JOHN AMBROSE, Battery Park

by Kevin Walsh

JOHN Ambrose has returned to Battery Park! Well, he returned in 2018, but I’m getting around to it now. Ambrose (1838-1899) was the engineer who planned the channel that bears his name that reduced the distance from the Atlantic Ocean into New York Harbor by a full 6 miles. Accidents had become commonplace in the previously shallow channel that was in use before that time. The lightship Ambrose, currently an exhibit at the South Street Seaport, was also named for John Ambrose.

Previously, the bust of Ambrose, by sculptor Andrew O’Connor, was at the southern end of the Dewey Promenade on the Battery Park waterfront, where it was placed after it was moved from its earlier spot at Castle Clinton. The head of the bust was stolen in 1990 and the pedestal, designed by Aymar Embury II and featuring a relief map of the harbor with gilded trim, was then placed into storage. The Parks Department fully restored the memorial with a new bust, referencing historical photos, and Ambrose and his magnificent sideburns are on view again opposite #17 State Street at the park’s eastern edge.

Ambrose, an immigrant from Ireland, initially wanted to enter the ministry but joined a NYC civic organization in 1860. He was involved in several key infrastructure projects such as the 2nd and 6th Avenue Els, pneumatic tubes for Western Union and the construction of streets in Harlem. He founded the Brooklyn and New York Dry Dock Company and the 39th Street Ferry from Brooklyn’s Sunset Park in the 1880s and lobbied for the harbor dredging fort the channel that later received his name in the 1890s.

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christopher brady August 3, 2021 - 3:28 pm

why in the world would they steal the head?Because it would look good in the den?

P-j Greiner August 6, 2021 - 9:09 am

I suspect the value for scarp metal, sometimes called “mongo” on the street. Sadly, anything metal that’s not bolted down eventually disappears from our city parks.

therealguyfaux August 3, 2021 - 6:40 pm

Another Ambrose with side whiskers was the Civil War general Ambrose Burnside, whose style of facial hair called “burnsides” eventually got rearranged to “sideburns,” or so the folk etymology goes. You mentioned it in a story about Burnside Avenue in The Bronx four years ago:
One wonders how a Hoosier who later moved to Rhode Island rated an avenue in The Bronx, especially since Burnside was a fairly capable but not really outstanding officer, which was his undoing when he had the command at the Battle of the Crater, a debacle for the Union.


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