Time to ring Bell Tower Park bell once again


Riverdale has been known for many landmarks over its long history — from Van Cortlandt Park and Van Cortlandt House to the Riverdale Neighborhood House to Wave Hill. But there is really just one that screams Riverdale when you see it.

That is Bell Tower Park at the intersection of West 239th Street, Riverdale Avenue and the Henry Hudson Parkway. Completed on Sept. 17, 1930, the tower with its famous bell was built by the local American Legion post to honor those soldiers from Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and Kingsbridge who served in the Great War, later known as World War I. There are plaques with the names of 700 soldiers who served, including 29 who perished.

Unsurprisingly, the story behind Bell Tower Park is linked to its bell that rang for years three times a day. The bell itself has quite a legacy. It was “captured” by U.S. Gen. Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War that led to the 1845 annexation of Texas. It found a new resting place in New York City, first in Greenwich Village and then at Ladder 52 firehouse in Riverdale.

The bell was used to mark three distinct times of the day for the firefighters as one person was given that responsibility. By 1930, the local American Legion post decided to erect a tower monument to commemorate the lives lost during the Great War with architect Dwight James Baum serving as the architect.

As the years went on, the ringing of the bell was automated through an electrified system. The monument developed a “voice” for all who lived in the area to remember the patriots who fought for this country. And it wasn’t just for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. It was every day.

The Bell Tower Park’s ringing bell as well as its location so close to the Henry Hudson Parkway served as more than a monument. It became a landmark, officially named so in 2012, that reminded people they had entered Riverdale. The park was so important that in the 1960s when Robert Moses was developing highways and parks around New York City he had it moved 700 feet in order to keep it intact as the parkway was being built.

Over time the bell went silent due to disrepair and the protests of nearby residents. But the landmark had already become a town square, of sorts, for Riverdale. It has been the place where people go to protest and rally for important issues — more recently the Israel-Hamas war and Black Lives Matter. It’s also a gathering place during such holidays as Chanukah and Christmas, including menorah and tree lightings.

Many residents and passersby are appreciative of this great landmark. But they lament the loss of the pealing bell. Now overseen by the city’s parks department, it doesn’t seem like the bell will ring out any time soon. Especially when you consider the budget cuts it faces under Mayor Eric Adams’ recent spending plan.

Does that mean the bell should remain silent in perpetuity? Even it was to only ring twice a day, would that be such a nuisance? Would it really cost that much to make that happen?

Maybe, it’s time for the American Legion and the public to restore Riverdale’s beloved landmark to its original status.

It’s time to ring that bell once again!

Van Cortlandt House, Bell Tower Park, Riverdale Neighborhood House, veterans, monument