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Bronx Park Postcards: About Bronx Park


About Bronx Park

Bronx Park map

Bronx Park map, New York Central's Four-Track Series, No. 14, circa 1904

Bronx Park postcard

Bronx River Falls, Bronx Park, New York City

Guided by a belief in the restorative power of nature for all people, the nineteenth-century American urban park movement had its beginnings with the creation of Central Park in New York in the 1850s. By the late 1880s, New York City had purchased lands for six additional parks in the Bronx, including Bronx Park.

New York Botanical Garden

In the late nineteenth century a pair of eminent botanists named Nathaniel and Elizabeth Britton were so inspired by their visit to England's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, that they and other members of the Torrey Botanical Club determined New York should also possess a great botanical garden. The 250-acre site selected in the northern section of Bronx Park had once belonged to the country estate of tobacco merchant Pierre Lorillard.

On April 18, 1891, the land was set aside by the New York State Legislature for the creation of a “public botanic garden of the highest class” for the City of New York. Prominent civic leaders and financiers agreed to match the City's commitment to finance the buildings and improvements, initiating a public-private partnership that continues today. In 1896 The New York Botanical Garden appointed Nathaniel Lord Britton its first director.

Today, its fifty gardens and plant collections contain more than one million plants including some 30,000 distinguished trees, many more than 200 years old. The Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, opened in 1902, is the largest Victorian-era glasshouse in the Americas and houses the world's most comprehensive collection of palm trees under glass. Other notable historic buildings on the Garden grounds include the Stone Mill and Stone Cottage and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. 

Bronx Zoo

In 1896, as the Botanical Garden was beginning construction, the newly formed New York Zoological Society (known today as the Wildlife Conservation Society) was scouting locations for a new zoological park. Upon spending only an hour in South Bronx Park, William T. Hornaday, hired as the first director of this new zoo, declared that the Society had found its perfect spot. “There,” he wrote of the Park, “nature has made a marvelously beautiful and perfect combination of ridge and hollow, glade and meadow, rock, river, lake and virgin forest, and ... man has mercifully preserved it all from defacement and destruction.” In 1897, the City allotted 250 acres south of the Botanical Garden to the New York Zoological Society for the creation of what is now known as the Bronx Zoo.

The Bronx Zoo opened to the public on November 8, 1899 with 843 animals of 157 species. Today, the Bronx Zoo is the world's largest urban zoo and features more than 4,000 animals of 650 species.  Although its animal inhabitants, buildings, and staff have changed over its history, the Bronx Zoo, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, continues its founding dedication to wildlife conservation and education.

Describing Bronx Park in 1887, parks activist John Mullaly wrote, “It would be difficult to do justice to the exquisite loveliness of this tract without seeming to exaggerate.” Since that time, the Park has undergone tremendous changes. And yet, Mullaly’s words ring true today. Bronx Park—which, in addition to The New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo, includes playgrounds, greenways, and other recreational areas—continues to hold some of New York City’s most beautiful outdoor space. Winding through two miles of the Park, the Bronx River (the City’s only freshwater river) runs alongside lush forests and rolling hills. And the diversity of the flora and fauna throughout Bronx Park offers visitors today, just as it did in Mullaly’s time, “scenery so varied that every step is a surprise.”

Other Resources

Bronx County Historical Society

Fordham University Library's Digital Collections

Includes Bronx Park images.

The New Parks Beyond the Harlem

Digitized copy of 1887 work by John Mullaly, known as the "father of the Bronx parks system." Includes illustrations and descriptions of Bronx Park.

NYC Parks Bronx Park Site

"Parks and Parkways"

Digitized copy of 1897 essay by W. W. Niles, from The Great North Side; or, The Borough of the Bronx.

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Wildlife Conservation Society | The New York Botanical Garden