Poor Richard’s Playground, Benjamin Franklin’s Most Beloved Aliases In Harlem

April 29, 2017

This playground bears the name of one of Benjamin Franklin’s most beloved aliases, Poor Richard Saunders. Born in Boston, Franklin (1706-1790) was apprenticed to his brother to learn the printing trade. In 1723 young Ben Franklin moved to Philadelphia, where he launched the Pennsylvania Gazette, soon the most popular newspaper in the colonies. Franklin was one of Philadelphia’s leading citizens, founding the first circulating library, proposing an Academy (which became the University of Pennsylvania), establishing the American Philosophical Society, and creating programs to pave, light, and clean the city streets. He invented the efficient “Franklin Stove” and experimented with a kite in a thunderstorm, proving the presence of electricity in lightning.

From 1733 to 1758, Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanac under the alias Richard Saunders. The Almanac was widely read in the American colonies, selling as many as 10,000 copies annually. It is considered one of the classic works of American colonial literature, and played a large part in uniting and molding the American character. The Almanac was prized for its witty aphorisms, such as “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” “Snug as a bug in a rug,” and “Health is the way to man’s wealth.” From the pages of the Almanac, and in his personal life, Franklin promoted physical fitness; he was an active runner, swimmer, and weight lifter.

His last public act before his death in 1790 was to issue a memorial to Congress urging the abolition of slavery.

Franklin began his political career as clerk of the General Assembly in 1736 and was elected to the Assembly the following year. He served as Postmaster in Philadelphia (1737-53) and as Postmaster General for the colonies (1753-74). Franklin proposed a plan of union for the colonies at the Albany Congress (1754) and served as agent for several colonies in England. He returned to America in 1775 and was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In 1776 he helped to draft and he signed the Declaration of Independence. During the American Revolution, Franklin established the American alliance with France and in 1781 was appointed a commissioner to negotiate peace with Britain. He returned to Philadelphia in 1785 and served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. His last public act before his death in 1790 was to issue a memorial to Congress urging the abolition of slavery.

Jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, the new playground opened in May 1960.

In 1956 the City of New York acquired property between E. 106th and E. 109th Streets, Second and Third Avenues for the Benjamin Franklin Houses. A .57-acre parcel at the corner of E. 109th Street and Third Avenue was put under Parks’ jurisdiction in 1959. Over the next year, this parcel and the adjacent 1.01-acre property were improved as a park for the use of children from neighboring J.H.S. 117, the Benjamin Franklin Houses, and the larger community. Jointly operated by Parks and the Board of Education, the new playground opened in May 1960. It featured facilities for handball, basketball, volleyball, baseball, rollerskating, and shuffleboard as well as a benches, game tables, a comfort station, and a variety of play equipment for younger children.

The 1981 reconstruction of the playground provided new pavement on the softball fields, renovated the basketball courts, installed new benches and game tables, and rebuilt the fencing and comfort station. Between 1994 and 1996 another series of improvements included a new mural created by the local school, game tables, renovated basketball courts, and basketball clinics. In 1996 Poor Richard’s Playground received new playground equipment from the City Parks Foundation as part of their Modular Playground Equipment Program and new safety surfacing from Nike.

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As Poor Richard said, “Employ time well if thou meanest to gain leisure.”

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