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.

Andrew Green and the Model Park   |   Early Use of the Park
Training the "Ignorant" How to Use a Park
Restricting Play in the Park   |   The Fight over Sunday in the Park

The Fight over Sunday in the Park
In the 1860s countervailing pressures for park use came to a head in a sharp controversy over Sundays in the park. That confrontation emerged in the context of a larger struggle over how New Yorkers should spend the Christian sabbath. Members of Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and Methodist churches urged a quiet, church-centered Sunday. More liberal denominations and "free thinkers" tolerated a wider range of activities, and tens of thousands of European immigrants, particularly Germans, favored even more secular and permissive sabbath pursuits. [Ch939]

In September 1859 the antisabbatarian American Society for the Protection of Civil and Religious Liberty applied for permission to hold Sunday music concerts in Central Park; the Staats-Zeitung backed the plan, arguing that Sunday concerts would make music in the park available to those workers and shopkeepers who worked on Saturdays. The park board dodged the issue by tabling the motion. [Ch940]

But the matter was not settled. The following summer, when the board considered proposals for boat service in the park, Commissioner Waldo Hutchins, a nativist and a Presbyterian, moved that any license for such services specify that no boats be operated on Sundays. The board narrowly divided on the motion and left the question in abeyance. The New York Sabbath Committee, which fought to maintain existing Sunday blue laws, responded with a pamphlet titled, Our Central Park and with letters to the newspapers, which charged that the "continental sabbath" was infiltrating the park. New Yorkers might follow Europe in "the art of landscape gardening," but founding "a great Park, after the style of the Bois de Boulogne or the Prater" did not "carry with it the Sunday pastimes of Paris and Vienna." [Ch941]

The Sabbath Committee's opponents saw the issue in class terms. "The real object of the 'Sabbath Committee,'" the Herald charged, "is but a covert design to shut up the Park entirely on Sundays -- to lock the gates and exclude the poor and working classes from all enjoyment within its precincts; to secure it, in short, for the `respectable' and `pious' portion of the community exclusively." [Ch942]

In practical terms, the differences between the two sides were never as sharp as their rhetoric. The concrete issues remained whether the park board would allow music, boat rentals, and refreshment sales on Sundays. Perhaps because of the passions aroused, the commissioners avoided all but a few direct votes on these matters. By such evasions, they and Olmsted (even though he called himself a "Sabbath cracker") generally bent to the more politically influential sabbatarians. No music and no boat rentals were permitted on Sundays in the 1860s. Refreshment sales were allowed; beer sales were not. Such decisions hardly closed the park on Sundays, but neither did they make it more appealing or enjoyable for the working families who had only that day on which to visit. [Ch943]


Andrew Green and the Model Park   |   Early Use of the Park
Training the "Ignorant" How to Use a Park
Restricting Play in the Park   |   The Fight over Sunday in the Park