Hermon A. MacNeil Park in College Point, Queens, NY offers 29 acres of spectacular waterfront property with sweeping views of the East River, Long Island Sound, Whitestone Bridge, Manhattan skyline, and the Bronx. MacNeil is popular with walkers, dogs, runners, cyclists, families, and fishermen. The park is filled with majestic trees – Littleleaf Linden, Pine, Sassafras, Sycamore, Horse Chestnut, Gingko, Maple and more. It boasts a waterfront esplanade (reconstruction to begin by fall of 2016), baseball fields, a basketball and handball court, a playground, and a Sept. 11 Memorial Tree Grove.
The histories of MacNeil Park and College Point are closely linked. In 1835, Rev. Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg purchased 134 acres of land in the area as the site of a new Episcopal seminary. Due to the financial panic of 1837, plans for an expensive stone school building were abandoned and a wood frame building was erected instead. St. Paul’s College, for which College Point is named, opened in 1839 but closed only 10 years later. The building was used for various schools (including a girls’ school and a nautical school) until it was demolished in 1900.
A stone building was ultimately built at the highest point on the grounds in 1848, but not for a seminary. Rev. Muhlenberg’s sister, Mary Rogers, purchased the huge blocks of blue-gray stone that had laid unused and built a mansion as a wedding gift to her daughter, Mary, who married William F. Chisolm, a former St. Paul’s student. The park was long called “Chisholm’s Park,” and is still called that by many long-time College Point residents.
In 1930, the City of New York purchased the stone mansion from the Rogers family along with the surrounding 28 acres to create a public park. Influential and controversial Parks Commissioner Robert Moses spearheaded the project. The property was assessed at $346,000 at the time, and the mansion was assessed at $27,750.
New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made the Chisolm mansion his summer City Hall in 1937, conducting his municipal business in July and August on the shores of the East River. The old mansion was ultimately razed in 1941. A flagpole at the top of the hill marks the site where it stood.
The park was renamed in honor of American sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947) in 1966 on the 100-year anniversary of his birth. MacNeil’s home and studio were adjacent to the park, on the site where Silverpoint and Riverview residences now stand. The renaming was the first local law signed by Mayor John V. Lindsay. MacNeil’s sculptures can be seen throughout New York City, including at Poppenhusen Institute in College Point, on the Washington Square Park arch, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The MacNeil Park esplanade has been closed to the public for several years due to a collapsing seawall and deep holes along the pathway. The NYC Parks Department is poised to begin a long-awaited, $3.9 million capital reconstruction of the esplanade in summer or fall of 2016. Beach access and a dedicated fishing area will also be added.