Westerleigh Park and the neighborhood of Westerleigh take their name from the Westerleigh Collegiate Institute of Staten Island, once located nearby. The institute was founded at the end of the 19th century, an unusual and defining period in area history. The Westerleigh neighborhood's late 19th-early 20th century charm and 'simple life' philosophy are protected by special zoning laws, implemented in 1989 that have helped to maintain the bygone character. As a result, traffic and noise levels are considerably lower than in other areas of Staten Island, and community life is active and close-knit.
First purchased in 1848 by John Vanderbilt, the Westerleigh property was sold by his daughter Sarah to Christopher S. Williams and and William H. Boole bought the property on behalf of the National Prohibition Campground Party, for the creation of a summer retreat. By July of the next year, the National Prohibition Campground Association had built a large camping facility - complete with ballfields, tennis courts, a lecture platform, a bowling alley, stables, woodlands, ponds, and a spring - to provide months of productive relaxation to members of the Party and followers of the Prohibition Movement. This period was the height of the anti-alcohol movement, and the Campground was busy with meetings, lectures, and religious services in addition to more recreational activities.
In 1891, a permanent multi-purpose facility called University Temple was built. Among the visiting lecturers invited to speak were former president Theodore Roosevelt and the outspoken populist William Jennings Bryant. Westerleigh's many summertime residents included John St. John, a one-time presidential candidate and staunch advocate for the rights of working children.
The number of visitors to the camp declined slowly but steadily as the 1880s came to a close. Westerleigh made the transition from a tent-dotted summer community to a real neighborhood with year round residents. Permanent streets and sidewalks were laid, and the Dutch Colonial and Victorian houses that are still characteristic in the area were built. Westerleigh Collegiate Institute was founded in 1895. It was the first school on Staten Island to provide a complete kindergarten-college education. The neighborhood, previously called National Prohibition Park, gradually came to be known as Westerleigh.
The site of Westerleigh Park, bounded by Maine Springfield, Neal Dow, and Willard avenues, was donated to the City in 1907 by the National Prohibition Park Company. At that time, it was a part of the 15-acre 'picnic grove', or 'pleasure grove' of the National Prohibition Park complex. The property was donated with the understanding that it would be used for public recreational purposes and events. In 1923, the Staten Island Parks Department constructed a large octagonal bandstand in the park. Concerts in Westerleigh Park quickly became popular, drawing crowds of up to 500. Children's plays were also performed at the bandstand. The popularity of Westerleigh Park's concerts has continued throughout the 20th century. Westerleigh Park contains a flagpole with a yardarm and several varieties of plans and trees. Neighborhood events include an annual Patriotic Sunday in celebration of Flag Day and Independence Day, a children's Halloween party, and a Christmas tree lighting.
Courtesy of the NYC Parks Department
Northerleigh Park is among the most cherished of Staten Island's many natural treasures. Locate between North and Burnside Avenues, and Shaw Place, in the neighborhood of Westerleigh, the park is an emblem of the pride that local residents take in their community.
Westerleigh was once the headquarters of the National Prohibition Party. This 19th-century group called for vehement opposition to the use of alcohol in any way. Beginning as a summer meeting place for the party in the late 1880s, Westerleigh developed slowly into a residential neighborhood. Roads and sidewalks were laid at the turn of the 20th century, and a community school was built. Today the Westerleigh neighborhood remains much the same as it was 100 years ago. One-family Victorian, Dutch and English styles homes still line the streets and zoning regulations that prevent large businesses from moving to the area, have so far been successful in preserving its small town feel.
The City purchased the original three acres of Northerleigh Park in 1907 from the National Prohibition Park Company. Largely undeveloped at the time, most of the property remained undisturbed woodland for the next 60 years. Although there was some talk of using the land as a station for the Staten Island railroad in 1925, the idea never came to fruition. The Board of Estimate assumed control over the site in 1854, assigning it to Parks in 1963.
In the 1960s, a community group by the name of the Westerleigh Little Guys & Gals began to develop a part of the site as a baseball field. The Westerleigh Little Guys & Gals used the land by seasonal permit.Through their efforts, the proposed ball field soon became a reality in the southwest section of the new North Avenue Park. In time, Parks began to maintain the field in collaboration with the little league. It was named Charles J. McClaughry Sr. Memorial Field in 1999. McClaughry (1936-1997) was a Staten Island native and the founder of the Westerleigh Little Guys & Gals league. A father of six, Mr. McClaughry lived just behind Northerleigh Park.
In 1986, street rearrangement added about half an acre to the park. Although Parks gave up 17,830 square feet of the park property, including six houses left standing from the original purchase, the park gained 22,187 square feet of the land from adjoining lots.
Northerleigh Park received extensive renovations in 1989 with $437,000 in funding from the office of Borough President Ralph J. Lamberti. Additions included new fencing, sidewalks, security lighting, drinking fountains, and shrubbery. The ball field was upgraded, with storage areas provided for team equipment, and improved storm drainage. Originally named North Avenue Park, Commissioner Henry J. Stem renamed it Northerleigh Park in 1996, a name inspired by its surrounding neighborhood. Today, the fence displays the placards of the many local teams that call the park their own.