The 1850s

The 1860s

The 1870s

The 1880s

Early 20th Century

The 1920s

The 1930s

Post World War II

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

All text from:
The Park and the People

Click here for
more info.

The Idea of a Great Park   |   The First Park Proposal   |   The Great Park Debate
Taking the Land   |   The Design Competition   |   The Victors
The Greensward Plan   |   The Debate over the Greensward Plan   |   Building the Park   

The Great Park Debate
On June 28, 1851, two weeks before the legislature authorized purchase of Jones Wood, the Journal of Commerce published a correspondence between two city officials suggesting an alternative site for a large park in the middle of Manhattan. Uptown alderman Henry Shaw and the president of the Croton Aqueduct Board, Nicholas Dean, recommended a "Central Park," maintaining that it would better meet New Yorkers' needs than the "one-sided" Jones Wood park on the East River. Their proposal initiated an intense three-year battle over whether, where, and at whose expense New York would create its grand public park. [Ch21]

The exchange of letters in the Journal of Commerce between Nicholas Dean and Henry Shaw had been commissioned and published by the newspaper as part of its editorial campaign to persuade the legislature to "go slow" on the Jones Wood bill. Shaw recommended a hundred blocks between Fifth and Sixth avenues, reaching from 39th Street to the Harlem River; Dean proposed six hundred acres between Fifth and Seventh avenues, from 58th to 106th Street. But both agreed that a "central park" of whatever boundaries would offer economic as well as cultural advantages over the "mere sectional improvement" of Jones Wood. Dean and Shaw linked their proposals for these alternative sites to the building of a new receiving reservoir, which Dean had decided should be located on the city-owned land immediately north of the existing reservoir at 79th Street. For the same $1.5 million that had been estimated for Jones Wood, the city could have a much more "ample" park, and one that would more fully accommodate the desires of wealthy families to enjoy drives on a "magnificent country road." [Ch27]

When the proposal for Jones Wood was temporarily blocked by the courts, in January 1852 the common council's Special Committee on Parks recommended creating a central park on a site similar to that proposed by Nicholas Dean: between Fifth and Eighth avenues, from 59th to 106th Street. Although the central site was five times the size of Jones Wood, its irregular topography -- "numerous abrupt and rocky elevations, intersected constantly by ravines and gentle valleys" -- would reduce its per acre purchase price. Not only would taking the land for a park save the enormous expense of opening streets through the area, the land's very undesirability for private development made it relatively cheap. [Ch218]

By the winter of 1851-1852, Jones Wood supporters confronted not only the court decision striking down the 1851 authorization bill and the report recommending the central site but also the persistent opposition of the Jones Wood landowners, fiscally conservative merchants, and members of the common council. Newspaper editorials and petition campaigns focused on the need for a landscaped park and on which park best satisfied that need, while, behind the scenes, circles of New Yorkers with specific interests in the park's location and financing moved to control the legislative process. In that process, Central Park proponents were to build a growing -- and ultimately successful -- coalition during the spring and summer of 1853.

In June 1853, the New York State legislature authorized two large public parks in New York City. [Ch239] But in January 1854 a judge overturned the Jones Wood legislation, confirming that Central Park alone would become New York's public garden. [Ch241]


The Idea of a Great Park   |   The First Park Proposal   |   The Great Park Debate
Taking the Land   |   The Design Competition   |   The Victors
The Greensward Plan   |   The Debate over the Greensward Plan   |   Building the Park