Commissioners and Staff

The Bronx Parkway Commission was made up of a talented and dedicated work force that worked for the commission from its earliest days until its termination in 1925.

The Globe praised the commissioners for being experts at their jobs. Madison Grant, a prominent lawyer and Park Avenue socialite, was considered an "authority" on park development with many years of practical experience. He was an avid outdoorsman and one of the founders of the New York Zoological Society. Grant was an ardent advocate of park developments across the country and an important supporter of the National Park Service in its formative years. After his BPC service, Grant was appointed to the Taconic State Park Commission. He also played a prominent role in later efforts to preserve the California Redwoods.(67) William Niles was also an attorney and a well-known civic leader who served in the New York State Assembly and on many reform commissions. He supported the New York Botanical Gardens, was a member of the New York Zoological Society board, and was among the first to advocate reclaiming the Bronx River. His father, Winston W. Niles, had played an important role in the development of parks throughout the Bronx. Niles’s account of the project’s origins, though colored somewhat by hindsight, has long served as the Bronx River Parkway’s sanctioned creation story. Like Grant, he went on to play an active role in the northward extension of the Bronx River Parkway, a project that eventually evolved into the Taconic State Parkway.(68) James G. Cannon, a Scarsdale banker, was lauded in the local paper as a benevolent public figure "conspicuous for disinterested public service and philanthropy." He was president of the Fourth National Bank, a past president of the Westchester County Chamber of Commerce, and active in numerous professional and civic organizations. When Cannon passed away in 1916 he was praised for his "high reputation" and for his ability to generate "immediate interest and confidence in the parkway project." Scarsdale resident Frank Bethell was appointed by the governor to replace Cannon. Bethell spent considerable time in the field studying development options and producing detailed recommendations.(69) Grant, Niles, and Bethell served the commission until it was disbanded in 1925.

The commissioners used their executive skills, prominent reputations, and manifold connections to advance the parkway project. As was typical of many Progressive Era civic improvement projects, these patrician reformers represented their own class interests and personal objectives while bettering social and environmental conditions. The BPC embodied contemporary Progressive practices by repeatedly underscoring that parkway development was an altruistic endeavor free of the graft and corruption that traditionally tainted public works projects, especially in the shadow of New York’s Tammany Hall. The land acquisition process, in particular, was cast as a judicious exercise in fiscal responsibility conducted in a fair, open, and even-handed manner. The BPC’s annual report emphasized the savings realized by the commissioners’ shrewd negotiating tactics and cast those who refused to accept the commission’s offers as selfish and uncooperative. The reports also detailed the efficient manner in which the commission accomplished its landscape improvement and highway construction agendas. "A foremost thought kept constantly in mind by the Commission has been the necessity for the continuous exercise of a wide economy in all the operations which the undertaking involves," the commission declared, "so that demands upon the taxpayers would never rise above a real minimum."(70)


(67)Editor’s note: Grant was also an outspoken Nativist and eugenicist, who believed immigration from southern and central Europe was degrading America’s racial stock and eroding its cultural values. He authored a number of racist screeds including The Passing of the Great Race, Or the Racial Basis of European History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916); and The Alien in Our Midst: or "Selling Our Birthright for A Mess of Pottage" (New York: The Galton Publishing Company, 1930). Taken in this light, his determination to replace working-class Italian settlements along the Bronx River with a depopulated landscape devoted to leisure, real estate enhancement, and the celebration of the Anglo-American picturesque ideal had broader and less altruistic cultural implications.
(68)For a detailed chronicle of the development of the Taconic State Parkway that traces the intimate relationship between the two projects, see Kathleen LaFrank and Len Warner, "Taconic State Parkway, HAER No. NY-316," Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1999. Nile’s reminisces were recorded in a letter dated 6 March 1929, which can be found in the commission’s archives and was reproduced in Gilmore Clarke, "The Parkway Idea," in Brewster Snow, ed., The Highway and the Landscape (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959), 34-37.
(69)"In Favor of Bronx Valley Parkway," Globe, September 21, 1912; Bronx Parkway Commission, Final Report, 1925, 52-53, 78.
(70)Bronx Parkway Commission, Report of the Bronx Parkway Commission, (New York: Bronx Parkway Commission, 1918), 36.