Reed's Basket Willow Swamp Park

Reed's Basket Willow Swamp Park

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

This park’s unusual name is inspired by the Reed family, owners of the land for several generations. John Reed (1786-1849) started a family tradition when he decided to try his luck at basket making, and planted the swampy land around his farm with purple willow trees. The willow tree buds every spring, at which point it is at the peak condition to be harvested. The sap flowing under the bark makes it easy for farmers to peel the bark off the trunk. After the bark has been removed and soaked in water, it is cut into strips and woven into the distinctive baskets.

Basket weaving was a common occupation among rural Staten Islanders. The island’s ecological conditions promoted the industry by providing a perfect climate for the willow, oak, and ash trees needed for the manufacture. The work was highly specialized, requiring a long apprenticeship.  Local craftsmen continued to make baskets on Staten Island even after cheaper, mass-produced containers became available in the 1870s. The story of the Reed family ended in an odd fashion, however, when the son of John Reed sold the house and land. He then “grew despondent,” and burned the house down.

A forest covers nearly half the area of this property. Young oak predominates, interspersed with birches, tulip magnolias, hickory, and chestnut trees. Hiking trails guide explorers through the woods. Three ponds and a swamp area round out the terrain. 

Brooks and ponds were a common sight on Staten Island up until the 1950s, when construction of pipelines and trenches began to wreak changes on the physical landscape. Large cranes and bulldozers loosened the soil surrounding open water, causing serious erosion. The Great Swamp (now known as Long Creplebush), Clove Valley Swamp, Lower Swamp, and Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp (Upper Swamp) were some of the larger bodies of water to be affected by construction. 

The City had acquired the property in the early 1970s, and in 1978 the property was designated as a protected freshwater wetland by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, permanently ensuring its preservation under state law. The park was transferred to NYC Parks on November 18, 1980 in recognition of its ecological importance and protected status. By 1997, the addition of several parcels of land swelled the park to its current size.

Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp lies at the top of Emerson Court, bounded by Ocean Terrace and Merrick Avenue, and is part of the Greenbelt, the largest subsystem of parks located in New York City.  Established in 1984 and covering nearly 3,000 acres in central Staten Island, the Greenbelt is home to a variety of plant and animal life, as well as roughly 28 miles of nature trails. The Greenbelt Conservancy, founded in 1989, helps NYC Parks to protect and care for the Greenbelt, sponsoring weekend nature walks and other environmental education programs and festivals.

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