This is historical reference material pertaining to the early history of Central Park in New York City. The material below comes from the Public Domain Ebook titled “Guide to Central Park” by Thomas Addison. If you enjoy this information below, please feel free to Read or download the complete Ebook for FREE by going to the bottom of this post.
The great Central Park of New York has become already so much the pride of the citizen and the marvel of the stranger, as to need a chronicle which may serve both as a guide to the visitor while exploring its varied beauties, and as a memorandum for after reminder and reference. The idea of a great park for the metropolis, commensurate in extent and embellishment with the needs of a vast and ever-increasing population, was first whispered about the year 1851, the project commending itself at once to the popular fancy, and rich and poor alike, with laudable liberality and intelligence, giving a hearty assent.
The lamented Andrew J. Downing, then in the height of his fame as a landscape gardener and rural architect, employed his able pen enthusiastically in advocacy of the scheme. “The leading topic,” said he, in a paper written at the time, “of town gossip and newspaper paragraphs in New York is the proposed new park. Deluded New York has, until lately, contented itself with the little door-yards of space-mere grass-plots of verdure-which form the squares of the city, in the mistaken idea that they are parks! The fourth city in the world, with a growth which will soon make it the second-the commercial metropolis of a continent, spacious enough to border both oceans, has not hitherto been able to afford
sufficient land to give its citizens (the majority of whome live there the whole year round) any breathing space for pure air, any recreation ground for healthful exercise, any pleasant
roads for riding or driving, or any enjoyment of that lovely and refreshing natural beauty from which they have, in leaving the country, reluctantly expatriated themselves for so many years, perhaps forever. Some few thousands, more fortunate than the rest, are able to escape for a couple of months into the country, to find repose for body and soul in its leaf groves and pleasant pastures, or to inhale new life on the refreshing seashore. But, in the mean time, the city is always full. Its steady population of many hundred thousand souls is always there-always on the increase. Every ship brings a live cargo from people of Europe to fill up its ever-crowded lodging-houses; every steamer brings hundreds of strangers to fill its thronged thoroughfares. Crowded hotels, crowded streets, hot summers, business pursued till it becomes a game of excitement, pleasure followed till its votaries are exhausted-where is the great reverse side of this picture of town, life-intensified almost to distraction?”
In this same earnest paper Mr. Downing goes on to discuss at length the many benefits to be gained through the creation of such a park as the one then proposed and since so amply provided. He dwells upon the sanitary, the social, and the aesthetic advantages so sure to accure; and even upon the financial view of the subject, showing its promise, with all its cost, as a mere paying business investment. He speaks of the physical rest
and recuperation it would afford to all, especially to the poor and the over-worked; of the innocent and the ennobling pleasures it would give to all-rich and poor, old and young alike; of the effect its beauties would produce in the awakening and the cultivation of the public taste; and of the wealth which it would bring to the city, indirectly, through that refinement and elevation of the moral tone of the people which could not but follow; and, directly, by the increased value it would give to much of the real estate of the city, and through the expenditures of the thousands of strangers who would be attracted hither by its multi-form beauties.
This paper, like many others in the same vein, was but an expression of a feeling which had been for a long time increasing in the popular heart; and it was evident that the great park question was on only of locality, extent, and style. The Hon. Ambrose C. Kingsland, then mayor of New York, recognized the public sentiment on the subject, and, on the 5th of April, 1851, took the initiatory official steps towards a realization of the general wish, by commending it in a special message to the attention of the Board of Aldermen. This message was referred to the Committee on Lands, who reported that the matter had elicited a high degree of interest, and that they heartily concurred in the views of the
mayor,-a report evincing an intelligence and a regard for the public good not proverbially characteristic of the action of “Common Councils.”
The park being thus resolved upon, the next question was as to where it should be located and what should be its extent. The report of the aldermen, in answer to the mayor’s message, suggested the ground lying in the upper part of the city along the East River, known as Jones’ Wood- a very pleasant domain then and now, and well supplied with fine forest-trees. The suggestion of the Common Council was acted upon, and, in accordance therewith, application was made to the Legislature at its extra session in 1851, and an act known as the “Jones’ Woods Park Bill” was passed by that body on the 11th day of July, 1851.
The passage of this act gave rise to a warm dispute in respect to the relative advantages of this and other grounds, which resulted in the appointment of a special committee to examine and report whether there was not, within the limits of the city, a spot more adapted to the requirements of a public park than the one designated by the Legislature.
As the park question was considered, it gained daily in estimation; so that the one hundred and fifty acres embraced in the Jones’ Wood manor, though they might have been thought extended enough at the beginning of the scheme, now began to be looked upon as entirely too narrow in compass, and more room was soon delcared to be necessary. Heretofore the city parks had been measured by tens of aces, but now the public ambition demanded that the enumeration should be by hundreds, if not by thousands! The result was, that the special committee of the Common Council made a careful report, in which they urged the use of that particular central district which was afterward so wisely chose.
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