New York City plays host to over 1700 parks, totaling more than 30,000 acres, across the five boroughs. The original park system was founded back in 1856, but at that time, the city park commission was only responsible for administering Central Park. However, by 1870, the Tweed Charter gave the commission responsibility for all the parks in Manhattan, while each of the other boroughs had its own parks commission. All of these were unified in 1934 under Robert Moses (who served as superintendent until 1960). In previous postings, we have blogged about Central Park and Bryant Park (our favorite). While we obviously can not blog about all 1700 New York City parks, we do have a couple that are worthy of highlighting;
GRAMERCY PARK; At one time, this whole area was in the middle of a swamp. Now, “Gramercy” (which in archaic English meant “many thanks”) refers to a two acre fenced in private park, as well as the surrounding neighborhood. It is one of only two “private” parks in New York City (the other being Sunnyside Gardens in Queens) and is the only park in the city which has remained unchanged in 80 years.
Mayor James Duane acquired the site in 1761 and named it “Gramercy Seat.” In 1831, developer Samuel B. Ruggles bought the property (at that time 22 acres) from the heirs of James Duane, which he named “Gramercy Square.” Ruggles drained the swap and brought in one million horsecart loads of earth. He then deeded his “Square” to the owners of 66 parcels of land he had plotted to surround it. By 1833, the Park was surrounded by a fence and ownership was held in common by the 39 peripheral structures ( the original 66 lots having been reduced in number by creation of the side streets). As a private park, only the neighboring land owners, members of the “Players Club”, the “National Arts Club”, and guests of the Gramercy Park Hotel had key access, provided they paid an annual fee. The only time the park is open to the public is on Christmas Eve.
Among some of Gramercy Park’s more famous neighbors were Julia Roberts, Thomas Edison, Booth Tarkington, Alfred Ringling, Gregory Peck, and John Steinbeck.We
STUYVESANT SQUARE; In 1836, Peter Gerard Stuyvesant (great-great-great grandson of Peter Stuyvesant) set aside four acres of his family farm as a public park and then sold it to New York City for a token five dollars. It was originally called “Holland Square.” By 1847, the city had installed a 2800 foot cast-iron fence around the property (now considered the oldest cast-iron fence in the city). Even though Second Avenue divides the park into east and west (each surrounded by the cast-iron fence), by 1900 this was considered to be among the city’s most fashionable addresses.
MADISON SQUARE PARK; Named for the fourth United States President, James Madison, this 6.2 acre sits at the northern end of the Flatiron District, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and 23rd Street. Originally a swampy hunting ground, the first public space was opened here in 1686. By the turn of the next century, it had become a Potters Field. The current park opened in 1847. Thirty years later, it was surrounded by aristocratic brownstone Row houses and mansions (with owners such as novelist Edith Wharton and Winston Churchill’s mother). During the 1863 New York City Draft Riots, 10,000 Federal troops, brought in to control the chaos, encamped in the Square. When Broadway was widened in 1870, some of the park’s acreage was lost. From 1876 until 1888, the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty was on display in the Square in an effort to raise funds for the construction of the statue. America’s first community Christmas tree was illuminated in Madison Square Park in December 24, 1912.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring these three parks tucked into unique neighborhoods surrounding them.