Central Park is Manhattan’s garden and although it appears natural it is for the most part man-made. Before the park could be developed “…the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants...” These ‘undesirables’ were African-Americans and new immigrants (German or Irish origin) but their communities were hardly shanty-towns, rather they were well-established communities bearing names such as: Seneca Village, Harsenville, the Piggery District or the Convent of the Sisters of Charity. Here is a direct quote :
As a community of free black property owners, Seneca Village was unique in its day. It was located in the hilly, rock-strewn woods between 82nd and 89th Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues. At that time it was a long walk to the crowded city. The village grew steadily from 1825, when Andrew Williams first bought three lots for $125. By 1832, about 25 more lots were sold to African Americans. And by the early 1850s, the village boasted three churches, a school, and a population of some 300 people. Over the years, German and Irish immigrants joined the community. This diverse community lived in peace, attending the All Angel’s Church together and sharing the services of one midwife.
But as the city pushed north, the media began to paint a different picture of the little village, calling it a “shantytown” and calling the property owners “squatters” who were “wretched and debased.” Many people in the city, including Mayor Fernando Wood, wanted the land for a great new park. In 1855, the mayor used the power of eminent domain to claim the land. Then he sent the police to clear it. For two years the residents resisted the police as they petitioned the courts to save their homes, churches, and schools. In 1857, they were finally removed. As one newspaper put it, the raid upon Seneca Village would “not be forgotten…[as] many a brilliant and stirring fight was had during the campaign. But the supremacy of the law was upheld by the policeman’s bludgeons.”
Approximately 1,600 blue-collar citizens were forcibly evicted under the rule of eminent domain during 1857, and Seneca Village and sections of other neighborhoods were demolished to make way for Central Park. Not a good start for a park that would later become associated with community. In time, however, Central Park was redeemed through her unique landscaping: the lake, the rock formations, the meadow; her architecture: 36 bridges and engineering that allowed the free-flow of pedestrians, horseback riders, trucks, buses and cars.
A woman’s touch came in 1868 when sculptor: Emma Stebbins created the bronze fountain or Angel of the Waters Fountain. When I think of Central Park I think of free classical concerts, of lolling around in the grass, of lining up to watch Shakespeare’s plays performed, I think of great art like The Gates: 1979-2005 by Christo and Jeanne-Claude;
I think of boat rides, the buskers, the carousel and dog walkers. I also think of the TV series: Angels in America,
which brings me nicely back to my image: The Bethesda Angel in Central Park.