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Guide to the Woman's League for the Protection of Riverside Park Records
1916-1938 (Bulk 1916-1931)
  MS 139

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Kathryn Kashmiry

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 04, 2011
Description is in English.

Historical Note

Woman's League for the Protection of Riverside Park was formed in May of 1916 with the objective to protect Riverside Park from proposed landscape alterations brought forth by the New York Central Railroad Company and the City of New York. Upon its establishment in 1916, an Executive Board consisting of mostly residents from the Upper West Side was established. Mrs. Charles Austin Bryan was the founding President. The five founding Vice Presidents were Mrs. James M. Stewart, Mrs. John Clapperton Kerr, Mrs. Arthur Melville Shrady, Mrs. John Caldwell Coleman, and Mrs. William R. Stewart. Members and individuals supporting the League's mission and activities primarily resided in the Upper West Side neighborhood. By 1918, the League represented over five hundred members. The first luncheon of the League was held on May 18, 1921 at the Claremont.

In 1916, the League primarily advocated for provisions to protect the park from the developments of the Port and Terminal facilities of New York City. These developments were the result of New York Central Railroad Company's West Side Improvement Plan, one of the largest projects undertaken jointly by public and private interests in Manhattan. The plan proposed developments to cover the railroad north of 72nd Street, construct an express motor highway, and create an additional 32 acres of recreational space for the public. The City of New York and the New York Central Railroad Company reached an agreement on July 2, 1929 concerning the Improvement Project. The Improvement Plan was dedicated on July 18, 1934 and completed in 1937.

The League was engaged with many matters concerning the planning and negotiations of the West Side Improvement Project, especially with matters concerning Riverside Park. Large portions of records in the collection reflect exchanges between the League and representatives of the West Side Improvement Engineering Committee. The Engineering Committee included representatives from the Board of Transportation, the Transit Commission, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the Borough of Manhattan, the Port of New York Authority, and the New York Central Railroad Company. The League was successful in negotiations with the Park Department and New York Central Railroad Company for the construction of foundations and walls covering the tracks as far as 82nd Street, the restoration of the southerly end of Riverside Park, provisions for boating and recreational facilities along the river, the removal of shacks along the river front and coal pockets from 96th Street, and the paving of the promenade north of 96th Street.

The League was also involved in park projects that promoted civic improvement and environmental preservation. In 1926, the League dedicated the area of Riverside Park extending from 116th to 124th Streets as an area called the "Memorial Grove of States." The League planted 72 trees, a memorial tree to an unknown solider of each state in the Union, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, in addition to planting 19 trees as a memorial to special patriots. The League also had an area in the park they referred to as the Bird Sanctuary. The League recorded the variety of migratory birds in the Sanctuary during its early years.

The League was involved in a variety of projects promoting the Park's significant role in the lives of children and residents of New York City. From the early days of the League, the League had an interest in the children in public and private schools, and the care and protection of the parks. Troop 599 Boy Scouts of America patrolled the Groves daily. The school children of public schools Nos. 54 and 179 planted trees in the park. The league encouraged children to make bird houses for placement in the trees in Riverside Park. They held birdhouse and poster contests. There was an exhibition of birdhouses and posters at the American Museum of Natural History, at the Columbia Yacht Club, and the Exposition of Women's Arts.

On November 18, 1938, the final meeting of the League's Executive board was held. The League's surplus funds were given to the Audubon Society for the care of the Bird Sanctuary and to the Park Department for the care of the Memorial Graves. The content in the League's records demonstrate the following two variants of the League's name: the Woman's League for the Protection of Riverside Park and the Women's League for the Protection of Riverside Park.