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In the Shadow of Seneca Village

On a gorgeous day last week we visited Central Park in New York City. We started on the southwest side of the Park at the famed Tavern on the Green restaurant. After a delightful weekend brunch, we meandered through the center of the Park, down to the southeast corner, and exited past the zoo. We lingered to take in the views, watched turtles sunning on rocks and branches of trees, sat by the water soaking in the reflections, and listened with rapt attention to our brother-in-law Ian who is a tour guide in the Park. He was full of interesting trivia and startled us with the fact that the greenery is entirely man made.

Say what?!

Yes! Before it was Central Park, it was Seneca Village, surrounded by rocks and a swampy terrain.

In 1825 John and Elizabeth Whitehead sold 200 tracts of their land to African Americans. By 1830, these families had built homes with gardens and livestock in Seneca Village. Even though slavery had been abolished in NYC in 1827, discrimination was rampant and Seneca Village provided a haven for the families. Property ownership gave the thriving community the much sought-after right to vote. However by 1857, the New York City municipality used eminent domain power to reclaim Seneca Village to build Central Park. Landowners were paid but there is evidence that not all were paid or paid a fair market value. As I walked in the Park, I was humbled by the sad beginning of this great escape in the middle of my favorite city.

In 1853 when the Park was approved, landscape architects competed to transform 750-odd acres from a rocky terrain into a park. Calvert Vaux, a British-American landscape architect won the competition and along with his soon-to-be famous protégé, Frederick Law Olmstead, set out to transform the land. Their plan was called "Greensward" and was based on sweeping meadows with large bodies of water that gave the perception of limitless space. They purposefully intertwined pastoral scenes with rocky terrain to give the people of the city a way to escape congestion and have a place to rest, workout, and socialize.

My favorite part in the Park is the Sheep Meadow. It wasn't the pastoral landscape it is today. Before Vaux and Olmstead delivered this grand part of the park, they had to blast a lot of rocks and install four feet of soil. Yes, sheep grazed in this meadow during the day and then rested in the Sheepfold, which went on to become the Tavern on the Green restaurant. Who knew! In the '60s, Sheep Meadow became a gathering place for the counterculture. Now it's a place for little children and their adults to run around without care. I was so busy taking in the sight that I forgot to take pictures! Here's one from the internet.

The walk in the park was supremely refreshing. The greenery was in full bloom and the colors and skyline took my breath away. On this memorable day in history, I salute the resiliency of the city and its people and continue to pray for the families impacted so dreadfully on a gorgeous day, eighteen years ago. Peace.

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