Thompson Playground takes its name from the adjacent street, one of a handful of Greenwich Village streets named after Revolutionary War officers in the late 18th century. These north-south streets include MacDougal Street (named for Major General Alexander McDougall), Sullivan Street (named for Major General John Sullivan), Thompson Street (named for Brigadier General William Thompson), Wooster Street (named for Brigadier General David Wooster), Mercer Street (named for Brigadier General Hugh Mercer), and Lafayette Street (named for the Marquis de Lafayette). Three of these streets presently run north to Washington Square Park, named for the greatest Revolutionary War general and father of our country, George Washington.
William Thompson (c. 1725-1781) was born in Ireland and emigrated to Pennsylvania. During the French and Indian War Thompson served as the captain of a troop of mounted militia. In 1775 he was made a colonel and was sent to Massachusetts to aid in the defense of Boston following the Battle of Bunker Hill. After Thompsons company of Pennsylvania sharpshooters drove back a British landing-party, he was made a brigadier-general. Thompson was captured during an attack on the enemy at Trois Rivieres in Quebec. Soon after his parole, he died at his home near Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1781.
Land for this playground was acquired in three parcels over the course of twenty-eight years. In 1929 and 1930 Parks purchased two parcels mid-block on Thompson Street. The playground was developed with a comfort station, swings and benches arranged around a large central wading pool. In 1957 Parks expanded the property south to Spring Street and west to Sullivan Street. This additional land was the site of a warehouse, two commercial garages, and two buildings for business and residence, structures typical of the Lower Village-SoHo area.
The buildings were razed, and the entire playground was redeveloped. The improvements expanded the program of the playground from a tot lot for small children to a recreational facility for all ages. A spray shower was created in the place of the wading pool, more play equipment and gingko trees were added, and a new sandbox, handball courts, basketball courts, and boccie courts were built. The mini-pool was installed in the late 1960s.
In the mid-1980s Parks redesigned Thompson Playground to redefine the athletic and play areas for different age groups. The west side of park was made into a childrens play area with new climbing equipment, swings, benches and tables, and new play unit was constructed near the spray shower area. The handball and basketball courts were reconstructed, and the low brick walls were extended to delineate courts from tot areas. The granite block walkway along Thompson Street was also reconstructed and extended. In addition, decorative squares of granite block pavement were placed throughout the park.