Named for a Civil War general and newspaper editor, Carl Schurz Park is one of New York City’s loveliest public green spaces.
History and Design
Sitting at the edge of the German-American community of Yorkville, fifteen-acre (6 ha.) Carl Schurz Park pays homage to a German revolutionary who became an American statesman and reformer and served as a Union Army General in the Civil War. Schurz and his sister were also instrumental in setting up the “kindergarten” system in the U.S. and he later became a prominent journalist in the city as well.
The park at this location was known as East River Park as early as 1876. Much was added through the years, and the park has named after Schurz by the early 1900s. It was reconstructed in 1935 according to designs by Robert Moses. Maud Sargent also re-landscaped the park in 1939 when the East River Drive underpass was under construction.
The park overlooks the East River at the area known as Hell Gate and is the site of the mayor’s residence, known as Gracie Mansion. The mansion was built in 1799 in Federal style by shipping merchant Archibald Gracie. The city of New York acquired the estate in 1896 and incorporated it into the park. From 1924 until 1932 the mansion was used as the first Museum of the City of New York. In 1942, it became the official residence of the New York Mayor.
Carl Schurz Park Association
Though the park was a favorite place for strolling and playing throughout much of the mid-twentieth century, by the 1970s, it was in a sad state, as were many of New York’s parks, largely due to cuts in funding for maintenance.
However, a community group stepped in to save the park and continues to be involved in overseeing its maintenance. The Carl Schurz Park Association now has 1,200 volunteer members who organize year-round gardening chores for the many flowerbeds in the park and maintain the large playground, two dog runs, and hockey facilities inside the park.
Concerts happen weekly during the summer and at holiday seasons, and movies are often organized inside the hockey arena when it’s not in use. Carl Schurz Park is also home to the Gracie Square Art Show and the annual Halloween Hall, a costume contest for canines. And don’t miss the statue of Peter Pan, installed in 1928.
The John Finley Walk is the name given to the top deck of Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, which runs along the East River from East 81st Street to Gracie Mansion, passing along Carl Schurz Park. From there it narrows and continues north to East Harlem. The walk is similar to Brooklyn’s Promenade, with excellent views of the East River and Roosevelt Island. It is named for City College President John Finley, who was also once the Harper’s Weekly editor. Finley always went to work on foot – often making large detours, hence the wrought iron signposts on the promenade that depict Finley walking.