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History

by Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig
(please see full credit at the end of this section)

Central Park was the first landscaped public park in the United States. Advocates of creating the park--primarily wealthy

Skating in the Park

Skating on the Lake in turn
of the century Central Park.

merchants and landowners--admired the public grounds of London and Paris and urged that New York needed a comparable facility to establish its international reputation. A public park, they argued, would offer their own families an attractive setting for carriage rides and provide working-class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon. After three years of debate over the park site and cost, in 1853 the state legislature authorized the City of New York to use the power of eminent domain to acquire more than 700 acres of land in the center of Manhattan.

An irregular terrain of swamps and bluffs, punctuated by rocky outcroppings, made the land between Fifth and Eighth avenues and 59th and 106th streets undesirable for private development. Creating the park, however, required displacing roughly 1,600 poor residents, including Irish pig farmers and German gardeners, who lived in shanties on the site. At Eighth Avenue and 82nd Street, Seneca Village had been one of the city's most stable African-American settlements, with three churches and a school. The extension of the boundaries to 110th Streetin 1863 brought the park to its current 843 acres.

The question of who should exercise political control of this new kind of public institution was a point of contention throughout the nineteenth century. In appointing the first Central Park Commission (1857-1870), the Republican-dominated state legislature abandoned the principle of "home rule" in order to keep the park out of the hands of locally-elected (and primarily Democratic) office holders. Under the leadership of Andrew Green, the commission became the city's first planning agency and oversaw the laying out of uptown Manhattan as well as the management of the park. After a new citycharter in 1870 restored the park to local control, the mayor appointed park commissioners.

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