Alexander Hamilton State Park
This playground, bounded by Hamilton Place, West 140th Street, and West 141st Street, takes its name from Hamilton Place, which is named for the most distinguished resident of Harlem Heights, Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804).
Born on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies in 1755, Hamilton moved to New York City in 1772 and attended King’s College (now Columbia University).
With the outbreak of war in 1776, Hamilton volunteered for service in a New York artillery company.
A year later, he came to the attention of General George Washington (1732-1799), who later made Hamilton his aide and secretary.
Check out the NY Parks website for official information about Alexander Hamilton Park.
Harlem Meer State Park
Central Park designers Olmsted and Vaux named this man-made water body “the Meer” — Dutch for “lake,” at 110th Street between Central Park West and 5th Avenue. It memorialized the former separate village of Harlem that was settled in the 17th Century by European settlers and included the upper regions of Central Park.
Today, families flock to this area for catch-and-release fishing, skating and swimming at Lasker Rink and Pool, and exploration at two nearby playgrounds.
The Harlem Meer is also a thriving wildlife habitat and home to fish, turtles, and waterfowl. Several varieties of trees, including oak, bald cypress, beech and gingko, surround it.
On the northern shore of the Meer stands the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, a visitor center run by the Central Park Conservancy.
The Center hosts free community programs, exhibits, and holiday celebrations including the popular Halloween Pumpkin Sail and winter Holiday Lighting.
There’s also live music on the plaza in the summer at the Harlem Meer Performance Festival.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Central Parks Harlem Meer
Convent Garden State Park
On December 17, 1909, the triangular parcel bounded by Convent Avenue, West 151st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue was designated a public park by the Board of Estimate.
While researching the 1985 reconstruction of Convent Avenue, the consulting engineer discovered that the site was never formally acquired by Parks. On November 22, 1985, the lot was transferred to Parks for development as a landscaped sitting area.
The garden is named for Convent Avenue, where the Convent of the Sacred Heart was located until a fire destroyed it on August 13, 1888.
If you want to get away from the crowds for a little while, it doesn’t get much better than this treasured spot.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Convent Garden.
Jackie Robinson State Park
Providing ten blocks of resources, Jackie Robinson Park is a Harlem jewel. One of four spaces designated Historic Harlem Parks, the park is noted for its strong connection with the community.
Originally built as a neighborhood playground to encourage organized play for city children, and one of the ten original parks to receive a City pool, Jackie Robinson Park’s history is steeped with efforts to bring the neighborhood together in recreational fun.
Along with its pool opening in 1936, a recreation center was created the same year. Equipped with traditional cardiovascular equipment, weight room, and gymnasium, the recreation center also boasts a library, Computer Resource Center, and an arts & crafts room, among other features.
Outside, the park’s amenities abound. Two baseball diamonds, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and two playgrounds, one with a water play area, provide residents with spots to compete and play.
Continuing in the park’s theme of “play,” a bandshell within its boundaries hosts bushels of concerts throughout the warm season, keeping Harlem’s tradition of fostering local music alive and well.
Visit this gem of a park and join the fun!
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Jackie Robinson Park.
Marcus Garvey State Park
The social and political history of this site reaches back into the early colonial period.
Dutch settlers referred to the park as “Slangberg,” or Snake Hill, because of its reptile population. British fortifications on the site guarded the Harlem River during the Revolutionary War.
The Common Council considered razing the hilly area in 1835 to accommodate new streets but local citizens successfully petitioned to preserve it as a public park. It opened as Mount Morris Park in 1840.
Although the park’s natural features have been preserved, a number of architectural elements have been added over time.
A fire watchtower was designed by Julius Kroehl and erected in 1856 at a time when fire was capable of destroying a city largely constructed of wood. The 47-foot cast-iron tower is unique in the United States, and was designated a landmark in 1967.
A reconstruction of Mount Morris Park in the 1930’s added a community center and a child health station. This history has been the foundation for the creation of the Mount Morris Park Historical District.
Current facilities include the Pelham Fritz Recreation Center, named for a reknowned Parks employee, an amphitheater and a swimming pool. Capital projects completed in 2002, 2004 and 2005 have improved the pool entrance, added new safety surfaces and landscaped the park.
The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance community group organizes a variety of cultural events in addition to supporting capital projects. Mount Morris Park was renamed for Marcus Garvey in 1973.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Marcus Garvey Park.
Morningside State Park
A narrow strip that stretches 13 blocks through the neighborhoods of Harlem and Morningside Heights, Morningside Park blends dramatic landscaping with the pleasures of a community park.
Built on a steep incline, multiple playgrounds nestle at the bottom of its cliff-like hillside, and visitors pause along its heights to take in a unique view.
Winding paths bordered with flowers and trees lead to a cascading waterfall, across from which local teams play on its baseball fields.
Parents bring their children to play in its playgrounds and learn in its after-school program, and on Saturdays local farmers sell their goods in an outdoor market.
With its convenient location in the heart of Northern Manhattan, only a few blocks from Columbia University, Riverside Park, St. Nicholas Park, the Apollo Theater, and the northern tip of Central Park, Morningside Park’s grounds make an ideal starting point for wanderings, bike rides, and walking tours.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Morningside Park.
Riverbank State State Park
Riverbank is the only park of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Inspired by urban rooftop designs in Japan, this 28-acre multi-level landscaped recreational facility is a state-of-the-art park facility.
Rising 69 feet above the Hudson River, Riverbank offers a wide variety of recreational, athletic and arts experiences for all ages, interests and abilities.
Housed in five major buildings are an Olympic-size pool, a covered skating rink for roller skating in the summer and ice-skating in the winter, an 800-seat cultural theater, a 2,500-seat athletic complex with fitness room, and a 150-seat restaurant.
Outdoor sports amenities include a 25-yard lap pool, a wading pool, four tennis courts, four basketball courts, a softball field, four hand/paddleball courts, and a 400-meter eight-lane running track with a football/soccer field.
Riverbank also boasts spectacular promenade views of the Hudson River, the Palisades and the George Washington Bridge.
At water level, there is a 400-seat amphitheater and docking facilities for excursion and fishing boats.
Two playgrounds, a water splashing area and a number of picnic areas round out Riverbank’s many offerings. No bicycle riding within Riverbank State Park.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Riverbank State Park.
St. Nicholas State Park
This spacious park is named for St. Nicholas of Myra. It is located at the intersection of St. Nicholas Avenue, 127th Street, St. Nicholas Terrace and 141st Street, bordering the Manhattan neighborhoods of Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, and Harlem.
Originally settled by Dutch farmers in the late 1600s, after the American Revolution (1775-1783) the neighborhood’s agricultural yield began to wane. Many residents moved to southern Manhattan’s newly industrialized areas.
In the 1880s, the area developed quickly as the elevated trains and tenement houses were constructed in Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about St. Nicholas Park.
Thomas Jefferson Park
Although only a few blocks long, this friendly neighborhood park is packed to the brim with things to do.
On busy days, runners circle the track while groups of friends shoot hoops, hit balls, and take advantage of the baseball and handball courts.
The small recreation center on its grounds offers a fitness room, exercise equipment, and classes for those looking for a good workout.
Thomas Jefferson Park is also a wonderful resource for local children. Its substantial playground, complete with swings and slides galore, provides plenty of spaces for jumping, climbing, and carrying on, while inside the recreation center the afterschool program provides more structured fun.
In the summer the park takes on a whole new character, when the outdoor pool is opened and families come out to use the barbeque grills and picnic tables. But no matter what the weather is like, Thomas Jefferson Park always offers plenty to do.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about Thomas Jefferson Park.
West Harlem Piers State Park
The West Harlem Waterfront Park is a landscaped transformation of the historic Manhattanville shoreline. For thousands of years, the natural topography of this site formed a valley and small sheltered cove off the Hudson River, also known as the North River.
This solitary break between the bluffs of today’s Morningside Heights and Washington Heights provided the only direct river access to the area’s earliest native residents as well as a convenient inroad to the area’s early 17th-century non-native arrivals.
On July 12, 1806, the N.Y. Spectator reported a new development at this site:
“Manhattan Ville is…The convenient distance of about eight miles to the city, and the advantage of water communication, must stamp a value on this delightful spot, so well chosen for a village, which will very soon rival the town of Haerlem—the Hudson river offering advantages which Haerlem creek, or river, cannot afford.”
By 1808, regular ferry service across the Hudson River was established from Manhattanville to New Jersey and public advertisements informed of daily “conveyances to and from the city by water.”
This route would be traced a century later as many of America’s early 20th-century silent screen stars ferried back and forth from this waterfront when Fort Lee, New Jersey, was a center of the film-making industry.
The ferry was also the transport to the famous Palisades Amusement Park in Edgewater, New Jersey.
On August 25, 1885, New York City’s first electric cable-car was tested in Manhattanville by the Third Avenue Railway Company, resulting in the city’s first cross-town line, from Harlem to Manhattanville.
By 1890, this period of development also gave rise to the term “West Harlem,” which comprised the once distinct enclaves of Manhattanville, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, and Carmansville.
By 1900, the waterfront was dramatically framed by the Riverside Drive Viaduct above Twelfth Avenue, a feat of engineering that created a high-level boulevard extension of Riverside Drive over the barrier of Manhattanville valley to the former Boulevard Lafayette in Washington Heights.
In 1897, the 129th Street Recreation Pier (at the foot of today’s St. Clair Place) was one of several two-story structures the city erected along the Hudson and East Rivers that were important extensions of the city’s park playground system.
Improvements to the pier in 1899 made it also suitable as a dock for Catskill, Albany and Troy excursion boats.
The city occasionally moored an additional public facility, Floating Bath No. 9, to the pier. Aimed to address public hygiene as well as swimming, the floating bath was one of about a dozen free facilities of similar design: a hollow squared pontoon of individual dressing rooms surrounding a 60’ x 100’ open tank.
The 129th Street Recreation Pier accommodated over 1,500 people and housed various passive recreation activities including dancing, classes, and fishing. In 1911 the pier began offering weekly summer music concerts by a thirty-four-man orchestra conducted by Arthur Bergh. The pier was demolished in 1965.
As we experience this waterfront today, the Hudson River is no less impressive than when J. Fenimore Cooper described “The noble river itself” from this shore in 1845, “fully three-quarters of a mile in width…unruffled by a breath of air, lying in one single, extended, placid sheet, under the rays of a bright sun, resembling molten silver.”
The tranquil vista still evokes a sense of this area’s eventful past. Today’s newly developed landscape strives to make this historic waterfront into an enjoyable and compelling destination for a new era.
Check out the NY State Parks website for official information about West Harlem Piers.