April 20, 2009

Once there was a village in Central Park

The full text on the plaque can be read at the Central Park Conservancy website

Once there was a village in what is now Central Park. It was called Seneca Village.

Seneca Village existed from 1825 through 1857. It was located between 82nd and 89th Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Today, this area is part of Central Park. Seneca Village was Manhattan's first significant community of African American property owners. By the 1840s, it had become a multi-ethnic community African Americans, Irish, and German immigrants, and perhaps a few Native Americans. In 1855, the New York State Census reported approximately 264 individuals living in the village. There were three churches, as well as a school and several cemeteries. Within two years, Seneca Village would be razed and its identity erased by the creation of Central Park. (Source: Robbie McClintock and Frank A. Moretti, Columbia University Teachers College)

The park village was located in the general area shown in the photograph above. The private properties of the village were taken via eminent domain. The village was declared a "wasteland" of "squatters" (see the New York Times review of "Before Central Park: The Life and Death of Seneca Village" exhibition (1997). When I first learned about the development of Central Park, I recall reading about the "wasted" land that had to be cleared, but I assumed a landscape of rocky outcrops and possibly wetlands (wetlands were not valued in the 19th and much of the 20th centuries), not the homes and institutions of individuals, families, and a community.

4 comments:

  1. Did you see the recently auctioned picture taken of the Upper West Side? If I have my facts straight it was the second oldest picture of rural Manhattan. It showed a farm house with the attending family and its fields. Perhaps it overlooked Seneca Village.

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  2. Georgia (locaecology.org)April 21, 2009

    I did not but will search for an image. A plan view of the Village was illustrated by Egbert Viele and is available here - http://projects.ilt.columbia.edu/seneca/Images/Sv230.gif.

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  3. Very sad. And before Seneca Village, who knows if it was home to others, even if no record exists. So many layers of injustice when you care to look at a patch of ground. Thanks for mentioning this, I had never heard the story.

    On another topic, I thought of you when I read this post. It's about a hell strip design on a univ. campus in Texas: http://bikegarden.blogspot.com/2009/04/public-plantings-designers-response.html

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  4. Georgia (localecology.org)April 23, 2009

    Thank you Karen for link to The Bicycle Garden post. Great design; left a comment.

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