New Parks Act

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The New Parks Act is a New York state law passed in 1884. It provided for the creation of parks in the New York City borough of the Bronx, which at the time was largely undeveloped. Three parkways and six parks were established as part of the New Parks Act.


Bronx Park is at the center of the system, and is now occupied by the New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo. It was connected to Van Cortlandt Park in the northwest via Mosholu Parkway; to Pelham Bay Park in the east via Pelham Parkway; and to Crotona Park in the south via Crotona Parkway. There were no direct connections to Claremont Park and St. Mary's Park, the other two parks in the system.[1]


In 1876, Frederick Law Olmsted was hired to survey the Bronx and map out streets based on the local geography. Olmsted noted the natural beauty of the Van Cortlandt family's estate in the northwest Bronx, comparing it to Central Park which he designed, and recommended the city purchase the property.[2][3] The land was part of a proposed greenbelt across the Bronx, consisting of parks and parkways that would align more with existing geography than a grid system similar to the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 in Manhattan. That grid had given rise to Central Park, a park with mostly artificial features within the bounds of the grid.[4][5] However, in 1877, the city declined to act upon his plan.[6]

Around the same time, New York Herald editor John Mullaly pushed for the creation of parks in New York City, particularly lauding the Van Cortlandt and Pell families' properties in the western and eastern Bronx respectively. He formed the New York Park Association in November 1881.[7][8] Mullaly noted that New York City had less parkland per capita than many major European cities, and that the 1853 construction of Central Park had raised property values around the park immediately after construction.[9]:107, 111 His association sent out pamphlets to high-profile New Yorkers, advocating for a new park.[10] However, controversies arose over the proposals for new parks in the Bronx,[11] and so the city did not authorize a commission for the planned new parks.[12]:3 Since the city refused to make a park commission, the New York Park Association appealed to the New York State Legislature instead.[7][12]:3[13] On April 19, 1883, the state passed a law authorizing a seven-person commission headed by association member Luther Marsh, which would be responsible for scouting out sites for future parks in the 23rd and 24th wards of New York City (now the portion of the Bronx that is west of the Bronx River).[14] Mullaly was named the secretary, In June 1883, the commission visited the park site,[10] and by January 1884, Marsh had drafted a bill to the New York State Legislature regarding a proposed park system in the Bronx, comprising six parks connected by three parkways.[15]:14

There were objections to the system, which would apparently be too far from Manhattan, in addition to precluding development on the site.[16][17] Prominent opponents included Mayor Franklin Edson, who believed that the system of parks was too big and expensive to acquire, and Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt, who opposed the bill's being pushed through. However, newspapers and prominent lobbyists, who supported such a park system, were able to petition the bill into the New York State Senate, and later, the New York State Assembly (the legislature's lower house).[18][9]:117–138 In June 1884, Governor Grover Cleveland signed the New Parks Act into law, authorizing the creation of the park system.[18][19][17][20]

Legal disputes carried on for years, exacerbated by the fact that Marsh owned land near Van Cortlandt Park in particular. Opponents argued that building a park system would divert funds from more important infrastructure like schools and docks; that everyone in the city, instead of just the property owners near the proposed park, was required to pay taxes to pay for the parks' construction; and that since Marsh was trying to parcel off some of his land to developers, the park's size should be reduced in order to prevent him from profiting off park usage. However, most of this opposition was directed at the construction of Pelham Bay Park, which was then in Westchester outside New York City.[21] Supporters argued that the parks were for the benefit of all the city's citizens, thus justifying the citywide park tax; that the value of properties near the parks would appreciate greatly over time; that the Commission had only chosen property that could easily be converted into a park; and that Pelham Bay Park would soon be annexed to the city. Ultimately, the parks were established despite the objections of major figures like Mayors William Russell Grace and Abram Hewitt; Comptroller Edward V. Loew; and Assemblymen Henry Bergh and Theodore Roosevelt.[21]


  1. ^ Gonzalez 2004, p. 48.
  2. ^ New York City Parks Department 2014, p. 6.
  3. ^ "Van Cortlandt Park Master Plan". New York City Parks Department. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  4. ^ Olmsted, Frederick Law; Vaux, Calvert; Croes, John James Robertson (1968). Fein, Albert (ed.). Landscape into cityscape: Frederick Law Olmsted's plans for a greater New York City. Cornell University Press. p. 331.
  5. ^ Gonzalez 2004, p. 47.
  6. ^ Golan, Michael (1975). "Bronx Parks: A Wonder From the Past". Bronx County Historical Society Journal. The Bronx County Historical Society. 12 (2): 32–41.
  7. ^ a b Gonzalez 2004, p. 49.
  8. ^ "THE NEED OF MORE PARKS; FIRST MEETING OF THE NEW-YORK PARK ASSOCIATION YESTERDAY" (PDF). The New York Times. 1881-11-27. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  9. ^ a b Mullaly, John (1887). The New Parks Beyond the Harlem: With Thirty Illustrations and Map. Descriptions of Scenery. Nearly 4,000 Acres of Free Playground for the People. New York: Nabu Press. ISBN 978-1-141-64293-9.
  10. ^ a b New York City Parks Department & Storch Associates 1986a, p. 55.
  11. ^ "NEW PARKS FAR UP TOWN; CITIZENS WHO DO AND THOSE WHO DO NOT WANT THEM" (PDF). The New York Times. 1882-03-19. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  12. ^ a b "ORCHARD BEACH BATHHOUSE AND PROMENADE" (PDF). New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. June 20, 2006. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  13. ^ Pelham Bay Park: History (Report). New York City: City of New York. 1986. pp. 2, 11–12.
  14. ^ Laws of the State of New York: Passed at the Session of the Legislature. New York State Legislature. 1883. p. 285.
  15. ^ New York (State) Commission to Select and Locate Lands for Public Parks in the 23d and 24th Wards of New York City (1884). Report to the New York Legislature of the Commission to Select and Locate Lands for Public Parks in the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Wards of the City of New York, and in the Vicinity Thereof: According to the Provisions of the Act of the Legislature of the State of New York, Chapter 253, Passed April 19, 1883. M. B. Brown, printer.
  16. ^ NYC Parks Administrator's Office 1986, p. 3.
  17. ^ a b "The Albany Legislators" (PDF). The New York Times. Albany, New York. March 25, 1884. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  18. ^ a b New York City Parks Department & Storch Associates 1986a, p. 56.
  19. ^ "Bronx Park: History". New York City Parks Department. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  20. ^ "Proposed New Parks" (PDF). The New York Times. January 24, 1884. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  21. ^ a b New York City Parks Department & Storch Associates 1986a, pp. 57–58.