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Mac Neil Park: Many feet have walked this land

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We can assume that the Matinecocks, who were common to the College Point area, were the first to reside on the rich earth today known as Mac Neil Park.

The next recorded inhabitants of that land were the students of St. Paul’s College, from whence we get our name, College Point. Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg, the rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Flushing, founded the school. It was he who had grandiose plans for building a beautiful stone college for seminary school students on this tree-shaded land overlooking the East River and Flushing Bay.

A financial crisis at the time forced him to alter his plans and simple free structures were built instead in 1938. The college was short-lived. All that remains of it today is the name of our community and a large white stone step from the college’s dock. The stone lies shaded by a linden tree in the corner of the Poppenhusen Institute’s yard.

On part of the property that belonged to the college a beautiful atone mansion was built. It is believed that the stones originally intended for the college were used to erect the mansion. The mansion was a wedding gift to Mrs. William Edings Chisolm. She, a niece of Dr. Muhlenberg, married William Edings Chisolm, who had been a student at the college.

William Chisolm had been born in Charleston, S.C., in 1823. He came north to St. Paul's College to receive his education. In 1848 he married Mary Rogers. Here in 1865, his son Benjamin Ogden Chisolm was born. He was the last of the family to live in the old mansion. He became famous as a banker, philanthropist and as an advocate of prison reform.

In 1936 reporter Sara Wilford toured the house and wrote: “The kitchen, four pantries, a servant's hall and four servants’ rooms are in the south wing. The main part of the house at the north has sweeping views of the Sound, Flushing Bay and the faraway skyline of Manhattan from every window.

The main entrance is on the west side of the house, although there is another carriage entrance at the side between the library and the conservatory.

A 5-foot center hall with a magnificent curving stairway with solid oak banisters and handrails divides the main part of the house. On one side downstairs are the state dining room and the informal family sitting rooms and on the other are three great rooms that were opened for parties and formal calls.

At the front is the music room with a pure white marble fireplace with delicate leaf carvings and fluted columns.

In the center, O-shaped, facing north through a large bay window is the great parlor and behind it is the library. The views from these room are as perfect as anything we have ever seen, particularly from the bay window where to the north, east and west, there is a uninterrupted view of trees, water and sky.

Upstairs are the bedrooms (and the bathrooms) and in the attic are more snug rooms. Even in the attic the floor is as smooth as glass. Another oak stairway leads from the attic to an observatory on the roof.

At the time of this report there were plans to establish a museum for relics of the Civil War. This never came to be.

In July and August of 1937, the mansion was used by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia as his “Summer City Hall.” The mayor commuted by “motor” from his house in Harlem.

Another Summer City Hall of the time was the Barrow Mansion in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The city's mayors often would find summer homes in the boroughs where cool breezes could refresh them during the summers.

Despite a long and dedicated fight by the community, the mansion was razed in 1941. The job was done by over 100 WPA workers supervised by the Parks Department. The community at that time had intended for the mansion to because a children's museum for Queens. This was not to be.

On Sept. 7, 1925, this land was almost lost to us as park land.

The old Chisolm Estate was divided up into 360 plots to be auctioned off by auctioneer Joseph P. Day.

They were advertised as:

High Ground

Healthful Local

Easy accessibility

Pleasant atmosphere

Schools, churches and stores nearby.

Just a 5¢ fare from nearby flourishing Flushing.

“The ferry from College Point to the Bronx is also within a few blocks of these College Point waterfront lots.”

Included in the sale was also the well-built stone mansion with outdoor swimming pool, stables and several cottages. (Torn down 1n 1941}

“Buy one or more lots” at your own price.

Fortunately, due to the efforts of various community activists of the day this did not take place but became our treasured community park.

Once called Chisolm Park, today it is known as Mac Neil Park, named after the world-famous sculptor who lived just a stone’s throw away from the park. The studio and home of Mac Neil are presently owned by a developer and are slated to be torn down.

Today Mac Neil Park is well utilized by the community. The children frolic and play there daily under the watchful eyes of their parents. In the summer, the community is treated to free summer park concerts that are sponsored by Popenhusen Institute and Parks Department.

(From the archives of the Poppenhusen Institute)

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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