Isham Park

by Cole Thompson

Broadway, Isham St, Inwood Pk
Manhattan
Acres: 20.09
In 1864 William B. Isham, a wealthy leather merchant, purchased twenty-four acres along the Kingsbridge Road, now known as Broadway, from 211th Street to 214th Street, and northwest to Spuyten Duyvil Creek. The park named in his honor is bordered on the north by the Harlem River Ship Canal, on the west by Inwood Hill Park, on the south by Isham Street, and on the east by Broadway. Isham Park functions as a sort of town common as well as a gateway to its larger neighbor, Inwood Hill Park. The park’s hills and abundant trees, shrubs, and lawn give it a pastoral quality.
The park originally included the old Isham mansion, stables, and green house, with the mansion located at the summit of the hill. These structures were demolished in the 1940s because of prohibitive maintenance costs. Only a stone terrace on the east edge of the park, lined with beautifully crafted stone benches overlooking the Harlem River, indicates that a stately mansion once stood on the site. Early photographs depict a worn brownstone milemarker on the original carriage road. The park’s design included several ballfields and playgrounds.

Julia Isham Taylor donated a six-acre parcel of her estate to the city in remembrance of her father in 1912. She wanted the estate’s views of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, the Harlem River Ship Canal, and Spuyten Duyvil to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Julia’s daughter, Flora, donated her portion of the estate to the city in 1916. With Parks Department purchases in 1925 and 1927, the land for Isham Park was assembled. These acquisitions explain the unusual shape of the park which juts into Inwood Hill Park so that the two share a boundary in the middle of a field.

Like other parks in northern Manhattan, the site of Isham Park played a crucial role in the battle of Fort Washington during the American Revolution. The site served as a landing point for Hessian troops coming up the Harlem River to drive the American forces to Westchester and New Jersey. Within the park lies a lovely, worn outcropping of Inwood marble, and a large ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree. Today the Urban Park Rangers work with school children on a variety of restoration projects to stabilize the slope and improve the health and appearance of the park by planting native shrubs and trees.
Source: NYC Parks Dept.

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