The Bronx is a borough of contradictions. In the popular imagination, it is the most urbanized of the city’s boroughs, densely filled with apartment buildings steetching towards the horizon. On the other hand, the Bronx also has three of the city’s largest parks: Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx Park, and Pelham Bay Park. At 127.5 acres, Crotona Park lives up to its name as the “Central Park of the South Bronx,” containing rocky outcroppings, winding trails, a forest, and Indian Lake- the last surface remnant of Bound Brook.
Bound Brook originated near the present-day intersection of Prospect Avenue and 175th Street. Flowing south, it entered the Bathgate estate, widening into the 3.3-acre Indian Lake, and then narrowing again into a creek, flowing in a valley along the eponymous Intervale Avenue on its way to the East River. Like most of the streams in the Bronx, it flowed from north to south, its path carved by the glaciers of the last ice age.
In 1888, the estate was acquired by the city as a park. Its namesake is the ancient Greek colony of Crotona in southern Italy, a place renowned for its Olympic athletes. The naming indicated that unlike Central Park, this new park would have active sports alongside passive elements such as walking paths and ponds.
With the arrival of elevated subway lines along Third Avenue and Westchester Avenue, the former village of Morrisania quickly urbanized, with its rolling rural landscape planted with rows of identical six-story apartments. To the park’s north, Tremont Park housed the old Bronx Borough Hall from 1897 to 1969. On the northeast, a linear park, Crotona Parkway linked to Bronx Park.
Above is a map from 1895 with Bound Brook and the park’s borders, and a more recent aerial from the Parks Department’s 2015 master plan for the park.
It was in this neighborhood that Edward Irving Koch was born in 1924. He later served as a Manhattan Congressman and mayor. During his childhood, Indian Lake was a popular place for ice skating and a warming hut on its shore served the park’s patrons. During the Great Depression, federally-funded works projects at the park included a bathhouse with a pool, tennis courts and a boathouse.
Following the policy that was applied to Kissena Lake, Bowne Pond and Linden Pond in Queens, the bottom and shoreline of Indian Lake were enveloped in concrete, functional but unattractive and not conducive to the growth of wildlife. Phragmites and algae blooms plagued the pond. The wholesale abandonment of the South Bronx in the 1970s contributed further to the pond’s deterioration. Instead of serving as the park’s centerpiece, it was becoming an afterthought. Indeed, the park was unsafe for visitors as gangs roamed through its forest and hills.
In 1996, the advocacy group Friends of Crotona Park was founded and efforts began on the restoration of the park. The former boathouse became a nature center, the slope on the lake’s southwest was given stone seating an a semicircular amphitheater arrangement, and a stone bridge reminiscent of Central Park was constructed on the lake’s southern side, where it drains into a small wetland. This wetland recreates what Bound Brook looked like, but for only a few short feet.
The 2015 Master Plan for Crotona Park speaks of the lake’s role as the centerpiece of the park.
With a naturalized shoreline and clear lines of sight from the surrounding slopes, Indian Lake is again living up to its 1883 description as having an “Adirondack” appearance.