Van Cortlandt Park

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Van Cortlandt Park
Entrance To Van Cortlandt Park 2012.jpg
Entrance to Van Cortlandt Park
Van Cortlandt Park is located in New York City
Van Cortlandt Park
Van Cortlandt Park is located in New York
Van Cortlandt Park
Van Cortlandt Park is located in the US
Van Cortlandt Park
Type Municipal
Location The Bronx, New York City, New York, US
Coordinates 40°53′52″N 73°53′02″W / 40.8978°N 73.8839°W / 40.8978; -73.8839
Area 1,146 acres (464 ha)
Created 1888
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation[a]
Status Open
Public transit access New York City Subway: Woodlawn ("4" train train) and Van Cortlandt Park – 242nd Street ("1" train train) stations
New York City Bus: Bx9, Bx10, Bx16, Bx34 local buses, BxM3, BxM4 express buses
Bee-Line Bus System: B-L1, B-L2, B-L3, B-L4, B-L20, B-L21

Van Cortlandt Park is a 1,146-acre (464 ha) park located in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. The park, which is the city's third-largest, was named for the Van Cortlandt family, which was prominent in the area during the Dutch and English colonial periods. It was established in 1888 and now contains facilities for sports such as golf, cross-country running, and cricket. Contained within the park is the Van Cortlandt House Museum, the oldest surviving building in the Bronx, and the Van Cortlandt Golf Course, the oldest public golf course in the country.

Van Cortlandt Park is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It is managed with assistance from the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy and the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.


Early years[edit]

The forest in what is now Van Cortlandt Park has been around for 17,000 years, since the end of the Wisconsin glaciation.[1] The Wiechquaskeck Lenapes were among the first recorded people to inhabit in the area now referred to as Van Cortlandt Park. They settled in the area around the 14th or 15th centuries.[2] The Lenapes used the geographic features of the area, such as Tibbetts Brook for fishing and flatland areas for farming, to support their community.[3]

The strip of land on the Hudson River's east bank, between the current-day Spuyten Duyvil Creek and Yonkers, was sold to the Dutch West India Company in the early 17th century. Adriaen van der Donck, a Dutch settler, bought the land from the company in 1646.[4][5] Van der Donck also paid the Indian chief Tacharew, whose tribe used to live on the land, as a friendly gesture.[4][5][6]:17[7] He named the land "Colen Donck" and built a house upon the land.[8]:38 The house was built between current-day Van Cortlandt Lake and Broadway.[7] It faced south, probably because this was the location of a natural marshland.[9] What is now the parade ground was used by van der Donck for farming.[10]

Upon van der Donck's 1655 death, the Indians launched an attack on the colony, now known as the Peach War. This forced the settlers,including van der Donck's widow, to flee to Manhattan, .[4] Following the takeover of the New Netherland colony by the British in 1664, the claim to the estate was awarded to Hugh O'Neale, the new husband of van der Donck's widow.[11] Owing to the O'Neales living far away from the land, the claim was awarded to O'Neale's brother-in-law and van der Donck's widow's brother, Elias Doughty, who proceeded to sell off the portions of the property.[4][12][11][13] In 1668,[11] a portion of the land was sold to William Betts, an English turner, and his son-in-law George Tippett, the namesake of Tibbetts Brook.[12][13][14] This property included the modern park parade grounds.[15] Next, Doughty sold a 2,000-acre (810 ha) tract of land, including the current site of the Van Cortlandt House, to Frederick Philipse, Thomas Delavall, and Thomas Lewis.[11] Philipse bought out Delavall's and Lewis's land shares, making the land part of the Philipsburg Manor, which extended from Spuyten Duyvil Creek to the Croton River in modern Westchester County.[4][12] Philipse's wife died, and he remarried Olof Stevense Van Cortlandt's daughter, herself a widow.[16] Philipse's daughter Eva later married Jacobus Van Cortlandt, who was Mrs. Philipse's brother.[4][12][16]

One of the park's entrances/exits at the city border
One of the park's entrances/exits at the city border

The land that Van Cortlandt Park now occupies was acquired by Van Cortlandt from Philipse in the mid-to-late 1690s.[4][12][17][18][15] In 1699, Van Cortlandt dammed Tibbetts Brook in order to power a sawmill (and later, a gristmill[19][20]:25), creating Van Cortlandt Lake as a mill pond in the process.[21][22][23]:93 In 1732, Van Cortlandt acquired an additional parcel from the Tippett family.[15][24] The estate was then passed on to Jacobus's son Frederick Van Cortlandt (1699–1749) and family in 1739; it was once a vast grain plantation.[25] In 1748, Frederick built the Van Cortlandt House on the former Tippett property, but died before its completion.[9][25][15] The Van Cortlandts did not primarily live in that house, instead staying in Manhattan most of the time.[9][25] A family burial ground was created in 1749,[9] later to be known as "Vault Hill."[26][27] Frederick, who was buried in Vault Hill,[26][27] had willed the massive home and surrounding lands to his son, James Van Cortlandt (1727–1787).[28]

The Van Cortlandt family land was used during the American Revolution by both the Loyalists and Patriots, owing to James's leadership role early on in the revolution. On May 30, 1775, the New York Provincial Congress placed James on a committee to create a report on whether it was feasible to build a fort near his family's house.[29][30]:572 British General William Howe made the house his headquarters on November 13, 1776,[31]:99, 405–407 thus placing it behind British-held ground.[9][32]:264 The Van Cortlandts wished to stay neutral in the war, however.[9] Later, the grounds were used by Patriot militia leaders Comte de Rochambeau, Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.[33] The house itself was Washington's headquarters after his troops were defeated in the 1776 Battle of Long Island.[32]:264 That same year, Augustus Van Cortlandt hid city records under Vault Hill to protect them during the war, turning them over to the new American government after the war.[9][27] It was in "Indian Field," at the present-day intersection of Van Cortlandt Park East and 233rd Street, that the Stockbridge militia was destroyed by the Queen's Rangers, and 38 Indians from the militia were killed in 1778.[34][35][36] In 1781, Washington returned to the house to strategize with Rochambeau while their troops waited outside on what is now the Parade Ground and Vault Hill.[9] He later lit campfires outside the house to deceive the British into thinking that his troops were still on the grounds.[27] Washington used the house one final time in 1783 after the Treaty of Paris. The British had just withdrawn their troops from Manhattan, and Washington was getting ready to enter the island, stopping over at the house before doing so.[9]

In the 1830s, officials in a rapidly expanding New York City saw a need for a larger water supply. Major David Bates Douglass was appointed to perform engineering studies on the future Old Croton Aqueduct in March 1833.[37]:119–120[38]:38–39 Douglass made estimates for the new aqueduct in 1833–1834 and John Martineau performed a separate study in 1834. Both found the proposed route, which ran through the present-day park, to be okay.[37]:119–120[38]:38–39 Thus, in 1837, construction started on the Aqueduct, which ran 41 miles (66 km) from the Croton River upstate to the New York Public Library Main Branch and Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan.[39][40] The project was built by 3–4 thousand laborers who completed the entire aqueduct in five years.[39] The aqueduct's builders constructed a gatehouse. within the present-day park to provide access to the aqueduct's interior.[41][42]:229 The old aqueduct was supplemented by the New Croton Aqueduct in 1890, which also ran through the park. The Old Croton Aqueduct was in use until 1955, though the part that ran through the park was closed down in 1897 after the new aqueduct was connected to the Jerome Park Reservoir.[41][43]:59–60[44]


In 1876, Frederick Law Olmsted was hired to survey the Bronx and map out streets based on the local geography. Olmsted noted the natural beauty of the Van Cortlandt estate, comparing it to Central Park which he designed, and recommended the city purchase the property.[45][46][47] Around the same time, New York Herald editor John Mullaly pushed for the creation of parks in New York City, particularly lauding the Van Cortlandt property, and formed the New York Park Association in November 1881.[48][47][49] Mullaly noted that New York City had less parkland per capita than many major European cities, and that the 1853 construction of Central Park had raised property values around the park immediately after construction.[50]:107, 111 His association sent out pamphlets to high-profile New Yorkers, advocating for a new park.[48] In May 1883, Mullaly was named the secretary of a seven-person commission headed by association member Luther Marsh, which would be responsible for scouting out sites for future parks in the 23rd and 24th wards of New York City (now the portion of the Bronx that is west of the Bronx River). In June 1883, the commission visited the park site, and by January 1884, Marsh had drafted a bill to New York State Legislature regarding the proposed park.[48][50]:115–117

There were objections to placing a park in the Van Cortlandt estate, as such a park would apparently be too far from Manhattan, in addition to precluding development on the site.[51][52] Prominent opponents included Mayor Franklin Edson, who believed that the parkland was too big and expensive to acquire, and Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt, who opposed the bill's being pushed through. However, newspapers and prominent lobbyists, who supported such a park, were able to petition the bill into the New York State Senate, and later, the New York State Assembly (the legislature's lower house).[53][50]:117–138 In June 1884, Governor Grover Cleveland signed the bill, now referred to as the "New Parks Act", as law. Under that bill, the Van Cortlandt estate was now selected as a potential site.[53][49][52][54] Legal disputes carried on for years, exacerbated by the fact that Marsh owned land near the park. Opponents argued that building a park at the estate would divert funds from more important infrastructure like schools and docks; that everyone in the city, instead of just the property owners near the proposed park, was required to pay taxes to pay for park construction; and that since Marsh was trying to parcel off some of his land to developers, the park's size should be reduced in order to prevent him from profiting off park usage. However, most of this opposition was directed at the construction of Pelham Bay Park, which was then in Westchester.[55] Supporters argued that the park was for the benefit of all the city's citizens, thus justifying the citywide park tax; that the value of properties near the park would appreciate greatly over time; that the Commission had only chosen property that could easily be converted into a park; and that Pelham Bay Park would soon be annexed to the city. Ultimately, the park was established despite the objections of major figures like Mayors William Russell Grace and Abram Hewitt; Comptroller Edward V. Loew; and Assemblymen Henry Bergh and Theodore Roosevelt.[55]

Remains of the New York and Putnam Railroad's Van Cortlandt Station inside the park
Remains of the New York and Putnam Railroad's Van Cortlandt Station inside the park

In 1880, during the planning for the new park, the New York City & Northern Railroad (later the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad) was built, effectively separating the park site into two parts.[56] Its two stops in the Bronx were in the park itself, and at Kingsbridge to the south; after Kingsbridge, the railroad merged with the present-day Hudson Line of the Metro-North Railroad.[57] The line had two tracks between the Hudson Line junction and the Van Cortlandt station, north of which the tracks merged into one.[58]:11–12, 55 The company foreclosed in 1887, and the line went under the control of the New York and Northern Railroad Company.[58]:13–14 The tracks were used for passenger use until 1958, and were used by freight trains until 1981.[34][2] Also in the late 1880s, another railroad, a 2-mile (3.2 km) shuttle service operated by Yonkers Rapid Transit Railway, was built to connect Kingsbridge and Yonkers. It ran off the main New York and Putnam Railroad line immediately north of the Van Cortlandt station.[41] Service began in March 1888, with an additional stop called Mosholu located in the northwest quadrant of the park site, at Mosholu Avenue (now Mosholu Parkway). The Mosholu stop was designated as a request stop, wherein trains only stopped by passenger's request.[58]:13, 18[59][60] It ran until 1942.[34]


The family property was sold to the City of New York and made into a public parkland in 1888.[9] The majority of the grain fields were converted into a sprawling lawn dubbed the "Parade Ground," while the Van Cortlandt House was converted into a public museum.[3][61] The construction of the Parade Ground required demolition of a few old buildings and cornfields.[62]:177 The Parade Ground was immediately used by the National Guard for brigade practice, replacing the parade ground of Prospect Park.[63][64] The ground received unspecified "improvements" in 1893–1894.[65] With the city's approval, particularly overgrown areas of the property were made passable. Wide walking paths were built over original walkways, including the thin paths that led to the Van Cortlandt family cemetery, high on the nearby bluffs. "Certain lands" around the house were then filled in for the purpose of creating a "Colonial Garden,"[66] which was proposed in 1897.[67][68] During excavation of the grounds, Indian artifacts and graves were found.[69][70]

The nine-hole Van Cortlandt Golf Course opened on July 6, 1895,[71][72] as the country's first and oldest public golf course.[73] The 2,561-yard (2,342 m) course comprised current holes 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14. The first eight holes were easier and less than 200 yards (180 m) apart, but the last one had a fairway 700 yards (640 m) in length. The ninth hole, which spanned two stone walls and two small brooks, was among the country's hardest holes. Just four years after it opened, the city hired Tom Bendelow to expand the course to 18 holes.[72][71][73] The course added a clubhouse in 1902,[74] which also doubled as an ice-skating house.[75][76]

At first, the park was sparsely used for sports. In 1899 there were limited numbers of permits issued for lawn tennis, baseball, and football, with 10, 7, and 5 permits, respectively, being issued for these sports.[77][78] The Parade Ground was converted to recreational use starting in 1902, when the National Guard added fields for polo.[79] In 1907, due to overcrowding, Dr. William Hornaday transferred 15 of the Bronx Zoo's then-rare bison to the Parade Ground,[80] where they stayed until they were shipped to prairie land in Oklahoma later that year.[81][82]

The Colonial Garden, designed by landscape architect Samuel Parsons, started construction in 1902[67][83] and opened the following June.[67][84] Besides plants, the garden had rustic wooden bridges and wooden stairs and a "handsome fountain and central court."[85] A "Shakespeare Garden" was also opened that year, with a grand stairway leading down to it.[86] The next year, park officials realized that the Colonial Garden's construction was of poor quality and hard to cultivate. The garden had to be raised 3.5 feet (1.1 m), and a nursery needed to be built to transport the plants during the garden's reconstruction. The rustic wooden bridges were to be replaced with stone bridges, while the wooden stairs were to be superseded by stone stairs.[87] Not only did many plants die during the process, but also, the actual rebuilding was delayed until 1911.[88] Two years later, the Parks Commissioner for the Bronx refused to allocate reconstruction funds because, he stated, the garden looked just fine. Under threat of tearing the garden down, the city had to find money to fill and drain the ground.[88][89] The rebuilding contract was awarded in 1909[90] and completed by 1911.[91]

Early years[edit]

Various adjustments were made over succeeding years. A railroad crossing next to the Putnam Division's Van Cortlandt Station was replaced with an underground pedestrian passageway in 1904 to allow safe pedestrian travel in the park.[92] A stone memorial was placed at Indian Field in 1906,[93][36] with a plaque misspelling the name of the Indian chief, Abraham Ninham, as "Abraham Nimham."[35][94] The marshlands, now a breeding ground for mosquitoes, were filled in between 1906 and 1922,[9] The marshlands created by the brook and lake had drawn the ire of local residents and property owners, who believed them to be "unsightly and unsanitary".[95][96] Of particular concern was the threat of the wetlands serving as breeding grounds for malaria-borne mosquitoes.[97] The marsh to the southwest of the Van Cortlandt Station was converted to a lake.[98]:195 An "outlet sewer" under Broadway was built in 1907.[95][96][99] From 1903 to 1911, NYC Parks cleaned the 13-foot-deep (4.0 m) Van Cortlandt Lake, removed the original earthen dam, and emptied the lake in order to dredge the lake bed to a lower depth. A new dam was installed to reform the lake.[100] The former marshland was filled in.[101][102]

During a 1910s excavation for a sewer pipe, stones were unearthed that were suspected to be from the old van der Donck estate.[9][103]:196[32]:264 During World War I, the Parade Ground was used to train soldiers.[104][2] Eight tennis courts opened in 1914 with admission being $1 per person,[78][105] and owing to the Van Cortlandt Golf Course's immense popularity, the Mosholu Links also opened that year.[74][105] By 1917, the Parade Ground contained 10 out of the park's baseball diamonds. The park's recreational facilities were quite popular, with more than 10,000 people using them on a busy day.[106][107] However, during and following World War I, the Parade Ground was used for war training. Until 1926, the baseball fields did not contain backstops, and had to be vacated by July 4 of every year, so the National Guard could use the field.[106][108]

The 6.2-mile (10.0 km) cross-country running track was inaugurated in 1914.[109] The track started out as a flat path, became hilly, turned onto a "little spell of road work," went into the forest, and crossed a water before turning back. A year later, it hosted the Metropolitan Association of the Amateur Athletic Union's Junior and Senior Cross Country championships.[109][110] A modified 3.1-mile (5.0 km) cross-country course opened on November 5, 1921, with runners simply changing direction at the city border. The new course, which started at the original polo fields, did not conflict with either of the golf courses.[111]

Van Cortlandt Park painting by Oscar Florianus Bluemner, created in 1936
Van Cortlandt Park, Oscar Florianus Bluemner, 1936

Through the 1930s, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation kept adding new recreational facilities in the park.[69] The Colonial and Shakespeare Gardens had a combined 250,000 flowers by 1931, but both were demolished by the end of the decade due to bad drainage.[86]

Robert Moses's development plans in the 1930s called for the construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway and Mosholu Parkway to bisect Van Cortlandt Park and meet at a trumpet interchange about half a mile north of the center, merging into the Saw Mill River Parkway. Due to objections over the construction of roads inside the park, the width of the parkways' lanes was reduced.[112] Tibbetts Brook was dredged and landscaped in 1938 to accommodate construction.[113] Such construction continued into 1955, during which the Major Deegan Expressway was also built, bisecting the Mosholu Parkway.[112] This ultimately separated the park into six pieces.[113] This construction also induced siltation of the brook, leading to further creation of marshes.[113][114] Moses also made improvements to the park itself, building new walkways, paving dirt roads, creating playgrounds, and installing lights.[112] Baseball, soccer, and cricket fields were added in 1938.[104] The Van Cortlandt Stadium was added in 1939,[86][115] and a pool followed in 1970.[86]


By the 1960s, large portions of the park, such as Tibbetts Brook, were being polluted by human activity; in addition, the brook now flowed into the Broadway sewer at the south end of Van Cortlandt Lake.[113][114] Pollution from upstream and the highways, and spillover of chemicals used in the golf course, led to the death of fish inhabiting the lake.[116][56][13] This problem was first noticed in May 1961 when "thousands" of dead bass, pickerel, catfish, perch, and carp started floating up at the edge of the lake.[114][117] The mass-death of fish was blamed on siltation,[118] and three years later, fish deaths caused by siltation was still a problem in the lake.[119] City investigators, examining water samples from the lake, found that it contained large amounts of weeds and sediment,[120] with about 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2) of the lake's surface area being lost to sedimentation every year.[121] In addition, a significant algal bloom that caused the lake to be in a low-oxygen condition, endangering plants and animals in the lake's vicinity.[120] "Unpleasant odors" in the summer also reduced recreational opportunities on the lake, and these conditions combined made it virtually impossible to come into contact with the lake's water without getting sick.[121] By 1976, there was a moratorium on all boating activities on the lake.[114][122]

The city's fiscal crisis in the 1970s caused the rest of the park to fall into disrepair.[69][123] A dearth of funds further exacerbated the pollution of the park.[69] Hands-on education programs at the park were reduced to passive observations of flora and fauna.[121][13] Elsewhere in the park, the soil in the forests were eroding due to excessive foot traffic. The stock of younger, replacement trees in the old-growth forest had relatively little diversity compared to in other natural forests.[113]

Due to the utter disrepair in the park during that time, some informal rules were adopted at the park's golf courses. For instance, the Los Angeles Times noted that "a player was allowed to drop his ball a club length away if it rolled up against an abandoned auto, or, in one case, a boat. To thwart robbers, besieged golfers quit playing in traditional foursomes and instead ventured forth in football-team-sized units. Some players added an extra club—a night stick—or tucked tear gas spray into their golf bags."[124] One writer noted in 1995 that during the fiscal crisis, dozens of the course's trees died, and "flagsticks were reduced to broken bamboo poles stuck into the ground."[125] Weeds overgrew the course, and golfers would wear long-sleeved shirts to ward off against the city's insufficient mosquito repellents. Homeless squatters moved into the park, while courses fell into disrepair, replaced by dirt tracks and "huts and forts" built by neighborhood kids.[124] The golf courses were restored when, in 1985, the city licensed control of the courses to Los Angeles-based American Golf Corporation for 60 years.[124] Other parts of the park also fell into disrepair, such as Vault Hill, whose headstones and crypts were vandalized in the 1960s.[26][27]


In response to studies and accounts that showed the bad condition of the lake, the state restored the fish population of the lake in 1978.[100][126][116] In 1985, a study recommended ecological restoration of the lake and forest, which had been overtaken by invasive species introduced during highway construction.[113][127] Since then, there have been seven plans for restoring natural elements of the park, as well as three plans for park restoration.[128] Gradual improvements began taking place in the late 1980s, including the addition of new pathways, signage, and security, as well as the restoration of playgrounds and other recreational facilities.[129] In January 1988, NYC Parks conducted a study to determine the specific elements of the park that needed restoration.[130] Highway structures were also reconfigured to clean runoff from these structures.[131] An excavation in the 1990s yielded over 2,500 artifacts.[132]

A new filtration plant costing over $3 billion[133][134] was built 160 feet (49 m) under the park's Mosholu Golf Course[135] and was completed in 2015.[133][134] The 830 by 550 feet (250 by 170 m) plant, which is bigger than Yankee Stadium,[133] was built after a 1998 lawsuit by the presidential administration of Bill Clinton, which Mayor Rudy Giuliani settled under the condition that the city of New York would build the plant by 2006. The city had been studying possible sites for such a plant for more than 20 years in both the Bronx and Westchester. The plant was needed in order to cut the pollution from the Croton River's watershed, which fed about ten percent of the New York City water system.[136][137] One of the plant's other functions would be to reduce the city's dependence on the Catskill Mountains and Delaware River watersheds, which are only minimally filtered.[138] The filtration plant was originally supposed to cost $800 million,[134] but experienced delays and a ballooning cost because of uproars from the local community,[135] which required the city to propose alternate sites for such a plant.[138] To lessen the disruption caused by the plant's construction, in 2010 the city used mitigation funds from the construction of the plant to restore the Parade Ground.[128][139] The new plant allowed the city to provide greater capacity for its water system.[133] This was especially important since the city plans to shut off part of an aqueduct from the Delaware River in 2022–2023,[133] in order to complete a tunnel that would bypass a leaking section of the aqueduct in Newburgh, New York.[140]

As part of the "Van Cortlandt Park Master Plan 2034", critical ecological elements of the park, such as the forest, the rural landscape, and Tibbetts Brook, would be restored, and the brook would be diverted.[141] As of March 2014 when the report was written, the lack of natural drainage points within Van Cortlandt Park led to the flooding of recreational areas within the park during heavy rains.[142] The park's paths would also be restored. There would be three new pedestrian bridges, a playground, four activity centers (two outdoors, two indoors), a skate park, an athletic field, and three basketball courts built within the park. "Comfort stations" and food concessions would also be added.[141] The Van Cortlandt Golf Course was renovated in 2016.[143]


Van Cortlandt Park is the third largest park in New York City, behind the Staten Island Greenbelt (1,778 acres (720 ha)) and Pelham Bay Park (2,765 acres (1,119 ha)).[144] It has numerous attractions and features that are both recreational and educational.[145]


The Parade Ground is north of the museum, in the western part of the park.[146] When the park was originally built, there was a law dictating that the Parade Ground should be vacated for National Guard use if required.[147][148]:2 The field was originally used by the National Guard for brigade practice.[63][64] Today, it contains 10 cricket fields[146] (out of the borough's total of 19 cricket fields[149]) and a Gaelic football field.[146][150] The cricket fields were renovated in 2010–2013 for $13 million. During the renovation, the fields were relocated such that they did not overlap with each other or with the soccer and baseball fields.[149] The Parade Ground also has other areas dedicated to various sports, including six baseball fields, four football fields, five soccer fields, and a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) track for cross-country running.[146][151] The Rolling Stones commenced their Licks Tour here in 2002, getting into a blimp from the Parade Ground.[152]

The park is home to a free public pool, along with numerous playgrounds for children and areas dedicated for barbecuing.[153] The pool was added in 1970,[86][113] though proposals for such a pool date to 1907.[95][154] It was designed by Heery & Heery architects and cost $1.6 million.[155] The pool contains a 17,280-US-gallon (65,400 l; 14,390 imp gal) wading pool, a diving pool, and a 380,000-US-gallon (1,400,000 l; 320,000 imp gal) Olympic-sized pool.[155][156]

The Van Cortlandt Stadium, which was built by New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, was built during the Great Depression and funded by Works Progress Administration. It opened on September 22, 1939, to a day of track events and a football game between Manhattan College and Fordham University.[86][115] The stadium had various facilities for tennis, handball, baseball, horseshoe pitching, running, and bowling, as well as water fountains and lockers. In 1994, Mayor Giuliani funded a $415,000 project for concrete repairs to the stadium,[157] and in 1998, the 0.25-mile (0.40 km) running track was rebuilt for nearly a million dollars.[157] The park is the former home of the Manhattan College Jaspers college baseball team;[158] in the 2015 season, the Jaspers moved to Dutchess Stadium.[159]

The Indian Field has baseball and softball fields, a sandbox, picnic tables, tennis courts, horseshoes courts, and shuffleboard courts.[160] The Allen Shandler Recreation Area, renamed from the Holly Park Recreation Area in 1966 after a neighborhood boy who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the 1960s and died at age 15, has baseball fields, benches, picnic tables, barbecue grills, and a comfort station.[161] Other activities available at the park include basketball, ice skating, and fishing.[151]

View of the lake and golf course
The lake and golf course at sunset; the former railroad bridge is at far left

Riverdale Stables, located on 21 acres (8.5 ha) of the park, offers horseback riding.[162][163] In 1934, there were two stables: a larger one east of the Putnam Division near Van Cortlandt Avenue and 242nd Street, and a smaller one to the Van Cortlandt Golf House's east.[164]


The Van Cortlandt Golf Course, which opened on July 6, 1895, with nine holes,[71][73] is located centrally on the park grounds.[145][73] Within a year, the course became very crowded and disorganized, with crowds behaving poorly.[73] Rules were set in 1896, with golfers paying caddies 15 cents per round or 25 cents per two rounds. Only caddies with badges could be hired, and bicycles, baby strollers, horse-riding, and horse-drawn carriages were banned from the course.[165] The course became 18 holes in 1899,[73][71][72] with a new clubhouse by 1902.[74] The new Van Cortlandt Golf course was supposed to be "experimental," and if the course was successful, similar courses would be laid around the country.[166] Other American cities were interested in building such courses.[167] The 1899 reconstruction by Tom Bendelow had rebuilt the course so that it now spanned 120 acres (49 ha), compared to the 55 acres (22 ha) of the previous course. The new course was now 6,060 yards (5,540 m) long, or about 3.44 miles (5.54 km).[168] NYC Parks reconfigured the course again the following year so that "congestion would be prevented and accidents avoided." Boulders were relocated, greens were enlarged, and hazards were built in order to space out the holes.[169] A clubhouse was added two years later.[74]

On July 13, 1905, Isaac Mackie won an Open Tournament at the Van Cortlandt Park course, shooting 152 and holding off joint second-place finishers Willie Anderson and Bernard Nicholls who finished at 157. It was the first ever professional tournament held on a public golf course in the United States.[170]

In 1914, a second golf course, the Mosholu Golf Course, opened adjacent to the existing Van Cortlandt Park course.[71] It is located at the southeast end of the park.[171] In 2002, a First Tee course, for young golfers, opened at the course.[172]

The Van Cortlandt Golf Course and its attached clubhouse were renovated in 2007–2014 for $5 million. Prior to the renovation, there was poor management, dirty grounds, and "a proliferation of prostitutes and drug dealers operating much too close for comfort plagued the grounds."[173] The renovation overhauled the course with such improvements as seven new greens and a new drainage system. The clubhouse received an infusion of historic golf artifacts from NYC Parks, including "vintage photographs" and an exhibit about the history of the golf ball.[173]


Van Cortlandt Park is a popular site for cross-country running owing to its miles of cinder trails and hills, as well as its steep terrain. One legend has it that a cross-country coach thought that Van Cortlandt Park's tracks were too hard and instead went to the New Jersey Meadowlands to train.[152] Its courses are some of the most utilized cross-country courses in the United States.[152]

View of the Parade Ground
View of the Parade Ground from the starting line of the cross-country course

Around the Parade Ground, known to runners as "the flats," there is a track that circles for 1.5 miles (2.4 km).[174] Another 1.25-mile (2.01 km) rubber trail and the 3.1-mile (5.0 km) cross-country trail supplement each other between 241st Street and the city border.[175] Runners on the cross-country course typically run 6.2 miles (10.0 km).[34] They start at the Parade Ground and passing through "the cowpath," "the runners' bridge," Cemetery Hill, and "the back hills,"[152] using the back hills to turn back at the city border.[34] This trail, built in 1913 out of parts of existing trails,[176] was renovated in 1997 for $2 million, receiving a new layer of asphalt and stone to cover a tangle of "muddy ruts and jutting roots and rocks" that were breaking runners' ankles.[152][176] By 2013, though, the trail was starting to show signs of deterioration.[152]

The park was used for the Northeast regional championships of the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships until 2009.[177] The cross-country trail is used for the Manhattan College Invitational, one of the largest high school cross-country meets in the nation.[152] In 2006, the USA Cross-Country Championships were held at Van Cortlandt and organized by USATF and New York Road Runners.[178]

The tracks are used not only by local high schools,[176] but also for many college races.[179] It is the home course for Fordham University, Iona College, New York University, and Manhattan College (which is located right across the street). The college course is five miles (8.0 km) long, crossing the Henry Hudson Parkway at one point.[180] This course was renovated in 1997 for almost 1 million dollars.[152] It is used annually for the ICAAAA championships and has hosted the NCAA championships on numerous occasions (attendance about 10,000).[179]

Natural features[edit]


Van Cortlandt Park contains the Bronx's largest freshwater lake, the eponymous Van Cortlandt Lake.[145] There is no surviving documentation for the creation of Van Cortlandt Lake.[19] In 1699, Jacobus Van Cortlandt dammed Tibbetts Brook to power a sawmill, creating a mill pond at the site where the lake is.[21][22][23]:93 Later, he also added a gristmill.[19][20]:25 The sawmill was relocated around 1823 and stayed in operation until 1889.[19][181] The gristmill was destroyed by lightning in 1901.[182]

In its early years, the lake was used for boating, canoeing, curling, and ice skating. By 1899, the lake was used by up to 3,000 skaters on weekdays and 10,000 on weekends.[183] The ice-skating house, shared with the golf course, was added in 1902[76] and, a decade later, was being used by 2–3 thousand women on weekends and holidays.[184]

Nowadays, the lake is 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) deep at various times of year, and has an area of 18 acres (7.3 ha).[185] The lake hosts recreational fishing.[186] The lake's species include largemouth bass, black crappie, brown bullhead, bluegill, pumpkinseed, golden shiner, common carp, white sucker, and yellow perch.[185][187] Tibbetts Brook, a stream originating in Yonkers, runs through a series of culverts before draining into the south edge of the lake at approximately West 242nd Street.[21][116][188] There are efforts to daylight this south end into the former New York and Putnam Railroad right-of-way that runs through the park[142][189] as part of the park's master plan.[190]

Panorama of Van Cortlandt Lake from the east shore

Geology and geography[edit]

There are several old-growth forests with tree species like black oak, hickory, beech, cherry birch, sweetgum, red maple, and tuliptree.[2][191] There are also owls, bats, chipmunks, groundhogs, gypsy moths, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, and over 130 species of butterflies that can be found in the park.[2][191]

The different parts of Van Cortlandt Park have a varied geology. The Northwest Woods and Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway have steep terrain dotted with Fordham gneiss, a metamorphic rock that is very hard to weather. The Tibbetts Brook valley is set in Inwood marble, which weathers more easily. The east side of the park near Indian Field contains Yonkers granite, which is geologically similar to Fordham gneiss.[192]:43–97


There are five major hiking trails in the park itself.[193][194]

The Putnam Trail (1.5 miles (2.4 km), easy),[193] an unpaved trail, runs north through the woods to the east of this lawn and west of Van Cortlandt Lake, through the golf course and along Tibbetts Brook and the former New York and Putnam Railroad line into Yonkers where it connects to Westchester County's paved South County Trailway.[195] The rails themselves are overrun with weeds, but they are no longer usable by trains.[150] The remains of the former Van Cortlandt Park station can be seen along the trail.[2]

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway (1.1 miles (1.8 km), easy/moderate),[193] was created in 1968 when the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation had bought a 26.2-mile (42.2 km) stretch of the Old Croton Aqueduct, for use as a walking trail.[39][44] It starts in Van Cortlandt Park as a grass-and-dirt trail[44] and runs north along the route of the old aqueduct.[39][40] The trail features vestiges of an old, disused brick tunnel that brought water to Manhattan, as well as a gatehouse for the aqueduct.[150] Within the park, the Old Croton Aqueduct trail borders Mosholu Golf Center and Driving Range, as well as the Allen Shandler Recreation Area.[196] Its southern end is cut off by the Major Deegan Expressway in the southwestern end of the park.[197] As part of the Croton Water Filtration Plant project, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection was given $200 million to mitigate the effects of constructing the plant. A feasibility study in 2009 found that a bridge near the location of 233rd Street was the most feasible, and would connect the two sections of the trail.[198] However, in 2014, plans to build the $7.5 million pedestrian bridge were deferred over lack of money.[197]

Blocks of stone used for structural stone testing
The park's own little stonehenge, a former structural stone testing site for Grand Central Terminal construction

The John Kieran Nature Trail (1.25 miles (2.01 km), easy),[193] which connects to the Putnam Trail, opened in 1987 and is named after local writer and naturalist John Kieran.[199] The path features 13 stone pillars, each made of a different variety of stone, that were tested for the Grand Central Terminal's facade.[2][200] The variety eventually chosen was Indiana limestone[200] because it was cheap.[2] The trail hugs the edge of the Van Cortlandt Lake and Tibbetts Brook marsh.[196]

The John Muir Trail (1.5 miles (2.4 km), moderate) is the park's only east–west trail[193] that connects the three northern forested areas.[196] It was established in 1997.[201] One can see various species of trees and flowering plants along the trail, such as northern red oak, sweetgum, and tulips.[202] There is a large, steep hill in the center of the trail.[201]

The Cass Gallagher Nature Trail (1.4 miles (2.3 km), moderate/difficult) is the hardest trail in the park.[193] It was given its current name in 1984, named after a local resident who was a fervent advocate of preserving the park's environment.[203] Shaped as a loop, it extends through the rocky forests of the park's northwestern portion.[150] It was once a "self-guided interpretive nature trail" where hikers could observe natural elements along the trail.[196] Along this trail, there is a "thick undergrowth" beneath a "canopy" of deciduous trees that date back centuries. However, logging and forest fires have killed some of these trees. Pioneer species, which inhabit the plots of the forest destroyed by logging and fire, include sumac and black locusts.[150] There is also an outcropping of Fordham gneiss, the last vestige of a giant mountain chain that used to run through this area until the Wisconsin glaciation.[150] The exposed rocks also contain mica and quartz.[2] There have been many sightings of bird species along this trail, such as those of woodpeckers, owls, and pheasants.[150] This trail repeatedly crosses a 3-mile (4.8 km) cross-country trail.[196]

A bikeway runs east from the golf course's clubhouse to connect to the Mosholu Parkway bike path.[204] Some trail sections are a part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile-long (4,800 km) trail system connecting Maine to Florida.[205]


Facade of the historic Van Cortlandt House
The historic Van Cortlandt House, now a museum

The historic house located in the southern part of Van Cortlandt Park was erected by Frederick Van Cortlandt in 1748.[206] This house still stands, making it the oldest surviving building in the Bronx.[207][208] The estate the house sits on was of major importance during the American Revolution. Troops from both the British and Colonial American armies rested in this house during the time of war.[36] The Van Cortlandt family owned the property until they decided to sell both the house and land to the City of New York in 1886.[206] Ten years later, the house was restored as a museum displaying the cultural and lifestyle of families in the 18th century.[209] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1967 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1976.[210][211] Vault Hill, the family burial ground, still exists, located 169 feet (52 m) above sea level. It is northeast of the Parade Ground and west of Tibbetts Brook and the Van Cortlandt Golf Course.[26]

The Memorial Grove honors Bronxites who served in World War II and the Korean War. Created in 1949, the grove contained 39 trees, one for each soldier, as well as a plaque for each soldier.[104][212] Until a 2011 renovation,[213] there were only 18 plaques left.[212] Restoration was completed in 2012.[214]


Two nonprofit organizations manage the park, which NYC Parks owns and operates. Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, a private nonprofit organization founded in 2009, manages educational and cultural programs, and maintains the recreational areas.[215] The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, an independent nonprofit established in 1992, provides educational programs and assists in the upkeep of the park's natural areas.[216] However, the two organizations have not had the same amount of funding as similar private organizations who manage parks in wealthier areas of the city. In 2013, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park only raised $416,612—as opposed to the Central Park Conservancy, which in 2016 had an $81 million endowment to maintain Central Park, or the Four Freedoms Parks Conservancy, which raised $8 million in 2011 alone for the construction of the Four Freedoms Park.[217] Before 1992, there was no private maintenance of the park: the earliest efforts for such a thing date to 1983, when an administrator was appointed to oversee both Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Parks.[217][218]



At the park's inception, there were calls for a direct route between Woodlawn and Riverdale, with property owners in Woodlawn calling for such a route by 1893.[219] A preliminary plan for the road was submitted to NYC Parks in 1894.[220] The Woodland Path, built in the late 1890s, was linked in 1902 to a new 2,100-foot (640 m) path on the Van Cortlandt Golf Course's eastern perimeter that stretched east to Jerome Avenue.[221] Another road was built in 1902, extending 5,960 feet (1,820 m) north from West Gun Hill Road to the city line on the park's north side (later Mosholu Avenue; now Mosholu Parkway). A third, 1,800-foot-long (550 m) road linked Jerome Avenue and East 237th Street to give Woodlawn residents direct access to Jerome Avenue Line streetcars.[221] There were also preparations for a fourth road, which would run north from Mosholu Avenue and then fork into two roads before entering Yonkers.[222]

By 1906, increased automotive traffic necessitated the widening of Grand Avenue, which adjoined the golf course.[223] A year later in 1907, NYC Parks wanted permission to build a road from the Yonkers shuttle's Caryl Station to Broadway, in order to alleviate traffic there.[224] In addition, Rockwood Drive, which had been built just four years prior, needed rebuilding.[225] There was also a third proposal to pave a trail along the Old Croton aqueduct, which had already received a coating of fill from the Jerome Park Reservoir five years beforehand.[224] The New York City Board of Estimate received a proposal to connect Manhattan's Riverside Drive to the park in 1909, providing a direct route to the Upper West Side along what is now the Henry Hudson Parkway.[226] No new roads were built until 1929.[227] In the NYC Parks annual report for 1912, it was noted that the park's roads "stood the strain well," but that constant maintenance was needed to keep the roads in good shape.[228]

In 1929, Bronx Borough President Harry Bruckner put forth plans for the Grand Concourse to be extended through the park as part of a proposed parkway system.[229][230] The extension would go under Van Cortlandt Avenue, Jerome Avenue, and Gun Hill Road, going around Mosholu Avenue before taking the route of the Old Croton Aqueduct until it reached East 233rd Street. It would then turn northwest along Mosholu Avenue, crossing Tibbetts Brook and the Putnam Division before ending at the Saw Mill River Parkway.[231] There was pushback from the New York Park Association, the Regional Plan of New York, environmentalists, city planners, and other figures such as former senator Nathan Straus, Jr.. These parties' opinions on the proposed extension ranged from rerouting it elsewhere to canceling it completely.[230][232][233] The New York State Legislature passed a law that would allow the Grand Concourse to be extended through the park.[234] Following this, there were calls for Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to veto the bill.[235][236] Roosevelt vetoed the bill on April 17, 1929.[237] However, there were some influential supporters of the bill, including the Bronx Board of Trade and the Bronx Chamber of Commerce,[238] who managed to get the extension built in 1931 (albeit with a reduction in width from 182 to 80 feet (55 to 24 m)).[239]

By 1934, there was a large system of interconnected bridle paths along trails and park roads. One bridle path ran close by to the lake, intersecting with Mosholu Avenue, before looping around the Parade Ground and diverging in the Northwest Woods. The Van Cortlandt Golf Course also had trails, as did the Old Croton Aqueduct and near Jerome Avenue and Holly Lane.[240]

As of 2014, there are five pedestrian crossings over the Major Deegan Expressway, mostly in the northern section.[197]

Mass transit[edit]

There are two nearby New York City Subway stations. The eastern side of the park is served by Woodlawn (4 train), and the western side by 242nd Street (1 train).[241] Bus service is provided by New York City Bus's Bx9, Bx10, Bx16, Bx34 local routes and its BxM3, BxM4 express routes, as well as by Bee-Line Bus System's B-L1, B-L2, B-L3, B-L4, B-L20, and B-L21 routes.[242]

In popular culture[edit]

In Sol Yurick's 1965 book The Warriors, the meeting called by Ismael Rivera, leader of the Delancey Thrones, takes place in Van Cortlandt Park.[243] The park is also the place of many happy memories of Horse Badorties, protagonist of William Kotzwinkle's 1974 book The Fan Man.[244]

In Philip Kaufman's 1979 film The Wanderers, a football game between The Wanderers and rivals the Del Bombers occurs at Van Cortlandt Park. None of the scenes were filmed in the Bronx, though.[245] Also in 1979, in the film adaptation of Yorick's novel, one of the gangs is called "The Van Cortlandt Rangers."[246]

Van Cortlandt Park was referenced in José Rivera's play Marisol as a place where neo-Nazis burn homeless people alive in the apocalyptic world of the play.[247]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Maintenance and upkeep is also performed by Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy and Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.


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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°53′52″N 73°53′02″W / 40.8978°N 73.8839°W / 40.8978; -73.8839