This playground in East Flatbush, the avenue to its north, and a nearby high school all owe their name to Samuel Jones Tilden (1814-1886), lawyer, governor, and candidate for President. Tilden was born on February 9, 1814 in New Lebanon, in Columbia County, New York. As an undergraduate, he studied at both Yale College and the University of the City of New York (now New York University), and he graduated from Yale in 1837. In 1838 Tilden enrolled as a law student at the University of the City of New York. Although he probably did not graduate from that institution, he was awarded an honorary L.L.B. by Yale University in 1875. Admitted to the bar in 1841, Tilden practiced law in New York City. His high-profile clients included more than half the railway corporations north of the Ohio and between the Hudson and Missouri Rivers.
Tilden was also active in city, state, and national politics. He was elected to the state assembly in 1845, served in the Constitutional convention of 1846, and ran on the Democratic ticket for attorney-general in 1855. He was a member of the Free Soil movement, which fought the extension of slavery into U.S. Territories. By 1868 Tilden had assumed the leadership of the Democratic party in New York State. In 1870 he launched a high-profile attack on the corrupt Tweed Ring, which had a stranglehold on New York City government from 1860 to 1871. Tilden helped to impeach several corrupt judges, exposed the plunder amassed by Tweed officials, prosecuted (on behalf of the state) many of them, and described the Ring’s crooked dealings in the pages of the New York Times.
Campaigning as a reform candidate for the Democrats, Tilden was elected Governor of New York State in 1874. His high-profile crusade against corruption won him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1876. Though Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, he lost the electoral college vote, 185-184, to Rutherford B. Hayes. The election was widely regarded as having been stolen by the Republicans, who formed the majority of the commission that was appointed to determine the vote of three Southern states, each of which had two sets of electors.
Tilden’s bequest of his large book collection to establish a library ultimately led to the creation of the New York Public Library. He died at his home in Yonkers on August 4, 1886. The City of New York acquired the land for this playground in 1948. The site had been occupied by privately owned tennis courts, handball courts, and a field house. The playground was built within two years at a cost of $85,965. It featured a separate tots’ play area with swings, slides, seesaws, shower basin, and sandpit. For older children, there were handball courts, a basketball court, volleyball court, and a softball diamond. A large free play area provided a space for roller skating or ice skating—depending on the season. When it opened on October 2, 1950, this Brooklyn playground was the 532nd in the New York City Park system.
In 1997 Council Member Lloyd Henry funded the $853,000 capital reconstruction of Tilden Playground. The theme of the new design is the writing of stories, recognizing the playground’s proximity to the nearby Rugby Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and to the philanthropy of Samuel J. Tilden. Several storybook plaques are based upon Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Beauty and the Beast. The spray shower takes the form of two pencils poised above a giant crossword puzzle. The reconstruction also includes new swings, a kick-ball area, and play equipment.