Central Park: The Early Years images

This page includes some of the hundreds of images that I found while researching Central Park: The Early Years, which covers Central Park from the 1850s to 1870s. The Guides Who Know videoguide app on Central Park (in progress) covers the Park from its conception to the present.

I’ll be adding several images a week to this page. You can also find them on my Pinterest board Central Park: The Early Years. A strange array of related images is on my Pinterest board Central Park on a Tangent.

New York, 1811 and onward: the Commissioners’ Plan

North is to the right. The area in black is already built up. The areas in white were slated to be parks. The largest of those, labeled “The Parade,” is approximately where Washington Square Park is.

Commissioners’ Map of New York, 1811. Image: Wikipedia

Croton Reservoir, 1842

Central Park was originally laid out symmetrically around the original Croton Reservoir.

The Croton Reservoir, 1842. Image: New York Public Library

In this map of the Reservoir in the Manhattan street grid, north is to the right: the reservoir ended at 86th Street, where a few pieces of its wall are still visible behind the NYPD precinct. The rock at the left (southwest) is where the Belvedere now stands.

Croton Reservoir in the Manhattan street grid, 1842. Image: Library of Congress

1848: New York

1848 Mitchell Map of New York City. The residential area has spread from what’s now the Financial District north to the 20s.

1848: Broadway from St. Paul’s Church – looking south toward Trinity Church.

Choosing a site and a plan for the Park

1847: Sketch of part of the area that became the south end of Central Park.

1853: Possible sites for the park

1853 map showing two possible locations for a park in Manhattan: Jones Park, on the East River, and The Central Park, symmetrical around the original Croton Reservoir.

1857

Egbert Ludovicus Viele’s topographical sketch of Central Park, published in the report of the Board of Commissioners for 1857.

Egbert Ludovicus Viele’s topographical sketch of the area chosen for Central Park. Published in the report of the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park for 1857.

Egbert Ludovicus Viele’s plan for Central Park. Published in the report of the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park for 1857.

1857-1858: Competition for a plan for the Park

In 1857, the Board of Commissioners ran this ad seeking plans for Central Park.

Advertisment for the competition for plans for Central Park, from the New York Herald, 1858.

1858: The Greensward Plan

The original Greensward Plan is about 10 feet long. When I last queried the Parks Department, it was scheduled to be repaired and made available as a digital file. Until that happens, here’s a photo of it as shown in Heckscher’s Creating Central Park – an excellent book that you should definitely read if you’re interested in the early history of the Park.

Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Greensward Plan (south end), 1858. From Heckscher, Creating Central Park.

Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Greensward Plan (north end), 1858. From Heckscher, Creating Central Park.

The woodcut version published in the New York Times  on 5/1/1858 is easier to read.

Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Greensward Plan, 1858. As shown in the New York Times, 5/1/1858

1858: Another entry in the competition

By March 1858, the deadline for the competition, a total of 35 plans were submitted to the Board of Commissioners. The symmetry of this one is hilarious, given the wildly varied terrain of the site of Central Park.

Rink’s plan for Central Park, 1858.

1859: Mount Saint Vincent

The Sisters of Charity of Mount Saint Vincent (est. 1846) established their motherhouse at McGowan’s Pass, roughly 103rd Street near Fifth Avenue. In 1859, after the land it sat on was taken for Central Park, the Sisters moved their home to Riverdale. The former convent was used as a restaurant and statuary gallery until it burned down in 1866. The Mount Saint Vincent Hotel (a.k.a. McGowan’s Pass Tavern) was constructed on the site in 1884 (we’ll get to that in a while) and razed in 1917: nothing of the buildings is left now but a few foundation stones. See the excellent article by Daytonian in Manhattan.

Mount Saint Vincent, 1861. Image: New York Public Library

Mount Saint Vincent, 1858. Image: New York Public Library

Statuary Hall in the chapel of the former Mount Saint Vincent, 1860s. Image: New York Public Library

1859: Construction

The construction of the Park was such a major event that prints of it were published. This one shows construction of the Mall (Promenade). The Arsenal is behind the trees toward the left.

Construction of Central Park, 1859. Print at New York Public Library.

Construction of Central Park, 1859. Print at New York Public Library.

Work on the southern end of the Park was well underway by 1859, when the map below was drawn. The Extension (106th to 110th Streets) is marked off with a dotted line: the land wasn’t actually purchased until 1863. A formal garden is sketched in where Conservatory Water now stands, just north of 72nd Street. The large space between the 79th and 86th Street Transverses, and between the old reservoir and Fifth Avenue, is empty. For a while it was home to a herd of deer. In the 1870s, it was allotted to the Metropolitan Museum (more here).

1859 map of Central Park. Image: New York Public Library Digital Collections

This illustration from the report of the Board of Commissioners for 1859 shows Bethesda Terrace (still under construction in 1862) with a simple fountain on the site of the future Angel of the Waters (dedicated in 1873). The illustration is signed by Jacob Wrey Mould, who was responsible for many of the ornamental details in Central Park.

Illustration from the report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park for 1859.

1859: The Park’s first sculpture

By 1855, New York had a thriving population of German immigrants: only Berlin and Vienna had larger German-speaking populations. Among the events in New York celebrating the centennial of Friedrich Schiller’s birth was the dedication of this sculpture. But sculptures didn’t quite fit the pastoral vibe that Olmsted and Vaux were trying to create in the park; they tucked Schiller away in the Ramble. It has only been in its present site, near Beethoven and the Naumburg Bandshell, since 1955. 

C.L. Richter, Schiller, 1859. Original location in the Ramble, Central Park (1860s?). Image: New York Public Library

1860: Ordinances

In their Fourth Annual Report (1860, published in January 1861), the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park set out 4 pages of rules and regulations for the Park that give a vivid image of what was going on in the Park in its early years. For example, so many stray animals were captured and put in the Park’s pound that a minimum price for the sale of horses, dogs, goats, swine, sheep and geese was set. The Board also had strong words to say about fireworks, fortune-telling, perambulators … Who’d have suspected our ancestors of such shenanigans?

Ordinances of Central Park, from the Board of Commissioners’ Annual Report for 1860 (published 1861). Page 106

Ordinances of Central Park, from the Board of Commissioners’ Annual Report for 1860 (published 1861). Page 107

Ordinances of Central Park, from the Board of Commissioners’ Annual Report for 1860 (published 1861). Page 108

Ordinances of Central Park, from the Board of Commissioners’ Annual Report for 1860 (published 1861). Page 109

1861

The Greywacke Bridge is just west of where the Metropolitan Museum now stands.

Greywacke Bridge, from the Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park for 1861.

1862

The Ramble, with Bethesda Terrace and the Mall in the center distance. Now that the trees have had 150 years to grow, this view is no longer possible.

The Ramble. Image: New York Public Library

The men most responsible for Central Park, captured by French photographer Victor Prevost.

Willowdale Bridge, near the Mall and Balto, 1862. Left to right: Andrew Haswell Green, George Waring Jr. (?), Calvert Vaux, Ignaz Anton Pilat, Jacob Wrey Mould, Frederick Law Olmsted. Photo by Victor Prevost.

The figure by the pillar of Bethesda Terrace is either Jacob Wrey Mould or French photographer Victor Prevost.

Bethesda Terrace, 1862. The man standing next to the pillar is either Jacob Wrey Mould or Victor Prevost, a French photographer.

Construction of Bethesda Terrace.

Construction of Bethesda Terrace, 1862. Photo by Victor Prevost.

In the Ramble: the mouth of the cave near the Rustic Arch. The cave was closed to visitors long ago.

The cave and the Rustic Arch in the Ramble, 1862. Image: New York Public Library

Union soldiers drilling in front of the Arsenal, before being sent off to the front line. For more on the Arsenal’s history, see this post.

Union troops drilling at the Arsenal, 1862. Image: New York Public Library

1863

The west side of the Arsenal, ca. 1863-1865. This large open area is now occupied by the zoo.

The Arsenal, ca. 1863-1865. Image: Wikipedia

The walls around Central Park and the gates to allow entry were a subject of much debate. On the names finally chose, see the three posts starting here.

Method for constructing the walls around the perimeter of Central Park, from the Report of the Board of Commissioners, 1863.

During the early years of the Park, a fire tower stood where Belvedere Castle was later built. Here it is looming over the tunnel in the 79th Street Transverse.

Seventy-Ninth Street Transverse and the fire tower, 1863-1865. Image: New York Public Library

Eagles and Prey, by Christophe Fratin, was created in 1850 and donated to Central Park in 1863. The Commissioners, who were having problems with roving goats eating the plantings, probably found the sculpture grimly amusing: see this post. It still stands just west of the Mall.

Christophe Fratin, Eagles and Prey, 1850; erected in Central Park in 1863. Image: New York Public Library

Christophe Fratin, Eagles and Prey, 1850; erected in Central Park in 1863. Image: New York Public Library

1864

The Bow Bridge, from  an early guidebook: Perkins, The Central Park, 1864.

The Bow Bridge, from Perkins, The Central Park, 1864.

From the same guidebook: gawky adolescent elm trees on the Mall, looking north toward the Arbor. The Naumburg Bandshell now blocks this view.

The Mall looking north toward the Arbor. Perkins, The Central Park, 1864.

In 1864, when Central Park was six years old, Louis Prang published a set of chromolithographic cards, each 4.25 x 2.5 inches. They provide a fascinating glimpse not only at what the Park looked like at the time, but at what its highlights were considered to be. I spotted a set of these cards in a catalogue of William Reese Company a few years back; Mr. Reese was kind enough to send me photos.

Alas for you, WordPress doesn’t approve of high-res uploads. These are printed full-page at the end of my Central Park: The Early Yearsand also used on the covers.

In the set below, left to right and top to bottom:

  • The Island, The Rustic Bridge, Entrance to Cave, The Lake
  • Rustic Arbor, The Brook, Moonlight on the Lake, Cascade
  • The Arch, The Ramble, Boat Landing, Marble Bridge [sic, for Bow Bridge!] over the Lake

Louis Prang, chromolithographed cards of Central Park, 1864. Photos courtesy WIlliam Reese Company

In the set below, left to right and top to bottom:

  • Rude Stairway, Abode of the Swans, The Silver Lake, Entrance to Cave from Lake
  • The Tower [the firetower, where the Belvedere now stands, seen from the edge of the original Croton Reservoir], Ornamental Bridge, The Drive, The Bridle Path
  • The Music Temple [formerly near the north end of the Mall], Sunset on the Lake, Rustic Arbor, A Glimpse of the Lake

Louis Prang, chromolithographed cards of Central Park, 1864. Photos courtesy WIlliam Reese Company

In the set below, left to right and top to bottom:

  • The Marble Bridge [i.e., Marble Arch, formerly at the south end of the Mall, now gone], Vine Arbor, Bust of Schiller, The Fountain [a figurative sculpture was always intended for Bethesda Terrace, but Angel of the Waters wasn’t dedicated until nine years after the Prang postcards were published]
  • On the Ramble, near the Lake; Fancy Bridge No. 14; The Casino [formerly near the northeast end of the Mall, now gone], Bridge at the 7th Avenue Entrance
  • The Cove, Rustic Bower, Rustic Arbor, Evening on the Lake

Louis Prang, chromolithographed cards of Central Park, 1864. Photos courtesy WIlliam Reese Company

1865

Map of Central Park in 1865. To zoom in, see it on the David Rumsey Map Collection site.

Central Park, 1865. L. Prang & Co. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection

Famed architect Richard Morris Hunt’s plan for updating the Arsenal into a home for the New-York Historical Society.

Richard Morris Hunt’s plan for refurbishing the Arsenal, 1865. Image: Heckscher, Creating Central Park

The famous “Sanitary & Topographical Map of the City and Island of New York” was published in 1865 by Egbert Ludovicus Viele. The “Viele Map” shows Manhattan’s original streams, marshes and coastline, with the city grid superimposed. Those planning new buildings in the 21st century still consult the Viele Map. The blue rectangle roughly in the center is the old reservoir, at the center of Central Park.

The Viele Map, 1865. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection

One of the lost sculptures of Central Park: Commerce, originally placed near the Merchants’ Gate at the intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, and 59th Street.

Commerce, near the Merchants’ Gate in Central Park. Image: Report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park for 1865 (published 1866).

1866

View of Bethesda Terrace and the Mall from the Lake, 1866. The simple fountain was replaced with Angel of the Waters in 1873.

Tigress and Cubs, by Auguste Cain, was placed on Cherry Hill in 1866. For the peacock joke and Clarence Cook’s thoughts on Tigress, see this post.

Auguste Cain, Tigress and Cubs, placed in Central Park in 1866. Image: A Description of the New York Central Park, 1869

More

  • This page is a work in progress: bookmark it, or follow me on Twitter @NYCsculpture to be notified when new images are added.
  • Central Park: The Early Years covers Central Park from the 1850s to 1870s. Details here, or order on Amazon here.
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