Park officially became Bronx Parks Department property in 1888 when the City of the Bronx purchased the land for a total cost of $2,746,688 and changed the collection of estates into a unified park. The original site was over 1,700 acres.

The park evolved from natural woodland into an enhanced recreational facility when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981) filled the park with playgrounds, comfort stations, and other amenities. He upgraded the Pelham and Split Rock Golf Courses in the 1930s and began one of his most ambitious park projects: the building of Orchard Beach. Eager to increase public use of the area, Moses initiated a project that added a new parking lot and a 90,000-square-foot bathhouse complex. When it opened in 1936, the landfill-fortified beach attracted thousands of bathers. In 1947, the beach was extended 1.25 miles by filling in the shallow water in LeRoy’s Bay between Hunter and Twin islands, adding 115 acres of parkland. When the Department of Sanitation received permission to use the area south of the Pelham Bridge as a landfill, conservation groups succeeded in having the State designate 375 acres of marshland as a wildlife refuge. The Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge was created in 1967.

Renovations continue each year. In 2000, portions of the Bathhouse at Orchard Beach were reconstructed in addition to a restoration of a salt marsh at Pelham Bay Lagoon adjacent to the northwest corner of the Orchard Beach parking lot. Several monuments in the park were conserved in 2001, including the Bronx Victory Memorial (1933) commemorating the Bronx casualties in World War I.

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

Know Before You Go

BeachesOrchard Beach and Promenade

All City beaches will be closed to swimming Tuesday, August 4, due to the dangerous conditions predicted as an effect of Tropical Storm Isaias--lifeguards will not be on duty.

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