St. Nicholas Park and St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church

St. Nicholas Park was created in the intersection of Harlem, Hamilton Heights, and Manhattanville in 1895. Its borders are 127th St. on the south, 141st St. on the north, St. Nicholas Avenue on the east, and St. Nicholas Terrace on the west.

The park was once the site of the Croton Aqueduct, which was built from 1837–42 and dramatically improved city sanitation and home plumbing. Prior to the aqueduct, there were many epidemics and a high mortality rate caused by tainted water. Wealthy people who lived in private houses were also able to start using bathtubs and sinks with running water, and public bathhouses for the masses came into being.

Less happily, many cellars were flooded due to a sharp decrease in usage of city wells and a subsequent rise in the water table. Sewers were then built on residential streets.

The New Croton Aqueduct, which is still in use, was built from 1885–90.

135th St. New Croton Aqueduct Gatehouse, Copyright Midmodsquad

More land was acquired from 1900–06, and creation of the park began in earnest in 1906. Parks Commissioner and landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. took charge of the design, saying, “[a] dominant note must be followed with a harmonious treatment, a high hill made higher, a rugged slope more rugged, a deep valley made deeper, thus invariably following nature’s lead.”

In 1909, the park expanded downward to 128th St. This new area included The Point of Rocks, where General Washington stood during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. The expansion increased the park’s size to 23 acres.

A playground was added in 1931, within which was a garden where farm produce was grown for educational purposes.

Since 2008, Hamilton Grange, the 1802 home of Alexander Hamilton, was moved 500 feet into the park. Prior, it stood on Convent Avenue on the north, facing 141st St. Its current location is within the borders of Hamilton’s original 32-acre estate.

Much of the City College campus is just across St. Nicholas Terrace to the west. Three churches also border the park—St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, St. James Presbyterian Church, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright Ajay Suresh

My character Nestor Ugolnikov, a former Marine who lost his leg at Iwo Jima, is walking through the park with two bags of groceries on the eve of Orthodox Easter 1949 when he has a tumble in a patch of mud. His prosthesis, which he forgot to fasten tightly enough, falls off and is soon stolen by three mean little boys. Even worse, it begins raining.

His future wife Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova comes to his rescue by rebagging his groceries and getting a cop to search for the leg and give him a ride home. That December, they break up in St. Nicholas Park, but are soon back together and engaged, when Nestor finally realizes Yustina loves him just as he is and doesn’t care he’s missing a leg.

More information:

Copyright Beyond My Ken

St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church was built in 1859 on 266 Mulberry St. in Gingerbread Gothic style. It began life as the Chancery Office Building of the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and William Rodrigue, who also designed the new St. Patrick’s.

In 1936, the building took on a new life as a Russian Catholic church under the leadership of Father Andrew Rogosh, who arrived in New York on Christmas Day 1935 in the hopes of establishing an émigré apostolate. New York was one of the largest White Russian enclaves.

Though the disgustingly-named “Emergency Immigration Act” of 1921 and its follow-up, even more ridiculously xenophobia quota of 1924 made it nearly impossible for people from Eastern Europe to come to the U.S., there were some lucky people allowed to immigrate despite the strict, fear-fueled red tape.

Father Rogosh provided spiritual guidance and comfort to these new immigrants who’d been driven from their homeland by the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and Stalin’s goons. He often travelled to DP camps in Europe as part of his ministry.

Over the years, many people of all faiths and ethnicities came to St. Michael’s to hear the beautiful Russian-style Byzantine Rite service.

Sadly, gentrifiers drove up the property values, and the community had to relocate to St. Catherine of Siena on East 68th St. in 2019.

My character Varya Koneva visits the church after work in May 1952 and speaks with Father Rogosh about her spiritual dilemma re: a looming interfaith marriage. She’s engaged to a Polish Catholic (from the family who saved her niece Darya’s life during the war), and they have to choose a church for their wedding. Varya isn’t particularly attached to Orthodoxy, but doesn’t want to be excommunicated for marrying in a Catholic church.

Father Rogosh says there are few significant differences between Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism, and encourages her to try out St. Michael’s as her new spiritual home.

More information:

Inwood Hill Park

Copyright Beyond My Ken

Inwood Hill Park is named for its location on Manhattan Island’s northernmost neighborhood. Though there’s one more neighborhood above Inwood, Marble Hill, it’s on the North American mainland and not the island. Unlike the vast majority of Manhattan, Inwood has ample green spaces.

This park, on 196.4 acres, boasts the borough’s largest surviving old-growth forest. This is no artificially-created park, but predominantly natural and unlandscaped. So many people gush over a clichéd view overlooking Central Park, but wouldn’t you prefer looking out on a real forest with caves, a salt marsh, a creek, and a river?

Copyright Beyond My Ken

The Lenape tribe lived in the area till the 17th century, using the nearby Hudson and Harlem Rivers as a ready source of fish. Archaeological evidence has unearthed remains of their settlements, campfires, and artifacts.

According to legend, Peter Minuit bought the island for $24 in 1626 under the park’s largest tulip tree. Sadly, it was felled by a 1933 storm. The base of the tree remained till the 1950s, protected by an iron fence, but it rotted away. A commemorative plaque on a boulder stands there now.

Fort Cockhill was built in the park during the Revolutionary War, overlooking the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek at its confluence with the Hudson River, and containing two cannons. In this era, the area was called Tubby Hook Hill and Cox’s Hill.

By the 19th century, many millionaires had country retreats there. It also was home to an orphanage (of which there now is no trace), a free public library, a women’s charity home, and one of Manhattan’s final farms. One of the park’s freshwater springs was used for drinking water by builders of the Henry Hudson Bridge.

The two estates of Samuel Lord (of Lord & Taylor fame) were destroyed by fire in the latter half of the century.

Andrew Haswell Green, the Father of Greater New York, suggested creating a park in Inwood in 1895. This idea didn’t interest anyone at first, but the discovery of archaeological remains helped to bring people around. Also helping this proposal were the landscape’s beauty, the hill’s unique geology, the lovely views, and historical associations.

The city bought parcels of land between 1915 and the early 1940s, and the park officially opened 8 May 1926. Who else but Robert Moses evicted the squatters living in abandoned estates around the perimeter!

During the Depression, Works Project Administration employees paved over trails and added lampposts.

Muscota Marsh, along the Harlem River, is one of Manhattan’s last surviving natural salt marshes. Waterfowl flock to this marsh, among them ducks, geese, herons, cormorants, and gulls. Living in the water are mollusks and crustaceans, and growing by the banks are bullrushes and cordgrass. Owls, red-tailed hawks, cardinals, bluejays, eagles, and wild turkeys live in the woods.

Much of the flora and fauna can be found nowhere else in Manhattan—cottontail rabbits, a species of chestnut trees immune to bark-attacking blight, southern flying squirrels, red-bellied salamanders, white-footed deer mice, Dutchman’s breeches (a white flower), opossums, meadow voles. Other wild residents are raccoons, foxes, and grey squirrels.

Foxes used to populate the park as well, but an increasing coyote community put a stop to that.

Copyright Barry Solow

Copyright Barry Solow

In 1992, the natural areas were renamed Shorakapok, which means “the wading place,” “the place between the ridges,” or “the edge of the river” in Lenape. This native name for the area may have given rise to the name of the fort, as unfortunate as Cock Hill sounds in English.

The Inwood Hill Nature Center was dedicated and opened to the public on 15 September 1995, and is located along the marsh. This is also the best place to watch the eagles.

Copyright Beyond My Ken

Copyright Beyond My Ken

My characters who live in nearby Marble Hill sometimes go to Inwood Hill Park. Van Cortlandt Park is very pretty too, but the natural beauty of Inwood Hill can’t be beat.

East River Park

Copyright David Shankbone

The East River Park opened 27 July 1939, replacing an active shipping yard. The waterfront was also home to many factories, tenements for the poorest of the poor, railway yards, slaughterhouses, power stations, and glassworks. Who else but Robert Moses decided to tear it all down!

This park was developed in tandem with East River Drive (also known as FDR Drive). Though I’m hardly a fan of Mr. Moses’s aggressive remodelling of the city, the Lower East Side desperately needed more parkland and recreational facilities.

Though the Lower East Side has several other parks, this is the largest of them all. Unfortunately, it’s shrunk somewhat over the years due to road expansions. That’s more like the Robert Moses I know and hate.

Copyright David Shankbone

In 1941, an amphitheatre was added south of Grand St., with an adjacent limestone recreational building. There were frequent concerts in the park here during the 1950s, as well as plays including Shakespeare and classic Greek dramas. Local schools also held their graduations here.

Sadly, the theatre closed due to budget cuts in 1973, and then vandals attacked it. By 1980, it was unfit for purpose.

Copyright David Shankbone

In the 1990s, when the city began coming back from its absolute nadir, the park was extensively rehabilitated, and many new features were added. In 1998, the Lower East Side Ecology Center became the park’s steward. Their education center and offices are in the Fireboat House near the Williamsburg Bridge. Every year, they shepherd thousands of volunteers through gardening and upkeep.

Other 1990s developments include the Brian Watkins Tennis Center and the 10th St. comfort station. Handicapped accessibility was added recently, and for the first time since the 1930s, the seawall offers East River views.

The East River Park is part of the East River Esplanade, a series of linked parks and walkways forming an almost uninterrupted greenway around Manhattan’s perimeter. To the south of the park, Pier 42 has been transformed from an unused shipping terminal to a place of recreation.

Copyright David Shankbone

In 2001, the City Council voted to rename the park John V. Lindsay East River Park, after the city’s 103rd mayor who served from 1966–73, one of the most difficult periods of both U.S. and NYC history. This was rather controversial, since Lindsay came under fire many times during his mayoralty and was frequently criticised for being out of touch with the common people. Some consider him the worst NYC mayor of the 20th century.

However, there were some positives in his stormy political career. Mayor Lindsay helped to revive artists’ communities by ordering code enforcement officers to go lightly on squatters and artists’ living and working spaces, instead of evicting and imprisoning them.

He also transformed the Civilian Complaint Review Board from an internal cop-run department to a public agency with a majority-citizen board. Most importantly, his efforts to preserve racial harmony spared New York the riots found in other big cities during this era.

The renaming ceremony took place 19 December 2001, on his first Jahrzeit (death anniversary).

Copyright David Shankbone

East River Park appears in two chapters of my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll, and is mentioned a few other times. In Chapter 2, “Going Fishing,” protagonist Adicia is sent down to the East River with four of her siblings to wrangle up dinner, and her one decent brother Allen is pulled into the river from a feisty fish on his line, all while a cop watches him fishing with a fake license.

In Chapter 6, “A New Decade Still in Poverty,” Adicia and three of her sisters go sledding in the park with garbage pail can lids.

DeWitt Clinton Park

Copyright Tdorante10

DeWitt Clinton Park was created in Hell’s Kitchen in 1902, designed by landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. It originally encompassed 7.4 acres and extended to the Hudson River, with a running track, gymnasium, bathing pavilion, curved paths with viewing desks of the Palisades and Hudson River, and playgrounds.

At the center was a children’s farm, the first of its kind in the city, with a pergola, flowerbeds, observations plots, and 356 4×8 vegetable gardens. Each vegetable garden was assigned to a “little farmer.”

The land for this refreshing urban oasis came from the Striker, Mott, and Hopper farmsteads. Their houses were torn down in 1895 and 1896. Other buildings on this site were demolished in 1902.

Copyright Tdorante10

In 1904, in The Atlantic Monthly, Albert Shaw wrote of the area on the eve of its rehabilitation:

“The most vivid imagination could not have conceived a more desolate spot than this was in the summer of 1902. Approached from the east, through filthy streets crowded with noisy, dirty urchins, it loomed up a dark blot upon the beautiful background of cool river, green hills, and blue sky. Rows of tumble-down houses, disused carts, piles of rubbish, stones, rags, and litter, among which the children played, made even the streets seem neat and orderly by comparison.”

Copyright Tdorante10

In 1930, a statue of a doughboy was added, designed by Burt Johnson (whose sister Annetta was a sister-in-law of Augustus Saint-Gaudens). The children’s gardens were taken away in 1932 to build the West Side Elevated Highway. The soil was taken to Central Park to fill in the Lower Reservoir, which later became the Great Lawn.

The park shrank even further in 1935 when the New York Passenger Ship Terminal was built. Gone were the beautiful, unobstructed views of the Hudson River and Palisades. Also gone were the music stands, big arbor, and undulating lawn, replaced by baseball fields, a playground, basketball and handball courts, and a dog park.

Today the park is 5.3 acres.

In 1959, locals tried to rename their neighborhood after the park, because who wants to live in a place called Hell’s Kitchen? Though regardless of the name, this was a tough, violent neighborhood in that era, rife with gang activity and murders. Some people steadfastly call it Clinton, but its name officially remains Hell’s Kitchen.

Many people had left the area by the 1980s and 1990s, and the park was well-known as a drug den and homeless encampment. In October 1986, three teens murdered a homeless man there.

In 1995, the park slowly started returning to its former glory, though it’ll never be as large and beautiful as it was long ago and worlds apart.

Copyright Tdorante10

My character Igor Konev is driving his sister Irina’s friend Léa Kahn to Barnard’s new student orientation weekend in September 1951 when a red tabby with a kitten in her mouth appears in the road. Léa insists Igor follow her, since it’s not right for a cat with kittens to be homeless.

They finally see her entering DeWitt Clinton Park, where she deposits her kitten by one of the sycamores lining a curved path on the western side, in a spot with five other kittens. The cat promptly takes off, and Igor gets back in the car to follow her while Léa stays with the kittens.

When Igor returns with the mother and seven other kittens, including a chimera runt much smaller than most runts, he finds Léa sitting by the sycamores and talking to a a little African–American girl and her rather young mother. They’re all petting the kittens.

Copyright Tdorante10

“So much for your claim about most people in this city only associating with their own kind,” Léa says as the car starts back towards Brooks Hall on Broadway, the mother cat and runt on her lap. “They saw I’m different from the others in my own way, so they started conversation with me. Anyone with green hair, three earrings in each ear, and flamboyant fashion isn’t a conformist who only cares about people exactly like herself.”

Ivy Hill Park, Newark


All photos featured herein are used solely to illustrate the subject, and are consistent with fair use doctrine. It’s really hard to find vintage, public domain photographs of the park!

Once upon a time, Newark was a lovely, safe, beautiful city, not regarded as a run-down, dangerous crime pit. Ivy Hill Park was part of this beautiful, idyllic landscape.



Ivy Hill was part of South Orange Township (later renamed Maplewood) until 1890, when the city of Newark bought the land. In 1926, Newark annexed another 110 acres. The park itself was purchased from Newark by the Essex County Parks Commission in 1927. There was a clear, strong need for recreation in light of the expanding population.

The 18.86-acre park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm, like almost every other Essex County park created since the 1890s. The acreage increased slightly over the years, and reached its final size of 18.96 acres in 1938. The Works Progress Administration (a New Deal program) was responsible for many improvements and developments during those Depression years.



The park features a concert area; fields for football, soccer, softball, and hardball; tennis courts; a basketball court; a wading pool; a playground; and plenty of green spaces for walking and picnicking. It abuts Seton Hall University, though there’s a rarely-opened chain-link fence separating them. Regardless, many students frequently use the park. In exchange, Seton Hall is required to lease an acre of their tennis courts to Essex County.

In September 1951, Ivy Hill broke ground on a new apartment complex, and in November 1952, tenants began moving in. Many Seton Hall students, immigrants, and retirees live here. The apartments, dubbed “Little United Nations” by residents, hold over 10,000 people.

Today, Ivy Hill is home to Newark’s last active Jewish community, though it’s far different from the golden age of Jewish Newark. More about that tomorrow.


Source; Credit Assie Bangura

My characters who settle in Newark after the war often take their children to play in Ivy Hill Park, and the distant relatives of Eszter and Mirjam who made all of their immigration possible live a stone’s throw from the park, in the Vailsburg section of the West Ward. More about Vailsburg on the V day!