Apr 12 2012

Seward Park – A Historic Landmark of the Lower East Side

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Spring is in the air,
and Seward Park is a favorite Lower East Side destination.

Seward Park - April 2012

Old and young find their way to historic Seward Park, located just a few blocks from the Museum at Eldridge Street. A space to relax on a bench, practice tai chi aside vibrant pink tulips or to challenge your friends to a race across the monkey bars, Seward Park is – and always was – a refuge from the crowded city streets.

Yet, public parks and green spaces have not always been part of the Lower East Side’s landscape. Seward Park opened on October 17, 1903 and was the first permanent city-funded playground in the United States. Prior to the park’s opening, people living on the Lower East Side were without an outdoor public recreation space, making the transition for new immigrants coming from steitel life in rural Eastern Europe even more challenging.

Seward Park in the early 20th century
Photo Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The following excerpt from Hungry Hearts, a collection of stories written by Polish-American author Anzia Yezierska, whose own family immigrated to the Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century, gives us some insight:

“I looked about the narrow streets of squeezed-in stores and houses, ragged clothes, dirty bedding oozing out of the windows, ash-cans and garbage-cans cluttering the sidewalks. A vague sadness pressed down my heart – the first doubt of America.

Game of Ring Toss in Seward Park - 1904
Photo Credit: New York Public Library Digital Gallery

‘Where are the green fields and open spaces in America?’ cried my heart. ‘Where is the golden country of my dreams?’ … All about me was the hardness of brick and stone, the stinking smells of crowded poverty… ‘Oi veh!’ my mother cried in dismay. ‘Where’s the sunshine in America?’”

Seward Park provided the community with a place to escape the tenements and changed the lives of thousands of families and children growing up on the Lower East Side. Like the neighborhood, Seward Park has undergone transformations with the changing times, but one thing has stayed constant: the laughter and bustle of kids and families enjoying the space.


Jungle Gym in Seward Park - April 2012

Click here to visit the City of New York Parks and Recreation site and learn more about the history of public parks and playgrounds in the five boroughs.

We’d love to hear your favorite spring-time spots in the city!

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Seward Park – A Historic Landmark of the Lower East Side”

  1. Mimion 29 Apr 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Some of my favorite things to do in the springtime is Park hopping through downtown Manhattan in the morning. I like to stroll through Washington Square Park first, watching the jugglers, sand artists, and guitarists entertain the families, the tourists, and the students. Following Washington Square Park is Union Square. Artists usually have their work lined up next to all the fresh vegetables, meat, and pastries. Although a very crowded area, being a supreme people watcher myself, I thoroughly enjoy the exercise of trying to fight through the diverse crowd. Union Square seems to be a haven to all sorts of strange and interesting people, and certainly explodes with them in the springtime. After buying a sprig of lavender from the farmers market, I continue my journey to Madison Square Park, where I am comforted by the shade of trees and towering skyscrapers. My reward for this long walk? A burger and some malted shakes from the Shake Shack! What an end to a perfect spring morning!

  2. Samanthaon 29 Apr 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I know it’s probably a bit of a cliche at this point that “Springtime is for lovers”…but it also inspires the location of one of my favorite spring-time spots: The Manhattan Bridge. No it doesn’t feature glorious blossoms or chirping birds, but when the weather starts to get nice it features magnificent views of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty beyond. Bridges are a unique way to take advantage of springtime warmth, and loud Q and M trains provide a great excuse (or necessity) to pause and take in the view, or your sweetie’s eyes…

  3. Lauraon 29 Apr 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Seward Park is lovely! I also enjoy going to the Highline and taking in the sunset during the spring.

  4. coreyon 29 Apr 2012 at 9:23 pm

    What a great story! I empathize with Anzia Yezierska, looking for “green fields and open spaces.” That’s why I love Prospect Park, not far from where I live in Brooklyn.

  5. Sarahon 30 Apr 2012 at 11:08 am

    I’ve never thought much about the history of parks, but this post was fascinating! My favorite springtime spot has to be the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I love lounging under the cherry trees with a good book.

  6. Simoneon 30 Apr 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I enjoy renting a canoe in the Boat Pond at Central Park on the first day springtime weather permits. It feels like you’re surrounded by water, wilderness… and then suddenly skyscrapers all around. Reading a book by the Bethesda Terrace and watching the row boats go by as I listen to the latest quartet, choir or jazz band that taking advantage of the stellar acoustics beneath the bridge is my next favorite springtime spot.

  7. Courtney at the Museum at Eldridge Streeton 02 May 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Wow! Thank you for sharing all of your spring-time spots in the city. Being able to sit in a green space and take in the warm weather can make for a wonderful day no matter where you are in the city!