Isham Park, located on Broadway between 211th Street and Isham Street, north to 218th Street, was part of a 24-acre estate purchased in 1864 by William Bradley Isham, a leather merchant who resided there until his death. Prior to this he and his wife had lived at various locations in lower Manhattan, such as at 19th Street, Fifth Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets, and Madison Avenue and 30th Street.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Isham were attached to their country estate. They had also attended and supported the Mount Washington Presbyterian Church, which was located on Dyckman Street between Broadway and Payson Street. The present church is located on Vermilyea Avenue between Academy and 204th Streets.
Mr. Isham retired from business in 1890 but remained as Director of the Bank of the Metropolis and President of the Bond and Mortgage Guarantee Company. He was also a manager of the Presbyterian Hospital (predecessor of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center) and Vice President of the Hospital of the Ruptured and Crippled.
William Isham was involved with farming and sent the only wheat grown on Manhattan to the Columbia Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. He had included as part of the exhibit ground from the old Van Cortlandt Mill from the Bronx.
The 20.097 acres of parkland was a culmination of donations by the Isham family and purchases of land by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation between 1925 and 1927. Julia Isham Taylor, one of the daughters of William Isham, donated a 6-acre parcel of her estate to the city on June 15, 1911, and October 26, 1917, to serve as a memorial to her father. Flora E. Isham, William Isham’s sister, donated her portion of the estate on March 21, 1912. The estate of Samuel Isham bequeathed more land for the park on April 10, 1915.
The Isham family wanted to preserve the views of the estate for future generations. These included views of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers as well as the Spuyten Duyvil. Unfortunately, buildings now block these former vistas.
Historically, the park was inhabited by the Wiechquaesgeck Indians of the Lenape Confederacy who had a settlement on what is now Indian Road. Archaeological digs in the area produced Native American pottery shards, weapons and shell implements. During the Battle of Fort Washington in November 1776, the Isham property served as a landing site and staging area for the Hessian forces during the attack on Fort Tryon Park to drive the Americans out of New York City.
The original design of the park included the Isham mansion, stables and greenhouse. The mansion, located on the summit of the hill, was demolished along with the other structures because of prohibitive upkeep costs. The only indication of this once-stately manor is the stone terrace and overlook on the park’s eastern slope. On the terrace is a 20-foot circular plaza with four stone crafted benches. The two benches within the plaza have inscriptions that read, “In memory of a home of Integrity and Affection” and “In That Mansion Used to Be Free Hearted Hospitality.” Opposite the benches, on the wall, is a plaque honoring the contributions of the Isham family and their donation of the property to the community.
There are ball fields and playgrounds that had been included in the original design of the park. Isham Park shares a common boundary with Inwood Hill Park, even though it is separated by Park Terrace West and Seaman Avenue. Within the park is a worn outcropping of Inwood Marble. There is also a Gekko tree that dates to the 1860s, when the property was initially purchased by Mr. Isham.
On 212th Street at the Broadway entrance of the park is a mile marker that was used during the colonial and Federalist period. This particular marker was to designate the distance of 13 miles to and from lower Manhattan. It was also the carriageway to the estate. Mile markers were common during that era for travelers showing distances to and from one location to another. The nearest mile marker to Isham Park is on the grounds of the Morris-Jumel Mansion on 160th Street and Edgecombe Avenue.
As mentioned earlier in this narrative, Mr. Isham was Director of the Bank of the Metropolis. In 1871 the bank was one of three banks located at Union Square. The bank had its headquarters in a 16-story building constructed in 1903 on 16th Street and Union Square West. The bank was bought in 1918 by the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which eventually became Chase Manhattan Bank. Presently, there is a restaurant in what used to be a branch of the bank, called The Blue Water Grill.
For more information on Isham Park, read the plaque installed in the park by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.