In honor of Women’s History Month, the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park present a three part series on the original Friend of Van Cortlandt Park- Cass Gallagher. Here is the first in the series. Matthew Melore gives an overview of Cass Gallagher’s role in the Park and why a trail is named after her.
Cass Gallagher was Bronx resident who is very close to our hearts here at Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. She was a staunch advocate of the park, as well as the founder of the first Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. Even though the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park that you all know and love today was founded in the early 90’s, Cass Gallagher was revolutionary and founded her own Friends group for the park in 1978 in order to increase awareness towards maintaining the park’s history and natural beauty.
The Bronx County Historical Society interviewed Cass Gallagher on March 26th, 1983. The only transcript of the interview I could find was in the Lehman College Library, which is not too far from the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park office. Interested in learning more about Cass Gallagher and the original Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, I walked over to Lehman and met with a librarian. I found out that Cass Gallagher was actually originally from New Jersey and came to the Bronx in 1962 when she married her husband.
Cass Gallagher moved into a one-bedroom apartment with her husband on Broadway and started frequenting Van Cortlandt Park when she walked all the way to Yonkers to buy groceries, refusing to take the bus because of the cost. She had this to say about the original Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, “In 1978, the Friends of Van Cortlandt were established under the aegis of Stanley Simon, who was then the counsel to our Borough President. The neighbors came, the Broadway people came in great force to complain about everything that was going on in Van Cortlandt, and they were right.”
Cass Gallagher was ahead of her time, dealing with problems that we at The Friends are still trying to solve to this day, in her own words she describes the strategic location of Van Cortlandt Park and how its regional location made it ripe for the destruction of the park’s natural beauty, “It was strategic in the mind of Robert Moses, of course because he decided to put highways through, which was unfortunate for Van Cortlandt. It destroyed the contour of the land and the terrain, and it caused innumerable problems that have to be dealt with now in terms of drainage of the lake basin.” We hear you Cass, we need to do something about that drainage problem. She had further things to say about the cars who did, “damage to the marsh and to its brook…”
In her later years, even though most of her family had already left the Bronx, Cass said, “I don’t plan to leave because I like Van Cortlandt Park, which is a strange reason. It’s curious to find yourself staying in a place because of a park.” She goes on to say what we at The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park know well, “I also thought that if you live near a park of that size, which has always been, you find that you learn something every day. It was a wonderful educational experience.”
After her death Cass Gallagher was honored by the NYC Parks Department, which named a Nature Trail in her honor- the Cass Gallagher Nature Trail in the Northwest Woods of Van Cortlandt Park.