Bennett Park occupies the highest point of land in Manhattan, 265.05 feet above sea level. A large outcropping of Manhattan schist dominates the center of the park. The area was part of a densely wooded hill known as Penadnik to the Delaware Munsee Indians. Early Dutch settlers called this part of northern Manhattan “Long Hill” and found the land useful for lumbering.
During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington located his base of operations at this strategic high point, and established a similar fortification across the Hudson in Fort Lee, so he might gain control over river traffic. Fort Washington was built in 1776 and was the last stronghold for the Americans as the battle for New York swept northward on Manhattan Island. On November 16, British and Hessian troops swiftly attacked and seized Fort Washington in a pivotal defeat for the Americans. After the war, vestiges of the Fort disappeared, and the surrounding area became known as Washington Heights. At the south end of the park bluestone and granite paving outline the contours of the eastern section of Fort Washington.
In 1871 the land that is now the park was purchased by James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872), the prominent newspaper publisher and editor who is widely recognized as a pioneer of American popular journalism. Born in Keith, Scotland, Bennett emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1819 and settled in New York City four years later. He worked as the Washington correspondent for the New York Enquirer in 1827-28 and became associate editor for the Courier and Enquirer in 1829.
Bennett launched the New York Herald in 1835, assuming the responsibilities of editor, reporter, proof-reader, folder, and cashier. Because of his independent and opinionated style, Bennett was lambasted in other publications and was physically assaulted by two of the targets of his critical pen. Nevertheless, the newspaper’s coverage of finance and politics, crime and scandal, and national and international news, along with Bennett’s bold and often controversial editorials, made the Herald one of the most successful daily newspapers in the United States. Bennett retired in 1867 but continued to write for the Herald until he died on June 1, 1872. A massive memorial to him stands in Herald Square.
Bennett Park by Paul is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.