174th Street Playground
Located in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx, the 174th Street Playground is named after the adjacent 174th Street. This section of 174th St was originally known as Beacon Avenue. The section from the Concourse to Webster Avenue was once called Spring Street, while the section in Morrisania was once called 12th Street. This playground was built as a part of the Bronx River Houses housing project. The land for both was acquired by the city in 1948 by condemnation; the playground opened on September 14, 1950, and the housing complex was completed soon after on February 28, 1951. The complex is named after the adjacent Bronx River.
The only freshwater river in New York City, the 23-mile Bronx River winds its way down from the heights of Westchester county through the borough of the Bronx, forming a green corridor that has been central to life in the Bronx from its earliest inhabitants to the present day. Called Aquehung or “River of High Bluffs” by the Mohegan Indians who fished and hunted along its banks, the Bronx River derives its current name from Jonas Bronck (1600-1643), a Swedish sea captain who settled on the mainland in 1639. Bronck was one of the earliest Europeans to settle in the area. The Bronx steadily developed as an agricultural center throughout the 1600s and 1700s until the Revolutionary War, when the British seized control of the Bronx, destroying the property of several residents. American troops regained control of the area in 1783.
After the war, activity along the Bronx River evolved with the economy. Factories sprang up along its shores, using the river’s current to power their manufacturing. At one point at least 12 mills stood on the banks of the river from North Castle to West Farms. The factories brought prosperity to the area, but with prosperity came pollution, as local farms and factories dumped their refuse into the river. The situation grew worse when the New York Central Railroad built its Harlem Line alongside the river. The resulting noise and pollution made the area undesirable, and the land between the railroad and the river came to be dominated by slums and dumping grounds. In 1896, a report by the state legislature stated that the Bronx River had become an “open sewer.”
The state appointed a commission to remedy the problem. After several months of intensive study, the commission recommended that the City of New York purchase land alongside the river and use it to build a parkway. This allowed the city to control activity next to the river as well as provide motorists with a pleasant place to drive. The Bronx River Parkway Reservation Commission acted on the proposal and built the Bronx River Parkway. The Bronx River is currently the subject of a major Parks initiative, begun in 1997, that extends these efforts to protect the river. The program will clean the river and restore wetlands systems, as well as establish a continuous greenway of parks alongside its banks.
In January of 1999, the 174th Street Playground underwent a $89,715 renovation that was funded by Council Member Lucy Cruz. The park contains London Planetrees, a comfort station, colorful play equipment, basketball and handball courts, and benches. For summer fun, the playground also has a spray shower and a mini-pool.