Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Bay Park

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

What was here before?

The Dutch West India Company purchased this land from the Siwanoy, the original inhabitants, in 1639 and called it "Vreedelandt," or land of freedom. Europeans made several attempts to occupy the land, the most famous of which was the short-lived English colony founded by Anne Hutchinson. Having fled religious persecution in Puritan Massachusetts, Hutchinson and most of her party were killed in 1643 amidst conflict between European settlers and the Siwanoy. The nearby Hutchinson River bears her name. 

Who is this park named for?

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.

How did this site become a park?

In 1888, the New York State legislature established this park, the city’s largest, and five others in the borough, creating a Bronx parks system after years of advocacy by the New York Park Association. A collection of private estates and natural wetlands were consolidated into Pelham Bay Park.

For decades the park remained largely unimproved except for upgraded approach roads, provisional bathhouses and extensive camping facilities at Orchard Beach. By 1911, the park had been improved with the addition of athletic fields, play equipment, tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course. During World War I, a massive naval training facility occupied a portion of the park, and in 1922 Isaac Rice Stadium was completed (demolished in 1999).  In 1933 the impressive Bronx Victory Memorial was dedicated in tandem with a tree grove commemorating those lost in the war.

In the late 1930s, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses initiated a massive park renovation. A second golf course was added named Split Rock. The most ambitious project was a reinvented Orchard Beach, designed by Gilmore D. Clarke and Aymar Embury, created by dredging sand from the Long Island Sand to connect Hunter Island and Rodman’s Neck. This crescent-shaped “Bronx Riviera” features a massive parking field and two enormous Art Deco-style bathhouses. In 1947, the beach was extended 1.25 miles by filling in shallow areas of LeRoy’s Bay, adding 115 acres of parkland. 

More recently, the 375-acre Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge was created in 1967, and given its sheer, size and complexity Pelham Bay Park remains a work in progress, its many amenities and scenic shoreline serving as a local and regional destination.

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

Know Before You Go

Nature Centers
Pelham Bay Nature Center

Pelham Bay Nature Center is currently closed to the public.

Nature Centers
Orchard Beach Nature Center

Orchard Beach Nature Center is closed to the public.

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