Cannonball Park, whatever its name, is a valued Bay Ridge institution
Several of Southwest Brooklyn’s major traffic arteries – Shore Road, Fourth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway – converge at a small park, slightly larger than 5 acres, that is home to several military monuments. The park is called John Paul Jones Park, in honor of the first U.S. naval commander during the Revolutionary War, but locals call it Cannonball Park.
Hey Ridge recently posted a history of the park, which was originally known as Fort Hamilton Park. For many years, into the early 19th century, it was owned by the Denyses, an old Dutch family. After Fort Hamilton was built in 1831, a small “village” catering to servicemen and their visitors sprung up on the site, complete with hotels, fishing facilities, restaurants, music pavilions and a bowling alley, according to Hey Ridge.
After the village’s main hotel, the Grand View, burned down in 1893, the area started to decline. Around 1898, the City of Brooklyn began buying the land with the intention of building a park.
The park’s centerpiece, a huge, 58-ton cannon that dated to the Civil War, was installed in 1900. From that time on, the park was heavily used by community residents, although it was occasionally taken over by Fort Hamilton for military ceremonies, Hey Ridge said.
A second monument, the Dover Patrol memorial obelisk, commemorated British troops who guarded both sides of the English Channel during World War I. To make room for it, the cannon was moved about 100 feet, Hey Ridge reported.
In the following decades, the park was the object of typical park users’ complaints — too much trash, too much noise, not enough care given to the trees and plants — but it continued to be popular. Older buildings on the edge of the park, remnants of the earlier “village,” were demolished, such as the circa-1838 Church Mansion on the eve of World War II.
In 1964, in conjunction with the opening of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the cannon and obelisk were moved further inland to their current location. The park was renamed after John Paul Jones in 1969, according to Hey Ridge.
The park saw angry confrontations between anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and pro-war neighborhood residents in the late 1960s. In 2002, with the conflict safely in the past, a Vietnam War Memorial marker was installed in the park to commemorate the 28 Bay Ridge men who died during the conflict.
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