History of Parks in Manhattan
Most people are familiar with the opportunities for relaxation and recreation offered by their city parks. But New York’s parks and playgrounds, especially in the Manhattan area, have a different dimension, which is not always as obvious: an exciting history. From the early days of European settlement to the present, parks have witnessed the growth of the city, have been part of its development, and have provided vital green spaces for its inhabitants.
The Following are some parks and their historical stories:
Bleecker Street Playground, Manhattan
The land used to be part of the Bleecker family farm for this playground in the West Village, which was donated to the city in 1809 by Anthony Lispenard Bleecker. The last private occupant of the space was the Stetler Warehouse, owned by Henry Stetler. Stetler made a fortune in the warehouse industry at the end of the 19th century and subsequently lost it during the Great Depression. In 1927, the warehouse was the scene of a sensational rooftop shootout and fire that injured 46 firefighters. An octagonal comfort station immediately to the north, which once doubled as a bandstand pavilion, was later condemned, along with the warehouse, to build this park.
Bryant Park, Manhattan
Today, Bryant Park was used for military drills during the American Revolution before becoming a potter’s field (a burial place for unknown or indigent people) established by the City of New York from 1823 to 1840. It ceased to be used when the Croton Distributing Reservoir was built on the east side of the park between 1837 and 1842, where the New York Public Library was built in 1911. The land of the former pottery field became Reservoir Square in 1847, and the western section hosted an exhibition hall known as the Crystal Palace in 1853.
City Hall Park, Manhattan
City Hall Park has played a key role in New York City’s civic life for centuries, from its colonial beginnings as a rebel outpost to its present function as the seat of the New York City government. Used since the seventeenth century as a pasture and then a public place, City Hall Park has housed, among other things, an art museum, an almshouse, a prison, a military barracks, a hospital, an African American burial ground and, of course, the Tweed Courthouse and City Hall. The park was once home to the main post office, located in the same building as the U.S. District Courts and Circuit Courts.
Damrosch Park and Lincoln Center, Manhattan
Consisting of neighborhoods that were home to mainly middle-and lower-class Irish and black residents, the areas known as Lincoln Square and San Juan Hill were destroyed in the late 1950s as part of a major slum-clearance project to make way for a cultural center. The Lincoln Center for Performing Arts opened in 1962, home to a number of important cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic. Damrosch Park, opened in 1969, was designed by modern landscape architect Dan Kiley. The current renovation designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro preserves the original buildings and squares while introducing new amenities and improving public spaces.
Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan
The densely forested, rocky hills of the northern end of Manhattan were originally inhabited by the Weckquaesgeek Tribe until the early seventeenth century. The area was known by the early Dutch colonizers as “Lang Bergh” (“Long Hill”). The Continental Army called the strategic series of posts along the Hudson River “Fort Washington” during the summer of 1776 until the Hessian mercenary fighting for the British forced the troops to retreat. The British then renamed the area to Sir William Tryon, Major General, and the last British Colonial Governor of New York.The densely forested, rocky hills of the northern end of Manhattan were originally inhabited by the Weckquaesgeek Tribe until the early seventeenth century. The area was known by the early Dutch colonizers as “Lang Bergh” (“Long Hill”). The Continental Army called the strategic series of posts along the Hudson River “Fort Washington” during the summer of 1776, until the Hessian mercenary fighting for the British forced the troops to retreat. The British then renamed the area to Sir William Tryon, Major General, and the last British Colonial Governor of New York.
High Line, Manhattan
In 1934, the New York Central Railroad opened the High Line, an elevated rail freight line connecting Manhattan’s West Side, 34th Street, to St. John’s Terminal, Spring Street, SoHo. From 1935 to 1937, the Parks Department leased four lots from the New York Central Railroad under the High Line, where the Department developed playgrounds in the “densely populated” neighborhood where “warehouses and tents prevailed.”