Van Voorhees Playground
Van Voorhees Park
This park honors Tracy S. Voorhees (1890-1974), an attorney and decorated World War II veteran, and his family’s early contributions to the City.
The Van Voorhees family traces its lineage to Steven Coerten Van Voorhees who settled in Brooklyn in the mid-17th century. He established himself in the neighborhood of Flatlands, became a magistrate, an elder in the Dutch Reformed Church, and the head of a formidable clan. His ten children bore 20 grandchildren. The grandchildren amassed 85 children themselves, among them Tracy Voorhees, to carry on the family name. The “Van” was eventually dropped from the name.
Born and raised in New York City, Tracy Voorhees received his degree from Columbia University Law School in 1915, after which he began practicing law. From 1936 to 1944 he served as President of Long Island College Hospital. Voorhees joined the Army in 1942, one year later becoming the director of the legal and control divisions of the Army’s Surgeon General’s Office. As Director, Voorhees was responsible for the administration of the medical department’s affairs, including the care of the sick and wounded, and later, the demobilization of Army medical personnel.
When World War II (1939-1945) ended, Voorhees was assigned to oversee food relief in occupied Europe. A year later, he became a food administrator for all occupied areas. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) appointed Voorhees Assistant Secretary of the Army and President of Army Emergency Relief, a semi-autonomous agency that provided financial assistance to soldiers and their dependents and supplemented the efforts of the American Red Cross. In 1953, Voorhees retired from the Army, and returned to private practice. During his long military and government career, Voorhees received the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Army’s third highest award for devotion to duty, the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Public Service, and the Army Distinguished Civilian Service Award.
In 1956 and 1957, at the request of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), Voorhees served as the President’s personal representative for Hungarian Refugee Affairs and as Chairman of the President’s Committee for Hungarian Refugee Relief. Under his direction, 32,000 Hungarian refugees were resettled in the United States. Between 1960 and 1961, he continued to serve the Executive Branch, aiding numerous Cuban refugees much as he had Hungarian refugees.
Van Voorhees Park was originally known as Jeannie Scott Dike Playground and was located one block north, between Pacific, Congress, Columbia, and Hicks Streets. According to property records, the City acquired the land for this park in four parcels in the following years: 1864, 1941, 1942, and 1947. The land received in 1941 came as a gift from Long Island College Hospital during Mr. Voorhees’s term as President and the park received its present name. By 1956, the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway expanded Van Voorhees Park to a total of 5.25 acres.
In 1998, Council Member Angel Rodriguez sponsored a $714,942 reconstruction of the playground. In 2000, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani funded a $155,425 renovation of the handball courts and pavements. Van Voorhees Park features tennis, handball, and basketball courts, an asphalt play area, play equipment with safety surfacing, swings for tots and children, a comfort station, spray showers, metal fish animal art, benches, as well as many small flowers and small trees. The park also contains 32 trees, which are at least 50 years old. A flagpole near the entrance of the park flies the United States flag and a yardarm holds the flags of Parks and the City of New York—a fitting tribute to a dedicated public servant and his family.