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Friday, June 27, 2014

Weeping Beech Park and Margaret I. Carman Green

The verdant green space called Weeping Beech Park and within it the Margaret I. Carman Green owe their names to a Belgian immigrant who lived for 151 years before giving up the bark in 1998, and to a Daughter of the American Revolution who devoted her retirement beginning in 1960 to commemorating and maintaining the history of the Queens neighborhood of Flushing.

Horticulturalist Samuel Bowne Parsons (1819-1907) kept a well-known nursery here, and acquired for it the seedling for the soon-to-be famed beech tree. Planted in 1847, it died of old age in 1998. Why it was called the Weeping Beech is not explained in the signage.

The old man's son, Samuel Parsons Jr., joined the family business and later became a partner in Calvert Vaux's firm, Vaux and Company. On hiring the firm, the New York City Department of Parks made Parsons Superintendent of Planting and then Landscape Architect for the City. Parsons Jr. also co-founded the American Society of Landscape Architects and served as its President at the start of the 20th century.

Retired teacher Margaret I. Carman (1890-1976), a descendant of Revolutionary War hero Captain Henry "Lighthouse Harry" Lee, was instrumental in the creation of the Flushing Freedom Trail, which begins (or began – I'm not sure the markers are still up) at the John Bowne House and includes Underground Railroad sites. Currently closed for renovation, the Bowne House dates back to 1661 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Bowne was an English settler with a Quaker wife. They used their house for Quaker services before the construction of the Friends Meetinghouse nearby. That got Bowne into trouble with the intolerant (and intolerable) Peter Stuyvesant, who sent him away to Holland, but he returned a few years later, just before the English sailed in and took over the Dutch colonies of New Netherland.

More recently the Parsons family inhabited the house, until the 1940s, when a group of local residents formed the Bowne House Historical Society to purchase and maintain it. Some season soon it will be reopened to the public.

The Weeping Beech, though, is gone forever. It stood, presumably, somewhere in this rather pretty lot:

The yellow house in the rear is the Kingsland Homestead, which now houses the Queens Historical Society. It's also worth a visit. And not too far is a much newer historic house, the Voelker-Orth House, most definitely open to the public and with gorgeous gardens that make it worthy of its own Park Odyssey post, coming up next.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Queensbridge Park

The largish rectangle of Queensbridge Park lies along the East River under the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, alias the Queensboro Bridge, alias (though this is an alias no one will ever use) the Ed Koch Bridge. I headed for it following my northward trek from Dutch Kills Green to Sixteen Oaks Grove (aren't those evocative names?). Walking down 21st Street, Long Island City's main drag, I passed this wall of glorious graffiti.

The masked green faces are obviously meant as glam-rock spirits of the New York City parks. Don't you think? I knew you'd agree.

I discovered you can't make your way west to the southern edge of Queensbridge Park along Queens Plaza exactly. You have to cut across a wooded grassland alongside the Queensbridge South housing project, a strange walk through grounds that aren't exactly parkland but aren't developed either.

It's a long, strange trip, a little bit spooky even.

On the left you pass the cutely named but disappointing Queensbridge Baby Park, which alas is just a grungy handball court but for some reason gets its own Parks Department name. In fact, according to the Parks Department website, this facility and thus I assume the whole strange grassland is technically part of Queensbridge Park.

But most of the area along the grassy corridor's left-hand perimeter is closed off, and there must be something really valuable – or really evil – there. I was struck by the incongruity of the friendly Parks Department maple leaf together with the threatening KEEP OUT indicators.

And I hadn't even gotten to the park proper yet. But as I walked, a vista opened up indicating that Queensbridge Park was finally near.

The interior was a hive of activity on this sunny spring weekend, with the smell of cookouts and the sounds of semi-live music.

To go with the many interesting human personalities populating the park, there are bird patterns worked into the backstop fences. I always like these when I come across them in the parks.

And there are some trees with personality, like this one.

But observe the fence in the photo above. It runs alongside the whole riverside edge of the park, keeping visitors from what is to me Queensbridge Park's most significant feature – its waterfront. From a distance, through the fence, you can see how nice it'll be when access is restored.

For now, it's just a dream, as seawall construction continues. The work began in May 2013 and was expected to take a year.

Last year, too, the local City Council member announced funding to renovate the Park House, which, from the outside, is one of the odder-looking buildings you'll see in New York City parks.

You can't get to the water right now, but you can sure see the span that crosses it. Not to mention the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

So give a thought to Queensbridge Park next time you cross the 59th Street Bridge, or just hear the song.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sixteen Oaks Grove

This curious little park in Long Island City, Queens is called Sixteen Oaks Grove for a literal reason: namely, the 16 oaks trees that line it. Its location in a very unpicturesque part of town is precisely what made it an intriguing find for me. And "grove" is exactly the right word for it.

The oaks themselves seem to be in good condition. The paving stones, well – not so much.

A previous day's rain has nowhere to go on this stretch of adjacent street.

Nonetheless, several locals were taking advantage of the clear springtime weather on this particular Sunday to soak in some relatively fresh air on the benches.

I've noted before on this blog how many New York City parks memorialize World War One doughboys in one way or another. Sixteen Oaks Park is a strange case of a memorial that is no more. The Parks Department website tells us that the city obtained the land in two parcels, one in 1913 and the other in 1932, and that when it was put under the authority of the Parks Department in 1939 it was named after Leo Placella, a Long Island City native and soldier in Company F of the 4th Infantry, who died overseas of broncho-pneumonia shortly before the 1918 armistice.

Why, I wonder, was Placella's name later wiped off the map in favor of the mighty oaks?

Might as well ask Hercules, whose club, the Parks Department website also informs us, was according to legend "fashioned from oak."

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