Powell Playground

Powell Playground

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

This playground honors former Brooklyn mayor, Samuel S. Powell (1815-1879). Born on Long Island, Powell left home at age 13 to make his way in the world. Settling in Brooklyn, he eventually worked his way up the corporate ladder, becoming director of first the Nassau Life Insurance Company and later the Lafayette Life Insurance Company. Powell also went on to direct the Citizen’s Gas Light Company, Brooklyn Life Insurance Company, and the Central Bank before he became involved in local politics. He served as mayor from 1857-1861 and again from 1872-1873. During the Civil War (1861-1865), Mayor Powell organized 1,000 police officers to assist Captain Andrew Foote (1806-1863) in defending the Brooklyn Navy Yard from Confederate sympathizers. Six years after his tenure as mayor ended, Samuel S. Powell died at age 63.

Powell’s assistance in maintaining Union control of the Brooklyn Navy Yard proved to be his most famous accomplishment in office. One afternoon during the war, Captain Foote approached Mayor Powell regarding the possibility of an attempt to burn the Navy Yard. Captain Foote explained that only 80 men were available to defend the Yard and requested additional support from the Mayor. Mayor Powell responded to the request before nightfall, assembling 1000 policemen with the assistance of the Metropolitan Police. The men were dispersed throughout the Navy Yard and ferry landing as well as on the river in a police boat and many rowboats. Additional support came from Colonel Graham’s 70th artillery regiment from the Portland Street Arsenal, Colonel Smith’s 13th artillery regiment from the Cranberry Street Arsenal, and General Duryea’s militia.

The rebels plotted to attack the Navy Yard by crossing from New York in small groups on many ferries that would then meet up in the City Park, beneath the Navy Yard walls. After nightfall the rebels planned to use fireballs and other explosives to ignite the various flammable components of the Navy Yard, escaping before the police could respond. Upon seeing the vast array of forces amassed by Mayor Powell, the Confederate sympathizers called off the attack and the Navy Yard remained unharmed. The incident, known as “the Navy Yard Scare”, although so quickly and effectively prevented not many people noticed, would definitely have occurred if not for Mayor Powell’s quick action in organizing defenses that proved to be the defining moment in his political career.

Powell Playground, acquired by the City on September 2, 1936, took the name of Shiplacoff Playground until it was renamed by Parks Commissioner Stern in 1985. The playground contains many benches as well as numerous maple (Acer spp.) and Pin oak (Quercus palustris) trees. The playground, surrounded by a chain link fence and paved with asphalt, also has a flagpole with a yardarm and a drinking fountain. Additional equipment includes handball and basketball courts, a swing set, and a shower basin. In 1994, Mayor Giuliani provided $772,000 to install blue and red modular play equipment with safety surfacing.

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