This playground honors Colonel Henry G. Stebbins (1811-1881), an important associate of Frederick Law Olmstead, co-designer of the City’s most renowned parks. In 1874, New York City annexed a portion of Westchester County, including the village of West Farms. Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), who created Central Park, Prospect Park, Morningside Park, and Fort Tryon Park, developed a plan for laying out the streets in the new section of the Bronx. The plan proved too expensive and was rejected, but a street in the area, Stebbins Avenue, bears the name of Olmsted’s staunch ally, Colonel Henry G. Stebbins.
Stebbins, a banker, was also a member of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park when it was still in the planning stages and supported Olmsted and his associate Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) in their struggle to create the park they envisioned. In a letter to a friend, Olmsted wrote, “Stebbins is the only man of strong good taste in the Commission.” In 1870, much to Olmsted’s delight, Stebbins became President of the Board of Commissioners. His sister, Emma Stebbins (1815-1882), created the Angel of the Waters sculpture atop Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, becoming the first woman to be awarded a public commission for a work of that significance in New York City.
Originally part of West Farms in lower Westchester County, the area now known as Hunts Point became part of New York City in 1874. It underwent significant growth after the IRT subway line to Manhattan was completed in 1908. Urban development put an end to the farms and the mansions, and the area went into a period of decline in the 1950s. Today, community groups are making Hunts Point a desirable place to live once again. The neighborhood is famous for the Hunts Point Terminal Market, the largest produce market in the United States.
A section of Stebbins Avenue has been renamed Reverend James A. Polite Avenue for the former pastor of the Thessalonia Baptist Church, but the Stebbins Playground between Reverend James A. Polite Avenue and Rogers Place retains the name it was given by Commissioner Stern in June 1987. It was originally the J.H.S. 133 Playground, jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. J.H.S. 133 is now the Bronx Regional High School, one of the earliest alternative schools in the New York City public school system.
The city acquired the land for this playground through condemnation in 1951, and it opened in 1965. Stebbins Playground forms a long rectangle adjacent to the school and provides facilities for the students and the surrounding Hunts Point community, including volleyball, basketball, tennis, and handball courts, game tables, swings, a comfort station, and a water spray area.