Located in the Brooklyn neighborhood previously known as Yellow Hook (today Bay Ridge), Owl’s Head Park is tucked along the water in the neighborhood’s northern most section, offering spectacular views of the bay and nearby New Jersey.
In 1856, Henry Cruse Murphy – former Brooklyn mayor, founder of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and first director of the Long Island Historical Society (now Brooklyn Historical Society!) – built his estate on the site that would eventually become Owl’s Head Park. In 1881, one year before his death, Murphy sold the property to Eliphalet W. Bliss for $80,000. A successful local manufacturer, Bliss made his fortune producing metal containers and munitions. Wanting to spruce the grounds up a bit, Bliss added a horse stable, greenhouse, and observatory tower to the property. Upon his death in 1903, he offered the land to New York City for $835,000 along with the stipulation it be kept and maintained as a public park.
In 1934, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses turned his attention to these twenty-seven acres the city had at that point largely neglected, transforming it into a city project. Regrettably, he approved demolition of the Bliss estate along with the observatory tower, greenhouse, and horse stables. Historically, Moses was known for not liking “old buildings” very much.
The park’s name is shrouded in mystery since owls have never lived on the grounds. Some claim the land is in the shape of an owl’s head, some say it’s because of the two owl statues that once adorned the entrance gate of the Murphy/Bliss estate, which seems the most likely. Although, these owls may have been built after the name was already in place. It is a mystery lost to the passage of time.
This image comes from the Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection (ARC.202). For more information please see our finding aid here and for more photographs from this collection please visit our image gallery here.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections; visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. [email protected].