Brooklyn'S Historic Fort Greene Park
The oldest urban park in America, Fort Greene was the site of a fierce battle in the early days of the American Revolution. It holds the remains of Americans who died on British prison ships at anchor in New York Harbor.
Fort Green Park in Brooklyn, New York is the oldest urban park in America. It is set in a lovely 19th century neighborhood of Italianate and Queen Anne row houses and Second Empire brownstones built in the 1850s through the 1870s.
The cafes, galleries, restaurants, nightclubs, and shops reflect Fort Green’s well-off homeowners and inhabitants, who are mainly black professionals and artists. The filmmaker Spike Lee has long lived in Fort Greene.
Walt Whitman, as editor of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle,” lobbied for the site to be made a park. Designed in 1848 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park has elegant walkways and long, sloping lawns. It is built high along a hilly field that at its apex offers stunning Manhattan views.
In the American Revolution, the park was the site of Fort Putnam, one of several American forts used by George Washington in the Battle of Brooklyn. It was then known as "Cowenhoven's Bosch" or woods. A fierce battle between American and British forces was fought there in the early days of the Revolution. When it was abandoned by the patriots, a British engineer described Fort Putnam as "well and solidly made, and according to the rules of fortification."
Stanford White designed the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at the center of the park after the turn of the 20th century. During the Revolution, British ships anchored in Wallabout Bay served as brutal prisons for captured patriots. On these ships, 11,500 captured Revolutionary soldiers and officers died of starvation, disease, and violence. The dead bodies were buried by the British in the sand along the bayside, and, as they surfaced over time, have been transferred to the monument’s crypt. The vaults serve as the base of a 200-foot Doric column with a twenty-two-foot urn at the top.
The fort was also in use in the War of 1812, when in 1814, intelligence showed the British planned an attack by sea. It was not known exactly where on the coast the attack would come and Fort Greene, as other forts in the city, was woefully unprepared.
Beginning on August 9, work started on a line of entrenchments around the fort. Citizens from every walk of life, male and female, black and white, native-born and immigrant, moved rocks, and shoveled dirt, to prepare the fort for defense. When they were finished, 1800 soldiers camped in front of the fort. However, peace was declared February 11, 1815, and the fort was never engaged in battle in this war.
In 1848, the name of Washington Park was given to the new 30-acre park and later changed to Fort Greene Park, in honor of Revolutionary General Nathaniel Greene.