Seton Falls Park

Seton Falls Park

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

Seton Falls Park is a woodland, wetland, and bird sanctuary. It derives its name from the prominent waterfalls built in the park by the Seton family. In the 19th century, these landowners were instrumental in the political and social affairs of what was then the town of Eastchester. The best known member of the family was Elizabeth Seton (1774-1821), the first American to be canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. After the death of her husband in 1803, she converted to Catholicism and moved with her five children to Baltimore. After taking her vows, she established the American Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg in 1809. It was the first Roman Catholic religious order in the United States. Another family member, Robert Seton, was the first American Catholic priest to become a Monsignor.

The surrounding area was formerly inhabited by Siwanoy Indians, who hunted and fished. In 1654 English colonist Thomas Pell purchased a large parcel of land from the Siwanoys. Pell invited farmers from Fairfield County, Connecticut to settle here, and they incorporated the area into the town of Eastchester in 1666. The Bronx and lower Westchester were the scene for much military action during the Revolutionary War. One battle occurred in what is now Seton Falls Park in 1781, as the British retreated under fire by the patriots. Ownership of the area changed after the war, because many who were loyal to Britain lost their property.

James Roosevelt, a relative of two U.S. Presidents, was the first owner after the Revolutionary War. Nathaniel Prime, a wealthy New York banker, later acquired the area and called his estate “The Cedars” for the many red cedars on his land. Upon his death, the property was transferred to Prime’s daughter Emily, who married William Seton, the eldest son of Saint Elizabeth Seton. It was he who renamed the fifty-one-acre estate “Cragdon” and transformed it into a working farm with two ponds. Rattlesnake Creek was dammed inside the estate and formed a waterfall that gives its name to the present-day park. The creek was named after the abundant rattlesnakes that were once found in the area.

The site was widely used for recreation in the early 1900s, although it was not officially a park. On June 10, 1914 the city acquired thirty-two acres of the former Seton estate for the Department of Health to build a hospital for contagious diseases. Twenty-nine acres of this parcel were assigned to Parks on June 11, 1930, following fifteen years of community resistance to the hospital plan. The remaining three acres were annexed in 1932. Additional lands were assigned to Parks in 1983 and 1985.

The eastern portion of the park was improved by 1936 with a baseball field, two outhouses, water fountain, and maintenance enclosure. The western portion of the park was preserved as mature forest, mostly undisturbed since the time of the American Revolution. In 1981 the city spent $250,000 to build a pumping station to drain Rattlesnake Creek and solve flooding problems. In 1997 the Seton Falls Park Preservation Coalition received a $5500 grant from the New York City Environmental Fund for the implementation of a school-based program for education about the restoration of the park’s wetlands and woodlands. In 2007, work was completed on a $905,000 project which involved the reconstruction of existing path and trail systems, new signage for trails, and improved vehicle access for better maintenance and security. In addition, erosion control measures were implemented to improve runoff and reduce water ponding, and boardwalks installed along the wetlands with new plantings. This work is part of the $200 million investment in Bronx parks with mitigation funds from the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant, funded by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Municipal Water Finance Authority.

Directions to Seton Falls Park

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