Central Park History

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Central Park Central Park was the first urban landscaped park in the United States. Originally conceived in the salons of wealthy New Yorkers in the early 1850's, the park project spanned more than a decade and cost the city ten million dollars. The purpose was to refute the European view that Americans lacked a sense of civic duty and appreciation for cultural refinement and instead possessed an unhealthy and individualistic materialism that precluded interest in the common good. After years of debate over the location, the park's construction finally began in 1857, based on the winner of a park design contest, the "Greensward Plan," of Frederick Law Olmsted, the park superintendent, and Calvert Vaux, an architect. Using the power of eminent domain, the city acquired 840 acres located in the center of Manhattan, spanning two and a half miles from 59th Street to 106th Street (in 1863 the park was extended north to 110th Street) and half a mile from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue. In the process, a population of about 1,600 people who had been living in the rocky, swampy terrain--some as legitimate renters and others as squatters--were evicted; included in this sweep were a convent and school, bone-boiling plants, and the residents of Seneca Village, an African-American settlement of about 270 people which boasted a school and three churches. Thousands of Irish, German, and New England-area laborers toiled ten-hour days under the direction of architect-in-chief and head foreman Olmsted for between a dollar and a dollar fifty per day. In the winter of 1858, the park's first area was opened to the public; December of that same year saw New Yorkers skating on the twenty-acre lake south of the Ramble. In the first decade of the park's completion, it became clear for whom it was built. Located too far uptown to be within walking distance for the city's working class
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