The 14.9 acres of land along the East River, know as Carl Schurz Park, can be noted for its astonishing view of Hell gate and its peaceful boardwalks. But…
WHAT BROUGHT ABOUT THE BUILDING OF SUCH A BEAUTIFUL PARK??
A man named Sybout Claessan dubbed the riverbank in Carl Schurz Park “Horn’s Hook,” in honor of his native village of Hoorn in Holland, in 1646. He was deeded the land by The Dutch West India Company.
In 1799, the area known today as Carl Schurz Park was rural. Jacob Walton built the first house on the site around the year 1770. He was a wealthy merchant and British Loyalist who, in addition to a home on the land, built a secret tunnel from the house to the East River shore.
In the midst of the American Revolution George Washington realized the lands strategic importance in seize of the Walton property. The American troops used this land as a fort and acquired the ability to fire cannons facing the East River. On September 8, 1776, the British bombarded the fort, destroying the Walton residence. (The original cannon ball is on display in Gracie Mansion above the fireplace. It can be seen on the Gracie Mansion tour. Highly recommended.)
In 1798 the Walton family reclaimed the land and sold it to Archibald Gracie. Mr. Gracie was a wealthy man from Scotland who decided to build a federal style two-story mansion on this land. In 1809 the Gracie Mansion was enlarged. Carrying a substantial debt due to the war of 1812, Archibald Gracie was forced to sell his property in 1819.
Following the ownership of the mansion by the Foulke and Wheaton family for nearly 60 years, the city foreclosed on this property due to the non-payment of taxes in 1891. When the city acquired the land they expanded the park by 11 acres. Gracie mansion itself was deteriorating. Around the 1920’s, local residents realized the historical importance of Gracie Mansion and lobbied to have it restored. In 1923 it became the first museum of the city of New York.
Carl Shurz park was established on eleven acres of the former Gracie estate established the East End Park named Carl Schurz Park. Carl Schurz was a German revolutionary, American Statesman and reformer, a Union Army General in the American Civil War, an Editor of the New-York Evening Post, and served as secretary of Interior under President Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1869 he was elected in the Senate, making him the first German-born American to sit in the United States Senate
The famous park commissioner, Robert Moses, was a significant figure in Carl Schurz Park. He was responsible for reconstructing the park in 1935. Although many people criticized Robert Moses for building bridges across the Bronx, Robert Moses was a key figure in protecting the residence of Gracie Mansion and Carl Schurz Park. When designing the FDR, Robert Moses feared the deterioration of Gracie Mansion. Therefore, he made sure that the FDR was designed in such a way that it ran underneath the park, leaving the clear view from the balcony of Gracie Mansion as it was when it was first built.
Moreover, Robert Moses convinced city officials to designate the house as the official residence of the mayor of NYC. After ten years of consistently lobbying Mayor Langardi, Robert Moses successfully convinced him to move in 1942. Additionally he spent $150,000 to renovate of the house. Giuliani was the last mayor to live in Gracie Mansion as of 2010.
GRACIE MANSION: A TIMELESS GEM
As previously mentioned, the land that the Carl Schurz Park is currently nestled in was initially purchased in 1798 by a Scottish-born New York businessman and merchant named Archibald Gracie. The extensive plot of land was located by the East River and Hell’s Gate, whose treacherous waters often made travel difficult and sank several vessels. The following year, Gracie constructed a Federal-style two story wooden mansion, which he used as his own country home.
In addition to Gracie Mansion, another mansion, named “Belview,” was built on the site in 1774 by Jacob Walton. The mansion was destroyed by the British during the Civil War in 1774 due to their interest in controlling the upper portion of the East River.
For twenty years (1904-1924), the mansion had trivial uses for the park, serving as a restroom and concession stand. In 1924, the Museum of the City of New York made the mansion its home, until it expanded and moved to a different building. However, the mansion continued to be operated as a museum by the City’s Parks Department.
The Gracie Mansion Conservancy, a private, non-profit corporation, was established in 1981, and began major renovations on the Mayor’s residence. The renovations took about three years to be completed. Another renovation was performed in 2002 in order to make it a “people’s house.” There are rumors that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is one of the few Mayors of New York who chose not to reside in the house, was one of the anonymous donors of this second renovation. The Conservancy continues to raise money in order to continue restoration processes and conduct tours of the Mansion.