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Russell Sage Playground

The Daily Plant : Tuesday, August 12, 2003


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The summer months are always busy at Parks & Recreation. Pools and beaches are open, children are out of school and in the playgrounds, and special events such as musical performances fill parks with people across the City. The Capital Project of the Month for May, the reconstruction of Russell Sage Playground, is cause for celebration, even if a few months late.

Russell Sage Playground is located in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens. It’s adjacent to multi-family residences from two to twenty stories high, making it a very popular park for local families.

Funds for this reconstruction are allocated by the City Council. The purpose of the project is to reconnect two play areas that are currently separated by a change in elevation. In addition, it will provide the community with new play equipment and swings and comply with current safety standards and the laws governing ADA compliance.

The reconstruction of the park includes a new spray shower area for kids to cool off in during the hot summer months. New trees, shrubs and perennials are being planted to beautify the area. Existing chain link fences is being replaced with new mesh. Pavements, curbs, walls, fences, benches, water and drainage fixtures, are also being installed. Thematic elements drawing on the unique history of the site and its namesake will give the park a unique identity.

The playground is in an area of Queens that was first named "Whitepot," supposedly because the land had originally been purchased from Native Americans for three white clay pots, although the name has also been attributed to the Dutch word "put," meaning pit. The name was changed to Forest Hills in 1906 when the Cord Meyer Company purchased 600 acres of farmland that belonged to Ascan Bakus, Casper Joost-Springsteen, Horatio N. Squire, Abram V.S. Lott, Sarah V. Bolmer, and James van Siclen.

In 1908, 150 acres were sold to the Russell Sage Foundation in order to create a planned community called Forest Hills Gardens. At the outset of its construction it was the goal of the Foundation to build a model garden community for all classes of society. Ultimately, construction costs became so expensive that only the well-to-do were able to buy homes in Forest Hills Gardens.

Russell Sage (1816-1906) was a financier and railroad tycoon who left a philanthropic legacy. He began as a clerk in his brother's grocery store in Troy, New York, and in 1839 opened his own wholesale grocery business. He acted as treasurer of Rensselaer County from 1844 to 1851, and in 1852 he was elected to Congress on the Whig ticket. He served until 1857 when he took over as vice-president of the La Crosse Railroad in Wisconsin, a company that he had lent money while in office.

In 1863, Sage moved to New York City where he was among the first people to speculate on stocks through "puts" and "calls." These are stock options that allow investors to reserve stocks at a set price without investing the entire amount initially. He amassed a fortune through his railroad and telegraph ventures in collaboration with the financier Jay Gould (1836-1892). Gould was a successful railroad man, but also partly to blame for the Black Friday financial panic of 1869 when he attempted to corner the gold market.

Through mergers and stock manipulation, Sage controlled 15,000 miles of railways by 1883, including the entire New York City elevated system. He also shared control of the Western Union Telegraph Company with Gould. In 1891, a man entered Sage's office and demanded $1.2 million, threatening to explode dynamite. When Sage refused, the man detonated the dynamite, killing himself but leaving Sage mostly unharmed.

At the time of his death in 1906, Sage was worth more than $70 million. His wife Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage donated much of the money to philanthropic organizations, such as the YMCA, the YWCA, Women's Hospital, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also established the Russell Sage Foundation, which is an important contributor to research in the social sciences, and founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York.

The City bought the land for this park, located on Booth Street between 68th Avenue and 68th Drive, for recreational and educational purposes in 1950. The park was originally known as JHS 190 Playground. Since the school is also named Russell Sage School the name of the park was changed to Russell Sage Playground in 1985.


"Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images."

Jean Cocteau


Park Information

Directions to Russell Sage Playground


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