History Archives - Central Park

Landforms: A History of Central Park’s Fort Landscape Exhibit

Now Open: Spring 2016 – Fall 2017
Daily, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
(Inside Central Park at 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues).

Learn how natural features in Central Park’s north end played an important role in shaping our city’s – and our nation’s – history.

This exhibit reveals fascinating finds of archaeological and historical investigations conducted as part of the Central Park Conservancy’s recent restoration of the Fort Landscape.

Exhibit Highlights:

Geological Foundations

Geological Foundations

The topography of the present-day Fort Landscape was formed by a glacier that scraped Manhattan schist bedrock out of the earth millions of years ago. Try your hand at moving a glacier across Manhattan!

Military History

Military History

The Fort Landscape’s high ground and expansive views made it an important strategic outlook while its rocky, swampy terrain made it difficult to infiltrate. The area was fortified by the British during the Revolutionary War and re-used by the Americans during the War of 1812. Pose with an artistic rendering of the kind of Gatehouse used to control access to the area in wartime!

Establishing the Park and Restoring its Beauty

Fort Clinton Restoration

Central Park’s designers recognized the scenic value of the area’s geography, as well as the cultural importance of the historical events that took place there, and sought to integrate and preserve both. Carrying on their tradition, the Central Park Conservancy has worked to re-create historic features in the Fort Landscape for all to appreciate. Learn how we do it!






For more information, contact the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center at 212.860.1370

Loaded Cannon Found In New York’s Central Park

New York (CNN) — This could have caused a major blast from the past.

Workers cleaning a cannon, last fired more than 200 years ago, were shocked to find Friday that it was still loaded with gunpowder, wadding and a cannonball.

The preservation workers from New York’s Central Park Conservancy were removing rust from the antique cannon, which once fired munitions aboard the British warship HMS Hussar, when they made the explosive discovery, New York police Detective Brian Sessa said.

Dena Libner, a spokeswoman for the Central Park Conservancy, said the workers found the munitions after removing a concrete plug from the mouth of the cannon.

Workers immediately called 911, and technicians determined that the gunpowder was still active.

Authorities removed about 1.8 pounds of black gunpowder from the scene and took it to a gun range for disposal, the detective said.

Libner said the cannon was a gift from an anonymous donor to the city in 1865 and was stored for a period of time because of vandalism concerns.

It is now part of the organization’s restoration program, she said.

“We silenced British cannon fire in 1776, and we don’t want to hear it again in Central Park,” New York police said in a statement to CNN affiliate WCBS.

The loaded artillery piece was one of two Revolutionary War-era cannons being stored at the park’s Ramble shed, near the 79th Street transverse, according to the affiliate.

“This was an amazing surprise,” John Moore, author of the upcoming book “The Secrets of Central Park,” told WCBS. “It was there for so many years, and people were sitting on it when it was a loaded cannon.”

The Hussar sank in November 1780, according to the New York Journal of American History.

Happy Birthday Frederick Law Olmsted!

Today marks the 199th birthday for visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his senior partner Calvert Vaux, including Central Park and Prospect Park. Olmsted spent his first two adult decades searching for a calling while remaining financially dependent on his father, a prosperous dry goods merchant and descendant of a prominent Puritan family in Hartford, Connecticut. (Raised a Congregationalist, Olmsted avoided organized religion in later years.) He was driven by a sense of duty but found pursuing a career for money distasteful. Because a case of sumac poisoning weakened his eyes, Olmsted’s formal education — a combination of common and boarding schools — ended when he was eighteen. While his brother andEdward Law Olmsted closest friends were attending Yale, he tried a year as a clerk in a New York dry goods house and another year at sea. Neither pursuit proved agreeable. In the mid-1840s he prepared for what he thought would be a suitable profession as a gentleman farmer by living and studying with several prominent agriculturalists, among them George Geddes, whose upstate New York farm had won the state agricultural society prize for exemplary management. When his father bought him farms first in Connecticut and then on Staten Island, Olmsted envisioned himself as a “country squire” with a responsibility to disseminate scientific knowledge and rural taste.

As a youth, Frederick Law Olmsted traveled through the New England countryside with his father, who admired rural scenery; and as a young gentleman farmer, he read the latest literature on art criticism (including Ruskin’s Modern Painters), on horticulture, and on English landscape gardening. He wrote articles for Downing’s Horticulturalist on pear and apple farming and another on the attractions of Liverpool’s Birkenhead Park. With the rural improvement movement at its peak, he also helped organize an agricultural society on Staten Island for the promotion of rural tastes and scientific agriculture. But while Olmsted learned the art of landscape appreciation and the latest theories in rural improvement, he gained little experience in the work of design.

In the 1850s, Olmsted abandoned model farming for journalism, another field in which he hoped “to take up and keep a position as a recognized literateur, a man of influence in literary matters.” Following a trip to England, he published Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, which combined observations on the English social landscape with sentimental invocations of “Old England for ever! — Amen.” He took several journeys through the American South and sent a series of letters to the New York Times that formed the basis for his three influential books on southern mores and the economic conditions of slavery. In 1855 Olmsted became both a managing editor of Putnam’s Magazine and a partner (again through his father’s investment) in the publishing house of Dix and Edwards, which was publishing his second book.  The Dix and Edwards firm became an early casualty of the 1857 depression. A family friend, Park Commissioner Charles Elliott, encouraged Olmsted to apply for the post of the park superintendent, and he did so.

All text from:

The Park and the People

Courtesy of Barbara Blackmar & Roy Rosenzweig

Click here for
more info.

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch

Huddlestone Arch, just south of Lasker Rink, looks as if it was formed by some benevolent act of nature, rather than being carefully crafted over 150 years ago.  It is in a part of the park that is much more natural, unspoiled, and much less utilized, bordering the Harlem Meer, while providing a less-trafficked retreat off the beaten path. Calvert Vaux designed the arch to seamlessly fit into the local scenery, its massive stones carrying the park drive overhead and shielding the trickling brook below.

The bridge is also striking for the immense size of its boulders. One lodged in the base is reputed to weigh close to one hundred tons. Vaux’s instructions to the men building Huddlestone were to choose boulders lying around the park that were most reminiscent of untamed nature.  A stream, parallel to the footpath, runs through Huddlestone’s archway, disappearing from view at the northern end, when suddenly the natural juxtaposition of trees, rocks, and a brook is unfortunately ruptured by asphalt, fences, and the concrete mass of the Lasker Rink. In season, one of the attractions of Huddlestone is the lacelike vines that spill over the cyclopean rock on the bridge’s south side.

Huddlestone Arch offers a gateway to the northern end of the Ravine and the bucolic splendor of the park’s secluded northern woods and is well worth a trip to the lesser known section of the park. Walking a short way up the Ravine to Loch you’ll find yourself out of sight and hearing from the bustling city just a few hundred feet away, a glance around you and you could easily believe you were hiking somewhere in the Catskills.