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Updated: Collect Pond Park and the Canal Street connection

In June, The SoHo Memory Project blogged about the origins of Canal Street.  In that post, we learned that Canal Street arose as a tree-lined drainage canal between Collect Pond and the Hudson River.  In 1805 the City decided to drain the pond because its water had become polluted by industrial waste.  From the NYPL Digital Archives, here is a photograph of Canal Street in 1826. 

Image: Perspective view of Canal Street, 1826, print screen from NYPL Digital Gallery (source)

Were the trees American elms?  That streetscape was restorative in contrast to Canal Street today (see below).

Image: Canal Street facing south towards Lafayette

The sixty-foot deep spring-fed pond was used for picnics, ice skating, and one of "the first experimental steamboats" was launched there.  After the pond was drained, the site was filled with soil from an adjacent hill.

Image: Collect Pond, 1796, print screen from NYPL Digital Gallery (source)

Image: Map of the collect, 1887, print screen from NYPL Digital Gallery (source)
The neighborhood of Paradise Square grew on the site but began to sink due to the area's high water table.  Also, the neighborhood began to smell.  Wealthy residents moved out of the area beginning in the 1820s and a decade later the area had become the infamous Five Points neighborhood.  In April 1960, what was once the site of the pond was transferred to NYC Parks and during the tenure of Commission Henry Stern, the park's name was changed from Civil Court Park to Collect Pond Park.  The park is bounded by Lafayette, Leonard, and Streets.

On a recent mid-afternoon, I was surprised by the appearance of the park given its central location among several government buildings.  The ground was covered with litter and the understory landscape was dominated by concrete, patchy grass and weeds, and bare soil.  Despite these environmental conditions, I observed many and different types of users taking advantage of the numerous benches located under the shady tree canopy.

Collect Pond Park is due for a redesign, according to the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center website.  Here is an excerpt from the website:
[P]ark designers envision the new park as both a sunny lunch spot and a reminder of Manhattan's densely wooded past. The park will be surrounded by shade trees, with a large lawn in the center of the lot and tables along the northern and eastern edges. At the south end of the space, where the parking lot now sits, the Parks Department will place thick beds of ferns and other woodland plants. Water misters will be imbedded in the plantings, making the surrounding air feel wetter and cooler. The park will be enclosed by a four-foot fence and lampposts and will be locked at night.
Will the "water misters" tell the history of the park's former aquatic ecology?  An illustration of the proposed design is available at

Update, 9/27/2012: Tribeca Citizen is following the renovation of Collect Pond Park.  Here's a snapshot of the park as of September 26, 2012:

Image: Collect Pond Park courtesy of Tribeca Citizen (source)

Note: this post was originally published on July 19, 2011.


Rohrerbot said…
It's sad. The original designs looked beautiful. So much changes over time. I'm glad you remembered. How many others will even care? And that's why it's sad.
Les said…
We shopped on Canal St. when we were in NYC last summer. My wife was looking for scarves. I found it much too frenetic and was very glad when she suggested heading somewhere else.
Georgia said…
I enjoy Canal north of Centre Street.
ttorrison said…
My dream: the traffic on Canal Street is alleviated by 1. a toll tunnel creating an unbroken link for cars going from New Jersey to Long Island...basically, connecting the Holland and Brooklyn Battery Tunnels. 2. The East River Bridges are assessed high tolls to discourage car travel on Canal Street. Canal Street becomes a quiet, tree-lined thoroughfare with as many bikes as cars and sidewalks at least double their current width. 3. Real estate prices along Canal Street go up to such a degree that the merchants of fakes decamp to other locations. 4. Older buildings along Canal are given landmark status and restored.