Silver Lake Park

Audre Lorde Walk

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

What was here before?

The original lake on this site was a spring-fed body of water formed at the end of the Ice Age and now makes up the south basin of the reservoir. Formerly known as Fresh Pond, the area was marked as Silver Lake on maps by the mid-nineteenth century. This was likely after Marks Silva, who Americanized his name to Mark Silver and founded the Hebrew Free Burial Association, which purchased property for charitable burials in the neighboring Silver Lake Cemetery.

How did this site become a park?

Established in 1897 by condemnation, the park was previously used for a saloon, a casino, and ice harvesting companies. The property around the lake was purchased piecemeal for the park’s development between 1901 and 1961. As modern refrigeration replaced ice harvesting, the lake was drained and converted to a working reservoir, which was the endpoint of the city’s Catskill water supply system. The reservoir was used for potable water from 1917 until 1971 when an underground storage tank system was completed, but the lake remained as a beloved park feature.

The waterfront pathway that runs along the eastern edge of the lake runs parallel to Victory Boulevard and is capped by flagstaffs at both ends.

Who is this public walk named for?

In 2021, as part of the second phase of NYC Parks’ initiative to expand the representation of African Americans honored in parks, this promenade was named for Audre Lorde (1934-1992), a self-described "Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet."

Lorde was born in New York City in 1934 to parents who immigrated from Grenada. She graduated from Hunter High School and published her first poem in Seventeen after the school’s literary magazine rejected it for being inappropriate. She graduated from Hunter College and got her master’s degree in library science from Columbia University. Lorde worked as a librarian before becoming a successful writer. She married Edwin Rollings in 1962 and had two children before they divorced in 1970.

Lorde published her first volume of poems, The First Cities, in 1968, the same year she was writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. There she met Frances Clayton, her partner for 21 years. Lorde lived on Staten Island at 207 St. Paul’s Avenue with Clayton and her two children from 1972 to 1987. She continued to publish both poetry and prose volumes that addressed civil rights, lesbianism, intersectionality, and Black female identity. A Burst of Light won a National Book award in 1988.

During this time, Lorde taught at Lehman College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Hunter College. She also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press to support the writings of Black feminists. She remained a dedicated activist, speaking at the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and helping establish the Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa.

After a fourteen-year battle with cancer, she moved to St. Croix where she took the African name Gamba Adisa, meaning "she who makes her meaning clear." At the time of her death, Lorde was the poet laureate of New York State. In 2019, the city named the corner of St. Paul’s Avenue and Victory Boulevard, near her old home, Audre Lorde Way.

Directions to Silver Lake Park

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