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The 1,146 acre Van Cortlandt Park is New York City’s fourth largest park. The Parade Ground area of the park, which had been undergoing reconstruction work, reopened on May 5th with the addition of better drainage, irrigation and clay pitches. The park now features ten clearly demarcated regulation sized cricket grounds (see map below) and is, by a distance, the largest cricket facility in North America.
The Reopening of Van Cortlandt
The reopening, which was hosted by the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy and attended by about 100 cricketers, featured speeches by Nick Astbury, Deputy Consul General of Great Britain and Herman Lamont, Consul General of Jamaica. Nina Habib Spencer, secretary of the conservancy’s board of directors, spoke at the event.
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal covered the reopening. In an article titled "Sport of Many Nation Finds a Home in the Bronx," the Times noted: 'With the new complex, the Bronx has a total of 18 dedicated cricket fields, more than any other borough, according to city officials. (Brooklyn is next with 16 fields, followed by Queens, with 13.)'
One thing is for certain, the grounds will not have an idle weekend day. Bronx's New York Cricket League, New York's Public Schools Athletic League, Commonwealth Cricket League, and West Indian Softball Association, all have plans to use the ground.
Milford Lewis of New York Cricket League was a relieved man. His seven-team league had been dormant for three years awaiting the reopening of the park. “It’s bigger, wider, greener and more luscious,” Lewis told the Times. “It’s a far cry from where it was before. I feel on top of the world.”
“No other borough has promoted the game to the extent that the Bronx has,” Commonwealth Cricket League President Lesly Lowe told the paper.
Van Cortlandt History
Jacobus Van Cortlandt purchased part of the property in 1699 from a Dutch immigrant who swore allegiance to the British - Frederick Philipse.
Frederick Philipse was New York's wealthiest man, having started his career selling iron nails and eventually becoming the owner of vast tracts of land, some 52,000 acres in all, along the Hudson river.
The acquisition of this land by Jacobus Van Cortlandt was followed by his marriage to Frederick's daughter Eva Philipse, Subsequently, Van Cortlandt made further acquisitions of land, adding to his holdings in Bronx.
The Van Cortlandt family is very much a part of American history. Jacobus himself was twice elected the Mayor of New York. Jacobus' grandson John Jay was a governor of New York, a founding father and USA's first Chief Justice. His wife's sister Mary Philipse was George Washington's first love.
The Van Cortlandt family farmed the land until the 1870s. The land was sold to New York city as urban sprawl on the city's northern fringes threatened to engulf. The City finally acquired the title to the property on December 12, 1888.
Cricket at Van Cortlandt
Cricket has been played in the park since 1913, according to some sources. According to park historians, the Parade Ground area may have been used for various sports before World War I but the National Guard had priority and conducted mock warfare and played polo on the ground.
In 1917, the Army took over the ground. Following the war, in 1938, public regained access and provisions were once again made for baseball, cricket and soccer. Cricket has been played uninterrupted since 1938 until the fields were closed in 2010 for the $13 milllion reconstruction of the Parade Ground.
[Map courtesy: NYC Parks]