Bridging the Bronx neighborhoods of Kingsbridge and Riverdale slopes Ewen Park, eight-ish hillside acres that used to be the estate of Brigadier General John Ewen.
A New York State Militia commander during the Civil War and a successful businessman, Ewen later became Comptroller of the City of New York. This property in what was then rural Westchester County was his country abode.
Entering from Riverdale Ave., you immediately see you're in for quite a climb to the top. It's no surprise the New York Times wrote that Ewen Park is "considered one of the city's best for sledding."
You can't see the whole way up, but a plaque in the ground tells you how many steps lie ahead: CLX (160 in Roman numerals).
Actually there are 158; two steps were removed during a stairway reconstruction. But the name "CLX Steps" stuck.
A mower was hard at work – well, at work – on the large green sward south of the entrance.
Meanwhile near the top, a lone basketballer practiced basketing.
As it was a hot weekday afternoon, few people were using the park. I saw only that guy on the court, a few people on benches just inside the park (including a young beggar who asked me for money – not the same person in the photo in this article about Ewen Park becoming a homeless encampment) – and a couple of people walking dogs.
The backstory – why John Ewen's spinster daughter Eliza donated the land to the city – is more interesting than the park itself, whose layout dates from 1935 when Eliza died. The blog History Underfoot, inspired by visible remnants of the estate's driveway, spins a detailed narrative of spinster daughters, gold-digging fraudsters, even a Broadway starlet. It just goes to show what I find again and again: Do a little digging (figuratively or literally) and even the most ordinary-looking park reveals a colorful history.
All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media