Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park

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

This park honors Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), who served as Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817 and as Vice President of the United States under James Monroe (1758-1831) from 1817 to 1825.  Peter Stuyvesant (1610–1672), director general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, owned this property during the 17th century.  Tompkins later acquired it, and by the 19th century, it was marked for development as a public square.

The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 proposed a large market on this land stretching from First Avenue to the East River, but plans for the market never materialized.  Bordered today by Avenues A and B, and 7th and 10th Streets, Tompkins Square Park was acquired by the City in 1834.  Originally swampland, this site was graded and landscaped between 1835 and 1850.  In 1866, the New York State Legislature ordered the City to remove a number of trees that had been planted at the time of the park’s creation to allow for an open parade ground for the Seventh Regiment of New York.  A few Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees were spared, and of those, three survived to the present day.  Believed to be the oldest trees in the park, two of the Sycamores can be found along 10th Street and the other is located on Avenue A at 9th Street.

The New York State Legislature, bowing to pressure from city residents, redesignated the square as a public park in 1878, and it was redesigned the following year.  Approximately 450 trees were planted and many of those remain in the park today.  Species include Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), American elm (Ulmus americana), and Oriental plane (Platanus orientalis).

The park is home to several monuments, including the Temperance Memorial Fountain (1888), the Samuel S. Cox monument (1891), the Slocum Memorial Fountain (1906), several memorial plaques, and the Ukrainian-American Flagstaff (1942), which was donated by the Ukrainian Production Unit of the American Red Cross.  A playground for girls was built in 1904, and in 1911, 10,000 people came here to witness the City’s first inter-park athletic championships.  Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981) expanded recreation opportunities in the park in the 1930s, adding handball courts and swing sets.  A bandshell was completed in 1966 in time for frequent concerts and rallies, which characterized that period in history.

Since its beginnings in the 19th century, Tompkins Square Park has served as a place to voice dissent.  Demonstrations in 1857 and 1875 about the lack of jobs and the poor economy gave way to local residents’ protests about gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s.  In the late 1980s, police and East Village residents clashed after Parks began enforcing the park’s closing hours, in effect barring homeless from camping in the park.  

The park underwent a large renovation in the 1990s. The bandshell was removed, a dog run and new playgrounds were built, several monuments conserved, and the turf and sidewalks replaced.  Today Tompkins Square Park continues to serve a diverse community, providing a peaceful, meditative environment within the bustle of city life.

Directions to Tompkins Square Park

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