"Charming as the Garden of the Lord": Central Park in 1863

Plans for a large central park in New York were proposed around 1850 by the landscape gardener Alexander Jackson Downing, and in 1853 the state legislature granted the city the right to acquire by eminent domain a parcel of land bounded by 59th and 106th streets, and Fifth and Eighth avenues. The winners of the competition to design the park were Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Work began in 1857, partly to support the city's program of work relief during that depression year. Although some critics were skeptical that such an unattractive plot of land could amount to anything, by the mid-1860s, one New Yorker reported, "On a bare, unsightly, and disgusting spot, they have created an area of beauty, charming as the Garden of the Lord." There were restrictions "” group picnics were banned, tradesmen were forbidden to use their wagons for family excursions, and schoolboys could not play ball there without a letter from their school principal "” yet in 1865 more than seven million visitors enjoyed the park.

This outstanding view of Central Park from 1863 shows the still undeveloped neighborhoods surrounding the park. Notice the first wing of the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, surrounded by empty grounds. John Bachmann is also well known for his bird's-eye-view maps of Civil War battlefields.

John Bachmann. Central Park. Color lithograph, 1863. New York: Published by John Bachmann, 76 Nassau St.; printed by F. Heppenheimer, 22 & 24 N. William St.
The New York Public Library, The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division.

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