MacNeil Park, Queens

In my effort to document some of the city’s landforms that just out into the water, the tip of College Point offers a landscape of hills with views of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Rikers Island. Hermon A. MacNeil Park honors a famous local sculptor, but it also obscures the previous owners of this tip, the Chisholm family who had a mansion on the site of this park with great views of the East River.

The tip of College Point appears on old maps as Chisholm Point, after the family that owned it from 1848 through 1930. On the left is Hunts Point and on the right where Whitestone Bridge has its Bronx landing is Ferry Point. Between them are the mouths of Bronx River, Pugsley Creek, and Westchester Creek. The resolution is small, but there is a NYCFerry boat on the other side at the Soundview landing. Also visible here is College Point Reef, a rock topped by a signal.

Where This Is

The park’s terrain is reminiscent of Olmsted’s creations with winding trails that respect the topography along with sports fields and playgrounds preferred by Robert Moses. Poppenhusen Avenue marks the park’s southern border, named after a neighborhood industrialist who developed this community in the mid-19th century. The Chisholm property was purchased by the city in 1930 and preserved as a park.

The park has two hills, with the western one being the highest. Prior to 1941, that hill was topped by the Chisholm Mansion. From Astoria to Huntington, the north shore of Long Island was known as the Gold Coast for the mansions that stood atop hills and at the tip of points overlooking the Long Island Sound. Nearly all of those that stood in Queens are gone. I’ve written previously about Golden Pond in Bayside, also a park built on the site of a waterfront mansion. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was the first mayor to reside in Gracie Mansion, but in his effort to represent the entire city, he also had the Summer City Hall program where he took residency in other historic mansions. In 1937, the Chisholm Mansion had the desk of the city’s chief executive.

The city’s parks have dozens of historic mansions and houses with examples such as Bartow-Pell, Van Cortlandt, Rufus King, Conference House, and Morris-Jumel. But there were many more that did not survive the wrecking ball. A flagpole marks the site of Chisholm’s mansion atop this nearly 40-foot high hill.

From the hill where the mansion stood, one can see the park’s playground and the octagonal comfort station built in the park’s first decade. College Point Park was renamed for Hermon A. MacNeil in 1966 by the City Council, in honor of a local resident whose monumental sculptures can be seen across the country. In contrast to Manhattan, the shoreline of College Point does not have a continuous green ribbon of parks and waterfront walkways. Much of it is privately owned. The 28-acre Hermon A. MacNeil Park and nearby 55-acre Powells Cove Park are the largest parcels of public green space on the water in College Point.

As with many waterfront parks from the Robert Moses administration, natural shorelines were replaced with seawalls. In recent decades, more naturalistic methods of defining shorelines such as riprap and restored salt marshes have appeared at waterfront parks, including here.

Another recent installation at Hermon A. MacNeil Park are the educational signs on the oyster reef restoration and its native wildlife, cormorants and horseshoe crabs. These two signs can be found at the park’s eastern edge, where a ramp descends into the water for canoe access. Next to the park are a set of townhouses built in the 1990s atop landfill that extended land into the East River. In the background is the tip of Hunts Point, Bronx with its wholesale food market.

On this former landfill is a privately maintained waterfront park that is open to the public. Looking east one can see the Tallman Island Wastewater Treatment Plant and Whitestone Bridge behind it. The Bronx side of this bridge is Ferry Point Park. Pilings in the water are the remnants of docks from a century ago when shipbuilding and other maritime industries lined this shore.

Learn More:

If you liked this essay on the tip of College Point, see my other essays on the city’s other spits of land, such as Stony PointCrooke’s Point, Hunters PointBreezy PointThrogs Neck, and Clason Point.

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