Settlement worker Lillian D. Wald, a Jewish German-American, founded the Outdoor Recreation League (ORL) in 1898 because she was concerned for the safety of her Jewish neighbors and the children of the community. Through the ORL, Seward Park, located in the LES, was first created in 1903 as a means to promote organized, public games within the facility instead of busy and unsafe city streets. It opened as the first municipal park in the country.
Since its opening, it has focused on encouraging peoples’ activism through popular sports and other forms of physical exercise. It includes a basketball court, volleyball courts, multiple playgrounds, a spray shower, as well as a large area dedicated to seasonal activities like roller skating, paddle tennis, and ice skating. A renovation in 1999 brought more friendly aspects into the park such as a marble mosaic map of the neighborhood, public space furniture, and new lighting features. It was generally a revamping, or revival, of the already featured aspects of the park.
In 1936, the Schiff Fountain was moved into Seward Park from a nearby Rutgers Park, gifted by Jacob H. Schiff to the Jewish people of the Lower East Side. He was a German-born Jewish American banker and philanthropist.
- Seal shaped spray showers honoring Senator Seward
At a size of just over 3 acres, and with over 50,000 visitors every month, Seward Park is named after William Henry Seward, a senator from New York (1849-1861) who is infamous for the country’s purchase of Alaska. This purchase, “Seward’s Folly”, inspired a seal spray shower and Mount McKinley (mountain peak in Alaska) play unit within the park.