Westerleigh Park, Staten Island past and present

Posted by Anthony Licciardello on Friday, May 4th, 2012 at 10:25pm.

The history of Westerleigh Park has much to do with the history of the entire neighborhood of Westerleigh, itself.  It all began with the American Civil War, which took place during the 1860s. If you learned about American history in grade school, there's a high chance you were taught of the American Civil War. During those schools days, you probably awesterleigh_park_1_400lso learned about causes and effects. The American Civil War, as you may know, had many of both.  One effect about which you may not have learned at such a young age was the fact that this specific war led to excessive alcoholism.

Once people began to realize how horrible the effects of the beverage actually were, concerned citizens decided to do something about it.  In 1869, just four years after the American Civil War began, the Prohibition Party was formed. While this was not the first time Americans tried to prohibit the use of alcohol, it was certainly a big step-especially for Staten Island. By 1887, twenty-five acres on Staten Island were acquired by a temperance group known as the National Prohibition Campground Association.  In time, the site became a summer resort for members of the movement.  This resort came to be known as Prohibition Park.

Prohibition Park was originally bounded by the streets of Demorest Avenue, Maine Avenue, Wardwell Avenue, and Watchogue Road, as they are called today. The Prohibition Party had many facilities installed in the park for members of the temperance movement, as well as their families, to use.  These facilities included a bowling alley, sports fields, and tennis courts.  In the northeastern corner of the resort, an enormous auditorium was constructed. This auditorium, which was known as University Temple, was used for lectures and sermons and seated 4,000 people. In 1903, however, the building burned down.

westerleigh_park_3_400In 1907, the National Prohibition Campground Association donated a little less than three acres of land within Prohibition Park to the City of New York. This parcel of land was surrounded by Maine Avenue, Neal Dow Avenue, Springfield Avenue, and Willard Avenue. At the turn of the century, there were no city-owned parks on Staten Island. Owing to this, the area that had been acquired by the City of New York was transformed into a park.  It is believed that this site was the first to be donated to the City of New York for use as a park.  Today, the site is known as Westerleigh Park.

When it was initially constructed, Westerleigh Park was just what its name declares-it was a park located within the neighborhood of Westerleigh.  It did not include the grand facilities that Prohibition Park had, such as the tennis courts.  Today, there are still no sports fields or playgrounds located westerleigh_park_2_400within the park. However, in 1923, a bandstand was built on the site.  In its early days, it was used for the same purposes for which University Temple was used.  Concerts were also held there.  As the years went by, school performances began to be held there, in addition to the concerts, which still occur to this day. Today, field trips and other events are also hosted at Westerleigh Park. Due to the neighborhood's patriotism, Flag Day and Independence Day are celebrated annually on the last Sunday in June at the park.

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