Historic Parks of the City of New York


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Bowling Green

This was the open space just north of Fort Amsterdam. It was used at various times as a drill ground for soldiers, a market place, and a playground for children. It became a park in 1733 when it was leased by citizens for their favorite game of "bowls" from which its present name came. It was in this vicinity that Peter Minuit completed the purchase of Manhattan Island from the Indians.

Battery Park

This is mostly made ground, much of the filling being done from 1806 to 1825. On the Capske rocks now buried here a fort was begun in 1807, later called Castle Clinton. This was connected with the main land by a bridge. Later, in 1824, it became a public amusement hall, known as Castle Garden, where a reception was held for Lafayette and where Jenny Lind sang in 1850. Still later it became an immigration bureau and in 1896 it was opened as an aquarium.

City Hall Park

It is another old park. During the early days it was part of the Commons and was known as The Fields. A great celebration was held in this park when the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766. The first Liberty Pole was erected here and here the Declaration of Independence was read to Washington's Army, July 9, 1776. City Hall was erected in the park from 1803 to 1812. The front and sides are of marble, the rear of brown stone. The opening of the Croton water supply was celebrated here in 1842.

Washington Square

In 1789 the Potter's Field was located at the present Madison Square and it was thought to be too distant. Therefore, in spite of the protest of the people living nearby, the city purchased about ten acres in what is now Washington Square, for this purpose. At that time much of the land was swampy and traversed by Minetta Creek. This Potter's Field was also used as a place of execution, a famous elm tree being the gallows.

As the city moved nearer, the Potter's Field became intolerable and in 1824 the bodies buried there were removed to a new Potter's Field, now Bryant Park. The checkerboard plan of the Commissioners of 1807 for the development of the city northward began at Washington Square. The arch designed by Stanford White was erected to commemorate the centennial of Washington's inauguration.

Union Square

This square was made by the intersection of Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue) and Broadway and was first designated as a park by the commissioners in 1811. It was near the Washington statue at the southern part of the square that the great war meeting of 1861 was held.

Madison Square

In early days a parade ground extended from 23rd to 34th Streets, embracing what is now Madison square. Later it became a Potter's Field. The double row of trees seen from the fountain looking north marks the course of the old Post Road which was closed in 1844 when the park was formally opened.

Bryant Park

What is now known as Bryant Park was bought by the city in 1822 and used first as a Potter's Field. In 1842 a reservoir was built as the first distributing station of the Croton water supply system. It was known at that time as Reservoir Square. Just west of the reservoir was built the Crystal Palace to house the first American World's Fair (1853). In 1858 an ovation was given to Cyrus W. Field upon the laying of the Atlantic cable. The New York Public Library at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street occupies the site of the reservoir. In 1884 the park was renamed after William Cullen Bryant.

Central Park

Part of this site was originally occupied by "squatters" who lived very miserably in rude huts. When the need for a large park on Manhattan became evident, several locations were suggested. Finally land was set aside by the legislature in 1853. This was extended later so as to include in all 843 acres from 59th to 110th Streets. The building of the park was under the direction of Andrew H. Green, after designs by Olmsted and Vaux. Actual work commenced in 1858. The park is two and a half miles long and over half a mile wide. There are many lakes, including the Mere in the northeast corner and the Croton Reservoir. The entrances at the two southern corners of the park are very beautiful. Within the area of the park are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the menagerie and many playgrounds. In the northern part was the McGown's Pass of Revolutionary fame.

Roger Morris Park

This park may be found from 160th to 162nd Street between Edgecombe Avenue and Jumel Place and is of interest because it contains the Roger Morris Mansion, known also as Jumel Mansion and as Washington's Headquarters. It was built by Morris in 1765 and is a beautiful Colonial structure. At the outbreak of the Revolution, Morris and his wife (Mary Philipse) fled to England and the property for a time became the headquarters of Washington. In 1810 the house was purchased by Stephen Jumel, a Frenchman, and was the scene of many social events. After the death of Jumel, his widow married Aaron Burr. The mansion is now a museum.

Fort Washington Park

This is in northern Manhattan and is interesting because of its association with Revolutionary history. The remains of a redoubt may be seen on the top of the hill. It was here that the American garrison of 3,000 men surrendered to the English on November 16, 1776. The hill of this park is the highest point of land on Manhattan.

Inwood Hill Park

This land has been lately acquired by the city. It contains 116 acres and includes practically all of Inwood Hill. There are wild woods here and rocky hills which rise 240 feet from tide level. An Indian village was once located here and a rock shelter and great tulip tree may be seen. This park is now adjoined by Isham Park.

Pelham Bay Park

This is the largest park in the city. It is located in the northeastern part of the Bronx and has nine miles of shore line. it is much used as a picnic ground.

Van Cortlandt Park

This is of interest because it contains the Van Cortlandt Mansion. This Colonial residence was built in 1748 and contains a wealth of Revolutionary relics. Many distinguished persons, including Washington, were entertained here. It is now a museum in the care of the Colonial Dames. Open daily 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., Sundays 2 to 5 P.M.

Bronx Park

This is another of the large parks of the city. It is located in the center of the Bronx, on either side of the Bronx River, extending from 180th to 205th Street. Within it are the Botanical Gardens, also the Zoological park containing a wonderful collection of animals.

Poe Park

This is interesting because of Poe Cottage which is within the park. It was here that Edgar Allan Poe lived when he wrote several of his famous poems.

Prospect Park

This is the largest park in Brooklyn, comprising five hundred and twenty-six acres. Olmsted and Vaux, who had laid out Central Park, were engaged for the similar task of designing this park. Within it may be found many pieces of sculpture which add to its beauty. Of special interest is the quadriga by MacMonnies which surmounts the arch at the Plaza entrance. The park has much of historic interest, being the site of most of the fighting during the Battle of Long Island.

Fort Greene Park

This is another of Brooklyn's parks and is of interest because it contains the Martyrs' Tomb. The remains of 11,000 Americans who perished on prison ships are buried here. During the Revolution Fort Putnam stood here. The name was changed during the War of 1812.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Historic Parks of the City of New York
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Historical Handbook of the City of New York; Compiled by Mary F. Smart; Published by the City History Club of New York (1934)
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