Each day, Seward Park is filled with activity—women dancing, teenagers playing basketball, kids scrambling around on the playground equipment, people practicing Tai Chi, parents pushing baby carriages and seniors resting on benches. Here are a few personal stories from people who enjoy the Park.
For a small park, we have a lot of history. Part of our history is bound up with Alaska! William H. Seward, for whom our park is named,was the Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. He purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for seven million dollars. At the time it was called "Seward's Folly" by the press but it proved to be a wise investment.
In our park, guarding the "small children" playground, on East Broadway there is a lovely statue of a husky in full gallop. This is Togo. His ears are shiny because many a child enjoys jumping on his back and using them to hold on.
Hold on they should, because Togo was the lead sled dog of a man named Leonhard Seppalia.
Togo had been sick as a young puppy and had required intensive nursing from Seppalia's wife. Later he became very bold and rowdy, thus he was seen as "difficult and mischievous, showing all the signs of becoming a canine delinquent," according to one reporter. Later it became clear that his bravery, energy and tenacity would make him a champion sled dog.
In 1925 Seppalia and Togo together made a difficult and dangerous journey across central and northern Alaska to bring diphtheria serum to Nome. With other mushers and 100 dogs they braved minus 30 degree temperatures, ice floes,and 5,000 foot mountain peaks before handing off the cargo to another musher and another sled dog named Balto (who has a celebrated statue in Central Park) for the last part of the trip.
Many mushers today consider Balto to be the back-up dog, as Seppalia's team led by Togo covered the longest and most hazardous leg of the journey. They made a round trip of 365 miles.
Our brave Togo does not have a plaque in front of his statue in our park. We think he deserves one!
While I was deadheading roses in the garden, a woman commented on how beautiful the flowers were and how she too grew roses. We chatted about plants and I asked her about her roses and where she grew them. She told me that she still lives on the Lower East Side but she tended the roses at her son’s house. He’d moved to Huntington, Long Island twenty years ago. She explained that her ties to the community keep her in the neighborhood. Here she can speak her native tongue and easily obtain the foods associated with her Chinese homeland.
As fate would have it, Huntington is my hometown. I moved from there to the East Village some twenty years ago. It’s likely that her grandchildren go to the schools I attended or play in the same town park I did as a child. This shared connection to a fellow gardener delighted me and got me thinking about my own family and its ties to the neighborhood.
Retracing my own family tree, Thomas Gill emigrated from Ireland and married an American, Ann Lee who was of English descent. Thomas was the accountant for the New York Post for twenty-five years from 1808 to 1833, after which he founded a newspaper, The Evening Star, with Mordecai Manuel Noah. Thomas suffered a stroke in the garden behind his house at 181 Orchard Street and died a few days later. His daughter Mary married John Howe, my great-great-great-grandfather, who owned a clothing shop at 204 Chatham, which is now in the heart of Chinatown.
My fellow gardener calls home what my ancestors once called home, and her son calls home what I once called home. Isn’t it amazing to know what so many of us have in common with each other? Though my family immigrated in the 1700s and hers in the 1900s, our stories overlap on the map of New York and right here on the Lower East Side.
Ornate and lovely pieces of terra cotta were donated to the park and placed in the garden. They have been repurposed to the benefit of the park and serve as flower planters and a birdbath. But where did they come from?
Seward Park Conservancy is fortunate to have a board member who is the architect involved in the adaptive reuse of the historic Jarmulowsky Bank building. The building, located at the intersection of Canal and Orchard Streets, was built in 1912 just a few years after the city officially opened Seward Park.
The Jarmulowsky building, which was landmarked in 2009, is currently undergoing renovation to become a boutique hotel. During the course of the renovation it was discovered that the terra cotta pieces have withstood a century of neglect and will need to be replaced. The entire decorative frieze was removed and the best pieces are being used to cast a mold from which all new pieces will be created.
Roundel and the surrounding console have been installed in four areas of the garden: They are now planters. The festoon pieces were removed from the cornice at the highest point of the current iteration of the Jamulowsky building, and are being used as a decorative birdbaths in the center of the garden.
We are very lucky to have these beautiful and historic fixtures bestowed upon us and that a piece of history can remain locally for all to enjoy.
Looking out my window
I moved to East Broadway in 2006 from the Upper West Side. I moved downtown for a change and because I fell in love with the building where I now live. Soon, however, the charm, history and beauty of Seward Park began working it's magic on me as well.
The same year I moved downtown, The Junior League of New York chose to re-plant and refresh the Seward Park Garden. Several of us decided to volunteer our time and energy to help maintain the new, vulnerable plantings. I found, over time, that the gardening became a source of great satisfaction, exercise and relaxation for me and I suspect for other of our "regulars."
Now it is 2015. As you can see from the pictures on this web site, the garden is flourishing. Our small band of volunteer gardeners has now become The Seward Park Conservancy.
The whole of Seward Park is a community resource and a never ending playground for children and adults alike. We are so lucky to have it and we hope to help maintain and improve it for generations to come. Seward Park represents both historically and practically the best of the great public park system that we New Yorkers are so lucky to have in our city.
Cones, Robes, and Buddhist Monks
It was one of those perfect hot spring days. The one that you’ve been waiting for and when it finally comes you think, yes, soon it will be summer. It was with this thought in the front of my brain that I heard the song of the ice cream truck as I emerged from the East Broadway subway station. Although I was tired and wanted to go home, the day was just too beautiful to be indoors, so I treated myself to a soft serve chocolate cone with chocolate sprinkles and walked into Seward Park. As I walked down the main path, surrounded by a cathedral of old elm trees shading my way I went straight to the back of the park. Once there I was surprised to see that the volleyball area was filled with men of all ages dressed in saffron robes fully engaged in volleyball. How wonderful it was to see these Buddhist monks enjoying themselves in this great space. To top it off, they had an old school boom box that had Buddhist chants playing on it. As I sat on the bench enjoying my cone, small children darted around me completely oblivious to the sacred chants accompanying men in flowing robes playing volleyball in this urban park where generations of immigrants played, relaxed, and loved.