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, 1848

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 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.

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

Another entry in the competition

The symmetry of this plan is hilarious, given the wildly varied terrain of the site of Central Park.

Rink’s plan for Central Park, 1858.

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 to 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. 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.

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

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.

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

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?

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, 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 in the center distance.

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. 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.

1863

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

During the early years of the Park, a fire tower stood where Belvedere Castle was built.

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