Robert Warren Spike (1923 – 1966) was a clergyman, theologian, and civil rights leader. Born in Buffalo, NY, he came to NYC while studying for the ministry. He began his career as pastor at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village in 1949, reviving the social activism of this famous urban church. During his time at the church, neighborhood kids played basketball in the church’s ramshackle gym and an interracial, international residence for students was established. Spike also helped to create an art gallery where artists could exhibit their unconventional works.
In 1958 Spike left his parish ministry to take on a national role as General Secretary of the United Church Board For Homeland Ministries. In 1963 he was appointed the Executive Director of the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race, which became an important arm of the Civil Rights Movement. He worked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the movement.
In January 1966 Spike took a position as Professor of Ministry and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. Less than a year after assuming his post in Chicago, Spike was bludgeoned to death at Ohio State University in Columbus on October 17, 1966. No one was ever tried for his murder; after a systematic review some church sources believe that he was assassinated.
Edward Judson (1844-1914) was a Baptist clergyman. He started his work in the Baptist church in Orange NJ, but ended at the Berean Church, later as the Memorial Baptist, and finally as the Judson Memorial. The church is located on the South Side of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.
Minister Judson was very successful in recruiting people to the Berean Church after the Civil War that a larger space became necessary. In 1888, with the backing of John D. Rockefeller and other prominent Baptists, construction of the church on the south side of the park was begun. The church building was designed by architect Stanford White, with stained-glass windows by John La Farge. Judson dedicated the building to his father, a missionary in Burma for the protestant church. As well as worship and religious education, the church offered health-care and outreach ministries to non-members as well as members.
After Judson’s death, the church offered first its basement and then rented its parish house on Thompson Street to Dr. Eleanor A. Campbell, a pioneering female physician who ran the Judson Health Center, a free medical and dental clinic in 1921. The church has been an integral part of the Greenwich Village neighborhood, inspired by the mission of Mr. Judson. It has run mission homes for the homeless, worked with Veterans, artists, drug addicts, homosexuals, AIDs victims, at risk youth and immigrants. It continues the ideas of being part of a community.
William Leggett (April 30, 1801 – May 29, 1839) was an American poet, fiction writer, and journalist. He was a New Yorker who attended Georgetown and then entered the military. His time in the military didn’t agree with him and he was court martialed for “dueling on duty”. Upon leaving the navy, he returned to New York City in 1826 and began writing.
Leggett became a theater critic at the New York Mirror and assistant editor of the short-lived Merchants’ Telegraph. In November 1828, he founded the Critic, a literary journal that lasted only a few months. In the summer of 1829, however, William Cullen Bryant (of Bryant Park fame) invited Leggett to write for the New York Evening Post. He wrote literary and drama reviews and began to write political editorials.
In 1831 he became part owner and co-editor and took over for Bryant when he traveled to Europe in 1834-35. Leggett’s political opinions proved highly controversial, he often took on President Jackson in his editorials. He also became an outspoken opponent of slavery. His opinions and the following controversy proved expensive for the paper and took a toll on his health. When Bryant returned from Europe, Leggett resigned his position and moved to Upstate New York. He continued to write and be involved in politics, a consistent and strong advocate of laissez-faire (an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulation, privileges, tariffs and subsidies.)
While he was in the Navy, Leggett had contracted yellow fever. This had left him in poor health for much of his later civilian life and he died in New Rochelle, New York in 1839 at the age of 38.
In 1925, Owen F. Dolen (c.1864-1925) was asked to speak at a ceremony in this park, then known as Westchester Square. The occasion was the unveiling of a new monument to the neighborhood soldiers who died in World War I (1914-1918). Dolen was a well-respected educator and life-long member of the Bronx Westchester Park community, and had spearheaded the campaign to place the memorial at the square. He gave a rousing twenty-five minute speech, bowed to the crowd, sat down, and died of a heart attack just minutes later. On April 30, 1926, the Board of Aldermen (now the City Council) voted to name the park Owen F. Dolen Park in his memory.
The beautiful park is over 2 acres and has expanded since 1926. The building in the park was expanded 1982 to become the Owen Dolen Golden Age Center, and is now the Owen Dolen Recreation Center with a kitchen, computer lab, fitness room, study room, performance space, and billiards and pool tables for use by area residents. The two halves of the park were joined in 1993. A $4.5M remodeling in 2013 included a new stage for outdoor performances (to the left of the buildng) and a pedestrian plaza, seen in front of the building.