Central Park: Images through 1860

One of my major projects in the past few years was writing more than 60 episodes (4-5 mins. each) for a videoguide app on Central Park, forthcoming from Guides Who Know. For the app, I collected hundreds of images of Central Park during the 19th century.  I find this year-by-year archival view fascinating, so I’m sharing it by uploading a half dozen or so images per week. See this page for links to all the pages of images.

To be notified when new images appear, follow me on Twitter @NYsculpture.

For blog posts on specific aspects of Central Park, click on Central Park in the Obsessions cloud at lower right. For an overview of the early years of the Park, see Central Park: The Early Years, which includes some of the images on these pages.

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

Celebration at City Hall Park of the opening of the Croton Aqueduct.

Croton Water celebration, 1842. Image: New York Public Library

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

Plan of the receiving reservoir, dated 1843.

Plan of the receiving reservoir, 1843. 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

Seneca Village in the 1850s. It was on the west side of what is now Central Park, in the 80s.

Seneca Village in the 1850s. Image: Wikipedia

Dripps Map of Manhattan, 1851. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection

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.

1856

Viele’s plan for drainage in the Park, 1856. Image: NYC Municipal Archives.

1857

Egbert Ludovicus Viele’s topographical sketch of Central Park, published in the report of the Board of Commissioners for 1857. The Board’s first annual report is here on Google, here on the New York City Parks Department’s site, but neither one includes a scan of this and the following map.

More on Viele in this post.

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

Viele’s report to the Board of Commissioners, published in their Annual Report for 1857, included three sweeping views. This one shows the view west from Summit Rock, where the Belvedere now stands (79th Street). The original reservoir is to our right (north).

View from Summit Rock looking west, from Viele’s report to the Board of Commissioners, published in their Annual Report for 1857.

This is the view from Bellevue Rock looking north. That’s Mount St. Vincent in the center (around 106th St.). I haven’t pinned down the location of Bellevue Rock. Viele’s report says only:

All through the upper portions of the park, superb views may be obtained from prominent points: Vista rock, Summit rock, Mount Prospect, Bellevue rock, and Mount St. Vincent, embrace views of the Hudson and East rivers, the entire city, Long Island, and Long Island Sound … a complete panorama of New York city and its suburbs. Three of these views accompany this report.” (Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, 1857, p. 42)

View from Bellevue Rock looking north, from Viele’s report to the Board of Commissioners, published in their Annual Report for 1857.

The third view in the 1857 Annual Report is from Mt. Prospect. That’s Mt. St. Vincent in the center again, so perhaps Mt. Prospect is the site now called the Great Hill, on the west side of the Park at about 106th Street.

View from Mt. Prospect looking east, from Viele’s report to the Board of Commissioners, published in their Annual Report for 1857.

Viele also included a cross-section of the Park from Eighth to Fifth Avenues, which serves as a reminder of how difficult the terrain was.

Cross section of Central Park, from Viele’s report to the Board of Commissioners, published in their Annual Report for 1857.

Frederick Law Olmsted in his position as Park superindentent, 1857. I’ve seen this one so often that I have no idea who to credit for the image.

Frederick Law Olmsted as superintendent of Central Park, 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.

By March 1858, the deadline for the competition, a total of 35 plans were submitted to the Board of Commissioners. This is Samuel J. Gustin’s second-place entry for the design of Central Park.

Samuel J. Gustin’s entry in the Central Park competition, 1858.

George E. Waring’s entry for the design of Central Park.

George E. Waring, competition entry for Central Park, 1858. Image: New-York Historical Society.

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.

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

Here’s the version published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1858, and the short article that went with it.

Map of the Greensward Plan from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1858.

Description of the winning entry for Central Park in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine, 1858.

1858: work completed in the Park

The Second Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, covering 1858, published in 1859 (here on Google, here on the NYC Parks Dept. site) illustrated the Balcony Bridge, on the west side at 77th Street. I haven’t been able to figure out from reading the Report whether it had been constructed, or this was a proposal. I’m inclined to think it’s a proposal, since the trees and other plantings wouldn’t have been in place in 1858. When they get to the point of including photos in the annual reports … then I’m sure that the work has been finished.

Balcony Bridge, on the west side of the Park near 77th Street. Second Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1859.

Drains of the lower part of Central Park completed by the end of 1858. Annual report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park for 1858 (published 1859).

View from what became Bethesda Terrace, north toward what became the Lake and the Ramble … if I’m right in assuming that tiny structure dead center is the fire tower where the Belvedere now stands. McEntee was Calvert Vaux’s brother-in-law.

Jervis McEntee, View from what would become Bethesda Terrace, 1858. Image: National Building Museum

Construction in Central Park. Given the concentration of large buildings, I assume this is a view looking toward Central Park South.

Construction in Central Park, 1858. Image: New York Public Library.

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 Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners for 1859 (published in 1860) included these north-south cross-sections at Sixth and Seventh Avenues. They give a vivid idea of what those constructing the Park had to deal with.

Cross-sections of the Park at Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

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.

View of Central Park in 1859, probably looking south from where the Belvedere now stands.

Central Park, 1859. Image: Museum of the City of New York

1859: Bridges

The Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, covering 1859, published in 1860 (here on Google, here on the NYC Parks Dept. site) illustrated more bridges. As with the previous year’s report, these seem to be sketches of the bridges as they’ll eventually look, rather than bridges that had already been constructed. See, for example, the “Description” in the Report on p. 34.

Marble Arch separated pedestrians from vehicles at the south end of the Mall. There’s a great early pic of it in situ here. Under Robert Moses, it was smashed to bits and buried. He surely got things done, did Mr. Moses. More on Marble Arch here.

Marble Arch (now destroyed) separated pedestrians from vehicles at the south end of the Mall. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

Dalehead Arch carries the West Drive over the bridle path near the present-day Heckscher Ballfields.

Glade Arch is east of the Ramble.

Glade Arch, east of the Ramble. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

The cast-iron Pinebank Arch carries pedestrians over the bridle path in the southwest part of the Park.

Pinebank Arch, carrying pedestrians over the bridle path in the southwest part of the Park. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

The cast-iron Bow Bridge carries pedestrians from the area near the Mall across the Lake to the Ramble. Olmsted and Vaux, who designed the Park as a pastoral retreat, wanted visitors to take their time strolling around the Lake in order to reach the Ramble. The Board of Commissioners, however, often favored the Park as a meeting place and center of culture. They demanded a shortcut from the Mall to the Ramble. That’s why we have the elegant, cast-iron Bow Bridge  (For more on the bridges added to the Greensward Plan, see Central Park: The Early Yearschapter 5.)

Bow Bridge, carrying pedestrians from the Mall across the Lake to the Ramble. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

The Green Gap Arch carried the East Drive over the bridle path near 59th Street. The path is now closed off.

Green Gap Arch originally carried the East Drive over the Bridle Path. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

Denesmouth Arch carries the 65th Street Transverse above pedestrians, near the (much later) Zoo. According to Forgotten-NY: “It used to feature four ornate castiron lampposts, three of which were stolen; the 4th is in safekeeping somewhere.”

Denesmouth Arch carries the 65th St. Transverse over pedestrians. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

This is a sketch for one of the transverse roads, designed to carry commercial traffic across the Park.

Sketch for one of the transverse roads carrying commercial traffic across the Park. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

You may think you recognize this one, but you don’t.

Oval Arch separated pedestrians from horseback riders near 61st Street and 7th Avenue. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

Oval Arch, in the southwest corner of the Park, separated pedestrians from the bridle path. Robert Moses demolished it in order to enlarge the playground that became the Heckscher Ballfields.

The Oak Bridge is on the west side of the Ramble, roughly at 77th Street.

Oak Bridge, west side of the Ramble near 77th Street. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

Rustic Arch is also on the west side of the Ramble.

Rustic Arch, on the west side of the Ramble. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

A rustic-style bridge in the Ramble.

Rustic bridge in the Ramble. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

And the heart of the Park: Bethesda Terrace, viewed from across the Lake. The Terrace was completed in the mid-1860s, but the Angel of the Waters fountain wasn’t dedicated until 1873.

Looking south from the Ramble and the Lake at Bethesda Terrace. Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners, published January 1860.

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?

The Fourth Annual Report has no illustrations.

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

More

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