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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Barretto Point Park and Tiffany Street Pier

tiffany street viele avenue barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Drawn to Hunts Point in the Bronx by the recently identified slave burial ground at Joseph Rodman Drake Park, we stayed in the neighborhood for a look at the waterfront oasis of Barretto Point Park at the northern end of the East River.

Before we even entered the park, the city's history peered out at us from a pair of plain street signs at the corner of Viele Avenue and Tiffany Street. The former is named for Egbert Ludovicus Viele of Viele Map fame, while the latter memorializes H.D. Tiffany of the Tiffany & Co. family. In the 18th century Tiffany inherited the land that became Hunts Point from his aunt and uncle, Charlotte Leggett and William H. Fox. (Leggetts are prominent in the landowners' cemetery in Drake Park.)

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Built where once a sand and gravel operation and an asphalt plant stood, the park takes its name from Barretto Point just to the south, itself named for Francis J. Barretto, a 19th-century merchant and Westchester County Assemblyman who owned an estate in the area with his wife, Julia Coster Barretto (Coster Street, of course – named for her – is just two blocks away). Until 1895, Westchester County extended west to the Bronx River, just a mile or so to the east of Barretto Point Park.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

As ForgottenNY noted back in 2009, the park occupies "5 acres of East River waterfront…its presence is heartening in that even in NYC's most out-of-the-way, visitor-unfriendly areas, a brand-new park with views of the towering Manhattan skyscrapers is available." Upon its opening in 2006 Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe truthfully called it "a new jewel in the crown of waterfront parks."

Much closer than those Manhattan skyscrapers is North Brother Island, most famous as the location of the long-abandoned sanitarium to which Mary ("Typhoid Mary") Mallon was exiled for much of her life.

north brother island barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

You can also get a pretty good look at Riker's Island, New York City's infamous prison colony.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Much more than a vantage point, the park has fishing piers, canoeing and kayaking, basketball and volleyball courts, and in the summer an floating swimming pool offshore on an old barge (Curbed has photos.) There's also a small amphitheater and a really nice promenade.

barretto point park amphitheater hunts point bronx nyc

None of it was in use on a December weekend. No one was in the park besides us.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc
barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

The grounds have been nicely laid out and cared for. The beach, not so much. Maybe it just has the wintertime blues, or maybe it suffered from Hurricane Sandy.

barretto point park hunts point bronx nyc

Abutting the park is the 450-foot Tiffany Street Pier, a neighborhood fishing favorite long before the park existed. As of this writing it's closed for repairs from damage from Sandy (projected completion: April 2018). Untapped Cities visited the pier and published photos just one year before the storm.

It's yet another reminder that while we enjoy our waterfront we should keep climate change in mind. Nothing lasts forever, but there is much that may be more speedily gone than we ever could have imagined.

All photos © Critical Lens Media

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joseph Rodman Drake Park

Alerted by a recent New York Times article titled "Honoring a Hidden Slave Burial Ground," we headed up to Hunts Point in the Bronx to pay a visit to Joseph Rodman Drake Park, a two-and-a-half-acre rectangle with a fenced-off cemetery at its center – and, underfoot, a recently identified and as-yet-unmarked slave burial ground.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Though long-neglected, tombstones still stand in the white people's cemetery.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Hunts Point, best known for its produce and fish markets, is a desolate neighborhood on weekends, and besides us there wasn't a soul – well, not a corporeal soul, anyway – in or around the park on a recent windswept December Saturday. Buried here are members of the old landowning families, notably the Hunts ("Hunts Point"), Leggetts, and Willets.

Also here is Joseph Rodman Drake, who gave his name to the park. Trained as a doctor, he is remembered as a noted poet of the early 19th century whose "verse made reference to the natural beauty of the Bronx," as the historic sign says.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc
The nearly obliterated lettering on this stone in the cemetery memorializes Thomas Hunt, Cornelius Willet, and John Leggett.

Forty-four enslaved Africans lived on the Hunts Point peninsula in 1800. Somewhere in this park, outside the cemetery, beneath the trees that include a handsome willow and several sweetgums, lie the remains of up to 11 of them, rediscovered just a few years ago by local students from P.S. 48, also known as the Joseph Rodman Drake School.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc
joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

An earlier generation of kids from the same school planted a mighty oak in the corner of the white people's cemetery. It's nice to see a different and once-forgotten aspect of this area's history being recognized today.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

After writing poems such as "The Culprit Fay," "The American Flag," and "Bronx" ("Yet I will look upon thy face again / My own romantic Bronx, and it will be / A face more pleasant than the face of men"), Drake died of tuberculosis in 1820 at just 25 years old. Edgar Allen Poe, himself a longtime resident of the Bronx, had been a big fan.

"The Culprit Fay," a narrative poem of over 600 lines, predates Christina Rossetti's far better-known "Goblin Market," on a similar theme, by decades. Here's one passage:

The stars are on the moving stream,
And fling, as its ripples gently flow,
A burnished length of wavy beam
In an eel-like, spiral line below;
The winds are whist, and the owl is still;
The bat in the shelvy rock is hid;
And naught is heard on the lonely hill
But the cricket's chirp, and the answer shrill
Of the gauze-winged katydid;
And the plaint of the wailing whippoorwill,
Who moans unseen, and ceaseless sings
Ever a note of wail and woe,
Till morning spreads her rosy wings,
And earth and sky in her glances glow.

After a lot of faery drama, the poem ends with the magical sprites having left the scene:

The hill-tops gleam in morning's spring,
The skylark shakes his dappled wing,
The day-glimpse glimmers on the lawn,
The cock has crowed, and the fays are gone.

Doesn't sound much like the Bronx today. But a fence around a nearby vacant lot – or is it? – bears signs that the fays of old may still hover in the neighborhood.

joseph rodman drake park hunts point bronx nyc

Faeries or no, poetry lives on in the poet Drake's park. The New York Shakespeare Exchange's Sonnet Project paid a recent visit.

After tramping around for a while, wondering if and when funding will be made available to create the proposed memorial at the site of the Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground, we, like the fays, left the scene. I'll leave you with a video from the Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground Project.

All photos © Critical Lens Media

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Parks in the Age of Terror

In the wake of the bicycle path terror attack, the city has added concrete barriers to the path's entrances, even far uptown from the location of the attack. Many of these places also serve as entrances to Hudson River Park, where I go running.
hudson river park manhattan nyc
But that's not the only park where these ugly white bollards have appeared. Want to get into the holiday market at Union Square Park? You'll need to walk around a barrier.
union square park holiday market manhattan nyc
Walking through Washington Square Park the other night, I was surprised to see incredibly bright generator-powered lights supplementing the normal, fairly subdued lighting in the park's central plaza around the fountain. At least I assume they're for extra security.
washington square park manhattan nyc
And there you have it: New York City parks in the age of terrorism. The good news: terror attacks haven't had the intended effect of putting a permanent damper on people's overall enjoyment of life. By my third run past those barriers by the river, they'd stopped registering with me emotionally. Just another feature of life in the big city.

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media