Bounded by Bergen Street, Utica Avenue, Rochester Avenue, and St. Marks Avenue, Woods Playground takes its name from nearby Public School 335, Granville T. Woods Elementary School. The school, in turn, is named for Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), an African-American engineer and inventor, owner of thirty-five separate patents on devices ranging from a chicken egg incubator to an innovative railway telegraph system.
Born in Columbus, Ohio to a poor family, Woods was forced to leave school at the age of ten. He soon went to work doing odd jobs in a railroad equipment repair shop in order to help support his family. Fascinated by engineering, Woods began to study how railroad machinery was repaired. He even paid fellow workers to answer his questions, and to explain mechanical and electrical concepts. Armed with this knowledge, he traveled throughout the country in the 1870s working on railroads and steel rolling mills. Some time in that decade, historians believe that Woods studied engineering at an eastern mechanical college. Nevertheless, in 1878, Woods became the Chief Engineer of the British steamer Ironsides. Two years later, he began handling a steam engine for the D & S (Danville and Southern) Railroad in the Midwest.
Unfortunately, for all of his aptitude and skill, Woods found himself denied opportunities for promotion and advancement in industry because of his race. In frustration, he formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company in 1884. Soon after founding the company, Woods began patenting numerous inventions, including his egg incubator, an improved steam boiler furnace, and an improved telephone transmitter. In 1887, he developed his most famous invention, a device he called a “Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph.” This specialized telegraph allowed messages to be transferred between railway stations and moving trains. Woods’ invention improved railway safety, by giving rail dispatchers the precise location of each train.
Although Woods’ inventions won him respect, they brought him little financial success in the long term. As a black inventor, he found marketing his inventions difficult and instead often sold the patent rights to his ideas to large corporations, such as General Electric and American Bell Telephone. Unfortunately, Woods spent the last years of his life struggling in court to regain the patents to his inventions. In 1910, he died in near poverty in New York City.
Woods Playground opened in 1965, jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education. For years simply known as P. S. 335 Playground, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern named it honor of Granville T. Woods in 1987. Today, the playground offers play equipment, basketball courts, handball courts, swings, a spray shower, and all-purpose asphalt play area. Benches, a comfort station, a water fountain, and a concrete gazebo are all available for more leisurely activities. London Plane trees fill Woods Playground offering shade and comfort. A tree known for its ability to survive in harsh urban environments, the London Plane takes its name from London, England. Due to the tree’s enduring popularity, Parks uses the silhouette of a London Plane leaf as its official insignia.