Carl Schurz Park

Location: Yorkville, East End Av between East 84th and 90th Streets

Date of Visit: March 24, 2017

Open from sunrise to midnight every day

Peter Pan statue.
Peter Pan Statue.

Many New York City parks have one thing in common: The further you walk into them, the less car traffic you hear. In Yorkville, this rings only half-true. Located at not-so-busy East End Avenue and above the bustling FDR Drive, the sounds you’ll mostly hear at Carl Schurz Park are people walking, wind rustling the trees, kids and dogs playing, and bikes along the River Walk.


Before it was created, the area (known as Hoorn’s Hook) used to be a bluff with a house built for merchant Jacob Walton. According to the New York State Military Museum, a nine-gun battery was planned at present-day 89th Street in February 1776, resulting in the British retaliating during the beginning of the American Revolution. In the process, Walton’s home was destroyed and replaced with a fort. After the Colonials defeated the British, Archibald Gracie, the latest owner of the land at the time, tore down the British battery and constructed Gracie Mansion on top of it in 1799.

During the 19th Century, the park south of East 86th Street was privately owned, and John Jacob Aster, a German-American real-estate mogul, once lived there. In 1891, the city bought the park, and the easternmost block of 86th street was de-mapped and redesigned, with the new landscape (designed by Samuel Parsons and Calvert Vaux, the latter who died during planning) completed in 1902. In 1935, to make room for the FDR Drive, Robert Moses reconstructed the park to be a deck above it.

Its namesake comes from Carl Schurz, a German-born reformer who served as Union Army General for the Civil War and Secretary of the Interior for Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and James A. Garfield. He spent the latter end of his life living in New York City.

Tranquil, Yet Fun

Out of all the main avenues in the Upper East Side, East End Avenue is the least bustling by far. There’s very little car traffic, and the only bus that travels to it — the M79 — terminates between 79th and 80th Streets. As a result of the park being built right on top of a highway, the noise of car engines and wheels rubbing the asphalt is drowned out unless you’re near the grated vent at the park’s northernmost hill.

Whenever snow falls and sticks to the ground, the lawns, hills, and sloping staircases become hotspots for activity. Kids and adults alike will spend several minutes, if not longer, taking part in traditional winter fun. The Hoop Garden at 86th Street and the two hills at 89th Street are well known in the neighborhood for sledding. If you ever want to stop for a visit during a time where the snow sticks and piles, chances are families from the neighborhood will be there. And if you and your family are uninterested in taking part…go, anyway.

Gracie Mansion behind lawn.
Gracie Mansion behind lawn.

Watching today’s kids sled along these hills reminds me of the times when I was a kid. After the snow fell and stuck, I often spent at least an hour with my mom at the hills sledding and rolling around in the snow. Unfortunately, winter 2017 had little snow, so people and their dogs occupy them instead. With spring right around the corner, the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy (a volunteer group) and New York Department of Parks and Recreation fenced the more fragile lawns until around Memorial Day and planted new grass. Every month, new flowers are gardened. Come spring, the ivy along the back of the Hoop Garden will begin to grow beautiful green leaves. As you face East End Avenue at 86th Street, the rows of trees are as naked as jaybirds during the winter. However, come April and May, flowers and leaves will occupy all of the branches, creating a more perfect spring paradise.

River Walk just outside the park.
River Walk just outside the park.

As long as they’re leashed, dogs are welcome, too. Very often, people young and old will walk their dogs along the park paths, the East River Walk nearby, and the lawns. In addition, there are two dog pens parallel to 85th Street right near the River Walk; here, people are permitted to unleash their dogs and let them play to their heart’s content.

If your kids are in the park during snow-free days, no biggie. Hopscotch over to the playground or roller hockey rink! The rink is where you may find the older kids playing, whether it’s skateboarding, roller skating, or basketball. Sometimes when school’s out for the day, week, or summer, groups full of kids may come over to play. On the day I visited, an older group skateboarded on one end, and the younger group played basketball on the other. Like virtually all NYC children’s playgrounds today, a sprinkler area is built there and will activate throughout the summer.

Despite its small size, coves of treasures are there to find if you know where to go, one of them being the bronze Peter Pan sculpture near 87th Street. In 1928, Charles Andrew Hafner created it for the fountain inside Times Square’s Paramount Theatre. Nine years after the theatre ended Broadway production, Hugh Trumbull Adams — son of Hugh L. Adams and part of a family of wealthy benefactors — donated it to the city, which decided to put it in the middle of the enclosed garden. In 1998, someone stole it; thankfully, it was found deep in the East River the next day.

The most famous landmark in the park, however, is Gracie Mansion. Built in 1799 by Archibald Gracie and originally his home until the mid-19th Century, many events were held there over the decades, including the famed Museum of the City of New York before moving westbound. In 1942, on Moses’s advice, Mayor La Guardia converted Gracie Mansion into the city mayor’s official home. Today, Mayor Bill de Blasio and family live there. Free, hour-long guided tours of the first two main floors are available every Tuesday at 10am, 11am, 2pm, and 3pm, so book in advance!

During the economic turmoil, Carl Schurz Park was poorly maintained. However, thanks to the collaboration of the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy and New York Department of Parks, it’s was slowly restored. Today, you can really see how much it’s changed over the years, especially when you look at before-and-after imagery of this great place.

Two Warnings

The current layout is over 80 years old, so walking into Schurz Park may feel like going back into time, usually for the best. Unfortunately, two areas haven’t improved: accessibility for the disabled and stair safety.

Each of the garden bowls is street-level, making them easily accessible for those who can’t climb stairs or are confined to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, the 89th Street entrance isn’t ADA-accessible: If you can’t climb stairs and want to travel along either the deck or River Walk, the only way to get there is the street-level walkway at East 84th Street.

Sloping stairs in foreground and middleground. Notice the lack of handrail
Sloping stairs in foreground and middleground. Notice the lack of handrail.

Secondly, the park’s design contains many staircases. All of them have no handrails for people to hold onto as he, she, ze, or they climb up or down. Many of the steps aren’t at a level plane, either; they slope downward a little. During bad weather, the stairs can become very slippery; after snowstorms, the blocks of snow can turn into ice, and on stairs, the risk of serious injury increases. So, if you want to visit Schurz Park, best to go on a clear, dry day.


Nevertheless, as long as you watch your step, Carl Schurz Park will be a treat for you. From the dog pens to the beautiful gardens, it’s a step away from Manhattan’s bustle without leaving the city or island. Gracie Mansion is the most famous landmark there, but the Peter Pan Garden and statue and varying flowers are a part of this place’s nostalgic-filled trove. At 14.9 acres, it may not be anywhere as big as Central Park, but it’s just as inviting, breathtaking, and definitely worth the visit.

Best Directions:

  • From The Bronx, depending on the neighborhood location, take the Manhattan-bound 4, 5, or 6 train to East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue.

    From the other boroughs, take either the Lexington Avenue 4, 5, or 6 to 86th and Lex or the Manhattan-bound Q train to East 86th Street and 2nd Avenue.

    If traveling from a northern Queens neighborhood like Astoria and taking the M60 +Select to Lexington and 125th, your best East Side access is the 4, 5, or 6.
  • Once you leave the subway, walk to East End Avenue. Several entrances are available, but the only one ADA accessible is at 84th Street.