Bronx and Pelham Parkway
The inception of the Bronx and Pelham Parkway dates back to 1881, when John Mullaly (1835-1915), onetime New York City Health Commissioner and former secretary to inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, helped found the New York Park Association. Predicting rapid population growth in New York and rising land values, the Association called for more parkland in the South Bronx, which had been annexed to New York City in 1874. This effort culminated in the 1884 New Parks Act, and the City’s purchase of lands for Van Cortlandt, Claremont, Crotona, Bronx, St. Mary’s, and Pelham Bay Parks and the Moshulu, Crotona, and Bronx and Pelham Parkways between 1888 and 1890.
Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway, the world’s first parkways, were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux from 1870 and 1876 as gracious, tree-lined access routes to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Like many of the early Bronx parkways, the Bronx and Pelham Parkway followed this model. Connecting with Bronx Park at Boston Road on the west and Pelham Bay Park itself on the east, this land was acquired as a parkway by condemnation in 1884 and named by an Act of Legislature on June 14 of that year.
Besides connecting two of the Bronx’s largest parks, the Bronx and Pelham Parkway also serves as the physical boundary between the lands used by the New York Zoological Society and the Botanical Society within Bronx Park. The Zoological Society’s Wildlife Conservation Park (better known as the Bronx Zoo) opened in 1899 and remains one of the largest wildlife conservation parks in the United States, housing more than 4,000 animals representing 650 species on more than 250 acres of habitat. The New York Botanical Society was modeled after the Royal Gardens in Kew, England, and is regarded as one of the most distinguished gardens of its kind in the world.
Three times the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York City. It encompasses the beautiful Orchard beach, two golf courses, ball fields, bridle paths, tennis courts, and numerous nature preserves. The park also contains a firing range used by the New York Police Department and the Bartow-Pell Mansion. Built between 1836 and 1842 by publisher Robert Bartow on land that had once belonged to English doctor Thomas Pell, the Bartow-Pell Mansion is the last extant mansion of the many which once overlooked Pelham Bay.
Today, the parkway is 2.5 miles long and about as wide as a city block. The parkway itself encompasses three traffic lanes going in each direction, two large center plots, one small plot, two marginal streets, a bridle path, and an aqueduct shaft. The parkway is also famous for its numerous American elm trees. These stately trees, which also flourish along the Eastern Parkway and the Central Park Mall, can grow to heights of 120 feet and can withstand extremes in soil conditions and pH levels.
For the most part, the Bronx-Pelham Parkway stands today as it did when it was constructed in the late 19th century. A noticeable change did occur in 1977, when a local law renamed one of the parkway’s lanes to Lt. Col. Yehonatan Netanyahu Lane in memory of an Israeli man killed in a 1977 Entebbe raid.
An opulent thoroughfare linking two of Parks’ brightest jewels, the Bronx and Pelham Parkway is a graceful testament to the beauty Mulally and the New Parks Act brought to the Bronx.