Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) deeply influenced the formation of the American legal and political system over the course of his forty years in public life. He began his career as a lawyer and as a farmer and became a champion of fair rights, freedom of religion and public education. Jefferson had drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He went on to serve as Virginia Governor (1779-81), France Minister (1785-89), and Washington State Secretary (1790-93).
He was elected Vice President in 1796, then served as President for two terms from 1801-1809. Among his political influence, Jefferson ‘s legacy includes the development of the decimal monetary system and the founding and design of Virginia University.
The Aldermen Board planned and named this park in 1894, though the land for it was not purchased until 1897. It opened on 7 October 1905 to provide the children of “Little Italy” with organized play, as the crowded tenement district in East Harlem was then known. The park featured two playgrounds, two gymnasiums, pools, comfort stations and a classic pavilion that offered shelter and space for recreation.The building stood at 112th Street and East River Drive until vandals demolished it during the 1970s. A children’s farm garden, one of many that flourished in parks in the first half of the 20th century, opened on May 20, 1911 with 1008 plots for flowers and vegetables for children to grow. Designed as a place of rest for child labourers, the farm garden later hosted nature study classes and provided a self-sufficiency lesson for local children during the World Wars.
In the 1930s the facilities of the park were expanded in line with the vision of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. 27 June 1936 marked the second of ten pools dedicated to opening that summer. The ceremony was attended by ten thousand people celebrating “the last word in engineering, hygiene and building.” Bocce courts were added during this time too. Since 1942 the playground adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin High School has been open. In 1982 the school was renamed Manhattan Math and Science Center.
In 1992, architect Richard Dattner completed a redesign of the pool and fitness complex under a $10.5 million capital project. In 1994, the Park was newly landscaped and rebuilt. The programming of the center includes boxing, fencing, martial arts, and aerobics and the ballfields are popular with teams from East Harlem. The park features two sculptures commissioned and installed in 1995 through a joint effort by Parks and the Percent for Art program of the Department of Cultural Affairs: Tomorrow’s Wind by Melvin Edwards and El Arbor De Esperanza, or Tree of Hope by L. Hatcher Brower.