On October 2, 1910, crowds gathered at what was then known as the East River Park to mark the 9th annual German day celebration of the United German Societies of New York City. The day’s festivities included orchestral and choral music, demonstrations by members of the Turn Verein (Tumbling Club), and traditional German food. It was also the day that the park would be renamed and dedicated to honor German-American and statesman Carl Schurz.
Carl Schurz, a native of Cologne Germany, immigrated to the United States as a political refugee and soon became entrenched in the politics of his new home. Schurz served as a general under Lincoln during the Civil War, a United States Senator, an ambassador and was eventually appointed Secretary of the Interior in 1877. He was an inspired writer and many leading politicians of the day called upon him to speak on their behalf.
Schurz lived and worked throughout the country and did not settle in New York City until 1881. Here, he managed The Nation and the New York Evening Post and wrote for Harper’s Weekly. He also continued his political engagements.
On the occasion of Schurz’s death in 1906, President Grover Cleveland said; “I look upon the death of Mr. Schurz as a National affliction. Though he had reached length of years and though his activity had waned, he was still a power and strong influence in the life and sentiment of his countrymen.” A sign of his enduring influence can be seen in the 1910 campaign to have the park renamed in his honor.
This site initially served as a strategic defense site during the Revolutionary War, complete with a fort to protect an important shipping passage called Hell Gate. The park later became home to Gracie Mansion, built by Archibald Gracie in 1799. The mansion has been the official home of the Mayor of New York since 1942, and prior to that was the first home of the Museum of the City of New York.
Today Carl Schurz Park provides views of the East River, the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, and Randall’s and Wards Islands. The park is also home to free concerts, art shows, and other activities throughout the year.