History of Central Park

I’m quite sure that there isn’t a single person in Manhattan that doesn’t love Central Park. We love biking on the pathways, kayaking on the Lake, the pedicab tours, even just strolling over the Mall. But what do you know about this park’s rich history? Who are the people behind its creation, the prominent figures that withstood the test of time, and whose names are remembered for 170 years? This brief history lesson will give you some insight into how it all began.

But first – some summarized (and fun) facts

  • Nearly all of the attractions are man-made.
  • Central Park is 167 years old. Its birthday is on July 21.
  • Blowing the rocks from the terrain required more gunpowder than the battle of Gettysburg.
  • Besides the swamps and rocks, there were people living on the designated piece of land. It housed the Seneca Village and the Pigtown, with nearly 1,600 people calling it home. Evicting them was valued at $7.39 million. A fact check shows us that Alaska was purchased for $7.2 million.

The inception of the idea

Fernando Wood

Fernando Wood, NYC Mayor in 1856 issued a design contest about the creation of an urban park. The contest was won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and their Greensward Plan. Vaux was inspired by Birkenhead Park in England, which at that time was the first publicly funded park. The plan included large pastoral meadows, lush green woods, and large bodies of water. However, it received several unplanned upgrades later on.


Olmsted and Vaux

The construction began shortly in 1858 but was rather difficult due to the hard terrain. Rocks and swamps were covering most of the field. Soil was moved from various locations in order to create the lawns we know today. The Lake was the first attraction to be open in 1858.

From the 1860s to the end of the century

The ’60s were turbulent – Olmsted and Vaux resigned, but then returned in 1871. Many major attractions were erected in the 60s, namely the Bethesda fountain and terrace. Constructions carried on during the Civil War, and the park had a surge in popularity.

Besides the grand opening, the 70s marked the opening of The Zoo and the Carousel, but increasing costs were a rising issue, and the likes of Broadway and Coney Island beaches were giving Central Park some stiff competition.

The park entered the new century with some serious issues like administrative neglect and a huge peak in popularity but with some light at the end of the tunnel-like the new advocacy organizations and general public interest demanding improvement.

The 20th and the 21st century provide even more events, improvements, struggles, and bright personalities that we’ll cover in another article.

But if you’re looking to enjoy a great day outside of the history books and into Central Park, we recommend our friends of Central Park Tours. They provide excellent biking, walking, and pedicab tours at cheap prices. Also, they’ve recently reached an agreement with OruKayak fro some cool offers!