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, 1848
Choosing a site and a plan for the Park
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.
The woodcut version published in the New York Times on 5/1/1858 is easier to read.
Another entry in the competition
The symmetry of this plan is hilarious, given the wildly varied terrain of the site of Central Park.
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 to the left.
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. The Arsenal at 64th Street was used as the headquarters for the Park’s police and the Board of Commissioners. 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: it’s now filled by the Metropolitan Museum.
Illustration from the report of the Board of Commissioners for 1859, showing 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 much of the ornamental details in Central Park.
Ordinances for 1860
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?
The Greywacke Bridge, just west of where the Metropolitan Museum now stands.
The Ramble, with Bethesda Terrace in the center distance.
The men most responsible for Central Park, captured by French photographer Victor Prevost.
The figure by the pillar of Bethesda Terrace is either Jacob Wrey Mould or French photographer Victor Prevost.
Construction of Bethesda Terrace.
During the early years of the Park, a fire tower stood where Belvedere Castle was built.