01 April 2010

Parks Department Doesn't Know Much About Carroll Park, Charles Carroll, History

I took a good long look recently at the historical plaque at the northwest corner of Carroll Park which tells the history of the plot of land bordered by President and Carroll Streets to the north and south, Smith and Court to the east and west. You find these plaques at every small park, and you kind of accept what they have to say, figuring the Parks Department knows its parks. But I've been doing a lot of digging into the history of Carroll Park history. So I was rather stunned to find the sign's account to be full of errors, one of them a whopper.

First of all, the sign perpetuates the popular myth that Carroll Park was once a private park. I have found nothing in my research to substantiate the idea that the park was ever private, in the nature of Gramercy Park. The notion for the park was laid out by local landowners in 1851 and always conceived of as a public park. The sign misspells the name of the surveyor who laid out the famous deep gardens that give Carroll Gardens its name. It's Richard Butt, not Richard Butts. This is somewhat forgivable. Many books have made this error. It likely derives from the fact that Butt was famous for a map of Brooklyn he published in 1846, called "Butt's Map."

But it's harder to forgive the sign's assertions about Charles Carroll. Yes, Carroll Street and Carroll Park are named for him. Yes, he was a Revolutionary leader and signer of the Declaration of Independence. But, no, he did not lead the Maryland troops in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, defending the Old Stone House. That was William Alexander, aka Lord Stirling. The very wealthy Carroll (he was the richest of the signers of the Declaration) spent the war as a politician and diplomat.

Carroll Gardens was more likely named after Carroll in deference to the brave Maryland Boys who held off the British while Washington escaped—Carroll was a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress; and because the area was first settled by Irish Catholics, who saw in Carroll one of the very few Irish Catholics to play a role in the creation of America.

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