Places that Matter

Fort Greene Park

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Brooklyn's first public park
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Brooklyn's first park, Fort Greene Park has been a centerpiece of its local community since it opened in 1848. Today it continues to be a vital gathering spot in the midst of the Fort Greene Historic District.

In 1846 poet Walt Whitman called for a public park to be built on the hilltop site of Fort Putnam, a key location of the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War. Two years later, Brooklyn's first public park opened on this 30-acre site with the name Washington Park.

In the 1860s, the park received a major redesign by the nationally prominent landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who were also responsible for Central and Prospect parks, among others. Their 1868 design for the park included many hallmarks of the firm's romantic naturalistic style including a rustic stone retaining wall and winding cobblestone paths. In its new form the park became an important amenity and was partially responsible for attracting the middle class to the neighborhood. The distinctive 200-foot Prison Ship Martyrs Monument was added to the park in 1908.

In 1897 the park was renamed in honor of General Nathaniel Greene, one of General Washington's key aids, who supervised the construction of the original Fort Putnam. The park also gave its name to the surrounding Fort Greene community, which for many years housed workers from the nearby Navy Yards including a large African American population. In 1978 a portion of Fort Greene, including the park, was designated a New York City Historic District.

Over the years, Fort Greene Park has gone through several minor renovations including one in the 1930s by architect Gilmore D. Clarke, and another in 1995 that added new paths, trees, plants, ground covers, remodeled playgrounds, resurfaced pavements, benches, fencing, and re-worked drainage systems. As of 2004, the park's 30 acres continue to be a well-used community resource for sports, family picnics and celebrations, and free concerts.

Sources:

United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form." Fort Greene Historic District.