Learning About New York Part V


In 1853, the legislature of the state authorized by law the purchase of the ground for a park; in 1856 it came into possession of the city; in August of the year following the work of clearing the ground commenced. In April, 1858, the design of Messrs. Olmsted and Vaux for laying out the park was accepted, and on the first of June the work was commenced in earnest, employing about 3,000 men. These gentlemen are admirably adapted for the task, which it is estimated will take five years to complete. Mr. Fred L. Olmsted, the chief of the park, is the well known author of "Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England," who is admirably supported every way by the consulting architect, Mr. Calvert Vaux, the former partner of the lamented Downing, who gave such an impulse in our country to landscape gardening and rural architecture.

"The place already possesses the several essentials of a picturesque park-pond, stream, hill, rock, plain and slope. The ridge which rises near the Battery, and forms the back-bone of the Island of Manhattan, traverses the Park from end to end, forming, in the journey, at least two admirable points of view from which delicious views of the adjacent scenery may be obtained. Through the valleys beneath course little streams, which, with the help of thorough drainage, may be converted into large streams. There is a swamp, or deep declivity, which, under discreet engineering, will be converted into a lake, one hundred acres in extent, fed from the Croton springs. This lake will, in fact, be the receiving reservoir for the city. There are hills, too, with rough, rocky sides, which will pass, with a little trimming, for mountain scenery; and there are passes, which, with appropriate foliage, may well figure as Alpine valleys. Nature has done so much that there is little left for the engineer but to beautify and trim its excrescences. The Park contains, beside the large structure formerly used as an arsenal, and the Croton lake and distributing reservoir, a parade ground of fifty acres in extent, on which infantry, cavalry and artillery can maneuver together. A short distance south of the parade ground will be found the Botanical Gardens. From botanical surveys already made, it appears that the ground is adapted to the cultivation of an unusual variety of plants and flowers. The estimated cost of laying it out according to the plans adopted by the commissioners is $1,500,000."

The Ramble is already completed--a series of garden sketches, shrubberies, lawns, and streams, grouped with native and foreign trees and plants, including some of the commonest and most lovely that grow in our fields and along our waters. Vines trail and climb and wave about the rocks; flowers bloom along the edges of turf and on the margin of a little grassy brook. You walk upon paths perfectly laid, and smoothly rolled; groups of workmen are shaving the lawn; here is a rustic, substantial summerhouse--yonder, a glimpse of a bridge exquisitely elaborated; at your side, the huge leaves of some languid tropical plant unfold, and yonder are the nodding spears of the golden rod. Every moment there is a pleasant surprise in the sweet succession of beauty. Whatever spot your eye falls upon is the spot that seems to have been especially elaborated.

This is upon the higher central ground of the Park; and immediately beyond its limits the active work is going on. There are bodies of laborers drilling rock, laying the stone foundations of roads; others are building arches, ditching, digging, planting, carting, leveling, all over the wild, waste spaces; and in the midst of them this stately avenue, already finished, nearly as wide as Broadway, and firm to the tread as a sea-beach, flanked by double rows of trees.

The Park is already, in its unfinished state, a great resort for strangers and townsfolk. Thousands of people swarm through the grounds, yet everything is rigidly respected. The throng of visitors remember that the Park is the common property of all, and that no individual can justly appropriate a single flower, or trample, for his private gratification, upon any lawn or margin of grass.

The large pond in the Park is a great winter resort for skating. Fresh water from the Croton reservoir is let on at pleasure, so that, whenever the weather justifies, this amusement is open to the public.

On Christmas Day, 1859--the first Christmas on which it was open to this sport--it was estimated that fifty thousand persons visited the Park, that eight thousand were skating upon the pond at one time, and as many more looking on. Fearful that the ice would give way under the growing warmth of the day and the weight of the assembled multitude, at noon 40 policemen tried to drive them off--useless effort, 40 against 8,000, and those 8,000 on skates, too!

"The Croton Aqueduct, by which New York is supplied with pure water, is one of the most gigantic enterprises of the kind undertaken in any country. The distance which the water travels through this artificial channel, exclusive of the grand reservoir, is about forty miles. The dam crosses the Croton River six miles from its mouth, and the whole distance from this dam, thirty-two miles, is one unbroken under-ground canal, formed of stone and brick. The great receiving reservoir is on York Hill, five miles from the City Hall; it can receive a depth of water to the extent of twenty feet, and is capable of containing 150,000,000 gallons. Two miles further on is the distributing reservoir, at Murray Hill. This reservoir is of Solid masonry, built in the Egyptian style of architecture, with massive buttresses, hollow granite walls, etc. On the top of the walls is an enclosed promenade. It is three miles from the City Hall. The cost of this immense undertaking was over thirteen millions of dollars.

The New Reservoir is located at York Hill, in the Central Park, between Eighty-fifth and Ninety-seventh streets.

At the distance of about eight miles from the City Hall is the High Bridge, the most important structure connected with the Croton Aqueduct. It is thrown across the Harlem valley and river. It spans the whole width of the valley and river at a point where the latter is 620 feet wide, and the former a quarter of a mile. Eight arches, each with a span of 80 feet, compose this structure, and the elevation of the arches gives 100 feet clear of the river from their lower side. Beside these, there are several other arches rising from the ground, the span of which is somewhat more than half that of the first mentioned. The material employed throughout the whole of this imposing object is granite. The works cost $900,000. The water is led over this bridge, which is 1,450 feet in extent, in iron pipes; and over all is a pathway, which, though wide enough for carriages, is available to pedestrians only.*

[Note : * This description is from Miller's "New York as It Is, or Strangers' Guide Book," published by James Miller, No. 436 Broadway, N. Y.]

The ship-building-yards and dry-docks of the city are on a large scale. The Naval Dry-Dock is a perfect model of engineering skill, and is said to be the largest in the world. It was ten years in building, and cost over two millions of dollars.

The following are prominent among the literary and scientific institutions of the city: The Astor Library, on Lafayette Place, near Astor Place, is regarded as the library collection of the continent. It was founded by John Jacob Astor, who endowed it with the sum of $400,000. It already contains nearly 100,000 volumes. The Free Academy is on Twenty-third street, near the corner of Lexington Avenue, and was established for such pupils of the common schools as wished to avail themselves of a higher education. The full course of study embraces five years, and there are accommodations for 1,000 pupils. The Mercantile Library Association occupies the Clinton Hall building, in Astor Place, on Eighth-street. It has 4,000 members, and 50,000 volumes in its libraries. The New York Society Library, founded more than a century since (1754), is in University Place, and has 38,000 volumes. The New York Historical Society has rooms in the N. Y. University. It is more than half a century old, and has 35,000 volumes in its library. The Lyceum of Natural History, the Mechanics' Institute, the American Institute, and the American Geographical and Statistical Society, are all important institutions. Columbia College, a time-honored institution, originally called King's College, and chartered in 1754, is now removed to Forty-ninth-street, near Fifth Avenue. In the city are important medical, theological and law institutions. Every branch of human knowledge here has the ablest of teachers and the best of facilities.

Long Island is the largest island belonging to the United States on the Atlantic coast. "From Fort Hamilton at the west end, to Montauk Point, at the east extremity, the length is about 140 miles. The average width is only 10 miles; although the most important portion of the island, lying west of Peconic Bay, is from 12 to 20 miles wide. It contains about 1,500 square miles. It is separated from the continent, on the north, by Long Island Sound, lying between the island, through its whole length, and the coast of Connecticut, and varying from 2 to 20 miles in width. A rocky ridge, or chain of hills, extends from the west end to near Oyster Point, in the east part, the highest elevation of which is in North Hempstead, 319 feet above the level of the tide. On the north side of this ridge, the land is rough and hilly; on the south side, level and sandy. Much of the central portion of the island is covered with wood, consisting of an extensive pine forest, in which the deer still roams at large. The whole island is underlaid with granitic rock, which rises high in the ridge, or Spine, as it is denominated, and breaks out at Hurl Gate, and other places on the East River. The shores are much indented with bays and inlets. Toward the east side, the island divides into two parts; the S. of which is a promontory, over 30 miles in length, and not generally more than a mile wide, terminating in Montauk Point.

Upon the S.W. shore of the island, is Rockaway Beach, which extends for about 22 miles, and is much resorted to by the citizens of New York and Brooklyn for sea bathing, and the sea breezes, so refreshing there in the hot season. From its vicinity to New York, there are many pleasant places of resort upon Long Island, which are much frequented, and many which are occupied for rural residence. Fort Hamilton, at the Narrows, Gravesend Bay and Coney Island are favorite bathing places. The island has many pleasant villages, especially in the vicinity of New York, but no city excepting that described below.

(Continue Part VI)

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part V
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
Time & Date Stamp: