Inwood’s Isham Park Turns 100

by Cole Thompson

Isham Park Centennial Flyer (click to enlarge)

On September 29, 2012 Isham Park, that sparkling gem of Inwood, marked its centennial.  And,  in appreciation of that century old gift to the city, a celebration was held  in the park to mark the occasion.  Neighbors, former residents and children alike enjoyed cake,  a marching band and even an appearance by descendants of the Isham family.

The park officially opened on September 28, 1912 and has provided a peaceful surrounding for generations of New Yorkers.

This weekend’s once in a century festivities began at the Broadway entrance, just north of Isham Street, to watch as the Inwood Tiger Band and Heavenly Voices Chorus marched into the park from Broadway.

Happy Birthday Isham Park.

And, in true MyInwood.net fashion, I thought it might be fun to take a look back on how Inwood welcomed Isham Park into the neighborhood a century ago.

The below article was printed the morning after the last big shindig in the New York Herald on September 29, 1912.

 

New York Herald, Sunday, September 29, 1912.

New York Herald
September 29, 1912
In Patriotic Ceremony City Accepts New Isham Park on Washington Heights
City Officials Make Speeches After Parade of Taxpayers and Other Societies

With picturesque ceremony, in which the pupils of the public schools played a principal part, Isham Park, one of the last bits of old New York, and the gift of Mrs. Julia Isham Taylor and her aunt, Miss Flora E. Isham, was turned over to the city yesterday afternoon.

The ceremonies were held on the lawn in front of the old Isham House, at 212th street and Broadway, and were participated in by representatives of the Washington Heights Taxpayers’ Association, American Scenic Preservation Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, New York Historical Society and the City History Club.

Isham House, circa 1934.

Preceding the ceremonies about two hundred citizens of the northern section of the city and about as many school children assembled at Broadway and 207th street, where they formed in line and marched in parade to the Isham house on the brow of the hill overlooking the old Dyckman Farm at Fort George, University Heights, the ship canal, Spuyten Duyvil, the Hudson and the Palisades.

Parade Led by School Girl

Leading the line was Miss Constance Smith, a pupil of Public School No. 52, mounted on a bay horse and beside her rode Policeman Thomas McGlone, of the Kingsbridge station.  When the head of the procession reached the hill and the band started a lively tune, the little girl’s horse pranced about gaily, but his rider controlled the mount with a skillful hand. After invocation by the Rev. Edgar A. Lowther, an effective salute to the flag was given by the pupils of School No. 52, of which V. E. Kilpatrick is principal.  James P. Davenport, chairman, then introduced the speakers.

Isham Park 1912 Celebration Program, (reprint from 75th Good Shepherd anniversary program).

George McAneny, president of the Borough of Manhattan, accepted the park on behalf of the city of New York, praising Miss Isham, sister of Mr. Isham, and her niece, Mrs. Taylor, for their generous spirit.  He declared the good example set would be followed by continuous efforts on the part of the city to acquire all the land that belongs naturally to park property.  He said it was a crying shame that the city had lost the opportunity some time ago of obtaining all the land on the west side of the city to make a magnificent park.

Charles B. Stover, Park Commissioner, accepted the gift on behalf of the Park Department, telling of the magnificent opportunities it would furnish the city in general and the residents of the northern section in particular. Completing as it practically will, with extensions to follow, a beautiful park from Seventy-second street to the northern end of Manhattan Island.

Isham Park area shown in 1920's map.

Plea for More Parks

Mr. Stover made a strong plea for parks in general, calling attention to the delay on the part of the proper officials to take advantage of good chances to purchase land which could be used for this purpose.  He called it foolish for the city to have rejected a proposal for the sale of twice as much land on Long Island for $1,000,000 as the city ultimately paid $1,460,000 for.  He said he would  continue to agitate for more parks until the whole west slope would be extended over the New York Central rails clear down to the water’s edge, making a park slope that would be the envy of the world.

Isham Park Entrance in 1918 (from the New York Hist. Society)

Reginald Pelham Bolton gave a historical review of the address of the property, saying that within three hundred feet of where he stood he had unearthed bones of Indians, squaws and papooses, which will be shown in the museum which will be made of the old house.  He related the history of the estate from the time of first turning it to farm use down to half a century ago, when Mr. Isham bought it.

The Rev. Dr. George S. Payson, who has been a resident of the neighborhood since 1874, and Representative William S. Bennet also spoke.  Before and after the speeches the children gave many folklore dances.

Can’t get enough Isham Park History?  Below are a few more articles associated with our beautiful parkland:

Isham house museum proposed, New York Herald April 7, 1912. (click on article to enlarge

The Isham-Lincoln connection, New York Herald, September 4, 1919. (click on article to enlarge)

Isham Mansion, New York Herald, Sunday, September 26, 1913.

Did you know that on the day Isham Park opened Good Shepherd annnounced plans to build a church across the street? New York Tribune, Sunday September 29, 1912.

Ishams donate more land to the city. Does their generosity know no bounds? New York Tribune, March 6, 1915.

Jack Reynolds and his fight for Isham Park, Heights-Inwood Newspaper, August 2, 1973

Isham Park photo essay, The Washington Heights Citizen and The Inwood News, April 10, 1990.

And 2012 being an election year….here’s a rare image of RFK campaigning on Isham Street and Broadway in 1964:

 

As always, if you have any Isham Park memories or photos you’d care to share, I encourage you to contribute.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Bates October 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Cole, thanks for giving me 15 seconds of fame! But seriously, I think you focused way too much on me, and not enough on the park itself. Saturday was absolutely wonderful, and I intend to continue my association with the park in some way or other. The park is a wonderful selling point for young families, as the park is really a paradise for a growing child.
Best wishes, Jonathan Bates

janice October 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

thanks Cole! great info and pix and notes!

Doug miller October 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I lived at 55 PTE, thanks for the Hurst House info, I always wondered. I can remember remnants of green houses on the southern end of the park near the rocks that go down to Isham Street. It was our own little “oasis”.
I don’t mean to make this a “social network site”, but the responder Mr. Bates may be an “old” friend from 10 PTE, I believe his Dad was a professor and they summered in Key West (at the time, another world). if so my email is listed.
I really appreciate the effort and time that Cole puts into this website and i visit it constantly.
Thank you Cole.

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