One of the Civil War’s best-known generals, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) was born in Lancaster, Ohio in 1820. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and served in California and the Mexican War. Appointed brigadier general of volunteers in 1861, Sherman fought at Bull Run and Shiloh. Promoted to major general in 1862, he distinguished himself in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns of 1863. Sherman blazed a trail of destruction as his troops seized Atlanta, marched to the sea, and headed north through the Carolinas. He received the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, seventeen days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia.
General Sherman retired to New York and resided near what is now called Sherman Square on W. 70th Street and Broadway. He died in New York in 1884. The saying “War is hell” is attributed to Sherman. His younger brother, Senator John Sherman (1823-1900) of Ohio, was the author of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.
In 1952 the City of New York acquired additional property on the block bounded by Amsterdam Avenue, West 78th Street, Columbus, and West 77th Street for school and recreational purposes. The old P.S. 87 building on the site was razed, and the new William T. Sherman School opened in 1954. Plans were drawn up for a playground for school and community use, to be jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. The design incorporated play equipment and facilities for rollerskating and basketball, and maintained the old school garden.
The site was updated as an adventure playground by architect M. Paul Friedberg by 1970. When that arrangement became obsolete, Operation Playground, a 1500-member neighborhood organization of parents and children, was established to raise funds, design, and construct new facilities for the site. The group raised $55,000 in private contributions, and Parks added more than $30,000. Nationally known playground architect Robert Leathers designed the facility with a maze, fire engine, tire bridge and swing, treehouse, roller coaster obstacle bridge, and suspension bridge with tunnels. Over the course of seven days in May 1987, community volunteers and Parks laborers worked side by side to build “Wood Park.” A short segment about the playground construction runs periodically on the beloved children’s television show “Sesame Street.”
In 1997 Council Member Ronnie Eldridge funded, for $760,000, the fourth incarnation of Tecumseh Playground. The new design allows children to imagine a journey between New York City and the West in the 1870s. The entrance is marked by a train silhouette on the fence and colored pavement train tracks which lead into the playground. On the “east” side of the playground, playhouses and tot play equipment represent cosmopolitan shops and the Grand Central Depot. On the “west” side, a Conestoga wagon climber, buffalo play sculptures, spray shower, and fortress play equipment suggest the thrill of the frontier. In the center a decorative paved area depicts leaf shapes and animal footprints from the eastern and western United States. Other features include new safety surfacing, drinking fountain, drainage and water supply. A new weathervane signals the cavalry charge of school children from P.S. 87 scrambling into Tecumseh Playground to have some fun.