The site of Claremont Playground has a rich and varied history. On September 16, 1776, this was the scene of fierce combat during the Battle of Harlem Heights. Michael Hogan, a former British Consul in Havana, later purchased land here in 1806 and built the Federal-style Claremont Mansion (for which Claremont Avenue was named). Possible sources of the name are the elevated site’s scenic outlook; Hogan’s birthplace in County Clare, Ireland; and the title of his friend Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who would ascend the English throne as King William IV in 1830.
After a series of owners, the Claremont Mansion was used as a popular roadside inn by 1860. The City acquired the property in 1873 for the development of Riverside Park and continued to operate the inn. At the turn of the 20th century, the Claremont Inn and its formal gardens attracted visits from numerous politicians, military officials, socialites, and entertainers including President William McKinley, Admiral George Dewey, Lillian Russell, and members of the Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Whitney families. By 1907, it was a public restaurant, serving house specialties like curry of chicken Claremont to such notables as Cole Porter, George S. Kaufman, George M. Cohan, Fannie Hurst, and James J. Walker. Claremont Inn burned down in 1950, and a new playground was constructed on the site within two years.
There is an impressive array of monuments and structures near the playground. To the west, the Amiable Child Monument (1797) marks the grave of St. Claire Pollock, the five year-old boy who fell to his death on nearby rocks or drowned in the Hudson River. To the south stands majestic Grant’s Tomb, designed by architect John Duncan and sculptor John Massey Rhind. The neoclassical structure, modeled on the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, was dedicated in memory of U.S. President and General Ulysses S. Grant on April 27, 1897. Other nearby landmarks include the Riverside Drive Viaduct (1901), Sakura Park (acquired in 1896), and a tablet presented by representatives of the Chinese empire in memory of General Grant (1897).
The Claremont-Sakura Playground Association was founded in 1994, with assistance from the Riverside Park Fund, to improve and maintain the area. Their efforts helped secure the capital reconstruction of Claremont Playground, which was funded by the Manhattan Borough President in 1996. The reconstruction project was completed in 1998. It included installing new play equipment, safety surfacing, pavements and curbs, benches, and gates; reconstructing the drainage and water systems; and planting new trees.
The playground’s water and wildlife theme was inspired by the history and environment of the Hudson River Valley. Decorations include medallions of native fauna and a weathervane shaped like a peregrine falcon. The spray shower and three play animals are dolphins, which are not native to the Hudson River but have been sighted in the region on rare occasions since the settlement of New Amsterdam in 1624. A boat-shaped sandbox with a seahorse figurehead and a compass rosette depicting the historic Sloop Clearwater helps visitors navigate a course through the playground.
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