Blizzard Nemo passed through the City overnight and fairly quickly. By 8:00 am the next morning the skies were clearing rapidly. By 9:00 am they were brilliant blue. Looking into the garden (➤Nemo the White), visions of snowy Manhattan under a mantle of pristine white filled my head. So, by 10:00 am I’d decided I’d venture over to ➤Carl Schurz Park. I quickly dragged on my boots, grabbed my camera and headed off. Boy, whatever I was imaging, I should probably have known better. Saturday morning…? Blue skies…? No nasty precipitation falling on heads…? New York is lucky to have a lot of parks. Some, such as Central Park, are large and known the world over. Others are smaller and usually better-kept secrets. But not this one. On this snowy day. New York parks are well enjoyed and see a lot of use. And, unfortunately, also a lot of abuse. The latter is never more evident than when twelves inches of irresistible fun cover the ground waiting to be stamped and stomped in every possible way. Unfortunate, but it is a sad fact of life for urban parks.
The fifteen-acre Carl Schurz Park, located on a small height above the stretch of the East River called Hell Gate due to the turbulent, swirling waters, is not so well-known to outsiders but much used by locals for jogging, biking, dog-walking, sun-bathing and just general sitting by the river to watch it flow by. The park was named in honor of the German-born statesman and journalist, Carl Schurz (1829-1906), in 1910 and is adjacent to Yorkville, which was for many years the center of the very large German community in New York. Born in Cologne, Schurz emigrated to the United States in 1852 and would prove a skilled orator and able communicator in his new home. Abraham Lincoln’s win of the presidency in 1860 was helped significantly by Schurz’s skills. He would eventually serve as a Senator from Missouri (1869-1875) and Secretary of the Interior (1877-81) during the presidential administration of Rutherford B. Hayes. Schurz was also later the editor of the New York Tribune and wrote editorials for Harper's Weekly, as well.
The property on which the park is located has a much longer history and has changed hands several times since it was first granted to Sybout Claessen by the Dutch West India Company in 1646. During the Revolutionary War, a fort to guard the strategic shipping passage at Hell Gate was erected around a house Jacob Walton had built here. Walton’s house was destroyed in a British attack in 1776 and the Continental Army was forced to retreat. British forces remained at the fort until the end of the war in 1783. In 1798 the land was purchased by Archibald Gracie, a Scottish shipping magnate, who built a mansion here in 1799. Gracie sold his estate in 1819 but the mansion survived and would eventually be acquired by the City of New York in 1891. Gracie Mansion briefly served as the Museum of the City of New York but is now best known as the official residence of the City’s mayors since 1942. The southern portion of today’s park was already set aside as East River Park in 1876, with land from the Gracie estate added as the northern part in 1891. Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons designed the landscape and it was completed in 1902. The park, however, was altered and re-landscaped in 1939 to accommodate the East River Drive that passes under it along the river.
An allée of spring-flowering tree line the park’s central axis to the East River. Luckily, there’s a fence. Gracie Mansion sits at the northern end, also fenced. But don’t look.
Bridge and path to the Sunken Garden.
“Hey! Where’s everybody gone?”
Unfortunately, This is what most even areas of the park already looked like by 10:00 am: Trampled flat from the East River to East End Avenue.
Not a corner left untouched. Especially by parents who will simply hurdle any barrier to get baby's first blizzard on Facebook. Ouch.
Or mommies who find no mountain's high enough nor berberis sharp enough to get in the way of that precious moment. Double ouch!
“Say cheese, honey. This one’s gonna get a lot of likes.”
And the dog walkers? Talk about beating a path. Unfortunately, those aren’t steps under there but naturalistic plantings on a steep slope.
A last bench holds out against the onslaught. I’ll let someone else disturb its cover as I watch the East River flow by for a bit. The turbulent waters of Hell Gate seem quite comparatively peaceful right now… And, yes, that is the name of this stretch of the East River.
Almost a relief to be back on the streets. Now THAT’s an urban winterscape!