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

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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

Restricting Play in the Park
The expectation that sports fields would be a key attraction of the new park was widespread, and some early guides to the park reinforced it. One depicted on its cover a game of cricket with a crowd of spectators; another promised that baseball and cricket matches could be "comfortably witnessed by ten thousand persons." The guidebook authors had taken their cues from the official plan. Following the competition specifications, the winning Greensward plan had designated three areas as playgrounds: a ten-acre site below 66th Street on the west side of the park (Heckscher Playground after 1926); an area immediately east of the rectangular Lower Reservoir, which became the home of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1880s (roughly 79th to 85th streets, from Fifth to Sixth); and a tract north of the 97th Street Transverse Road in the middle of the park (later the North Meadow). In January 1859, the park board noted that the "numerous applications of clubs of skaters, of baseball and cricket players for accommodation in the Park, indicate that expectations of its influence as a promoter of manly, vigorous out-of-door exercise will be fully realized." [Ch922]

But they were not. The reasons why lay in the transformation of popular sports, particularly baseball, just at the moment the park was being built. In the 1850s New York and other large cities experienced an athletic boom; interest burgeoned in cricket, prizefighting, boating, ice skating, gymnastics, foot racing, horse racing, and especially baseball. [Ch923] New Yorkers organized new baseball clubs almost weekly in the late 1850s at the same time that the city swallowed up many of the available playing fields -- the "out-lying common[s]," as a sporting paper called them. The ball clubs saw the new park as the answer to their dreams, but Olmsted and the board began to wonder whether their presence might prove, instead, to be a nightmare. In May 1861 the commission rejected the applications of baseball clubs for use of the park. [Ch926]

If the park board would not allow baseball and cricket clubs, what was to be done with the playgrounds that had been in the plans from the start? After nine years of intensive discussion, probably under the influence of Andrew Green, a former president of the board of education and now comptroller of the park board, the commissioners restricted the playgrounds to schoolboys who could produce a certificate of good attendance and character from a teacher. And even these exemplary lads found the fields open to them only three days of the week. Working-class youths were largely excluded, since relatively few of them went beyond elementary school in this period. [Ch927] A year after the commissioners opened the fields to schoolboys, they made a similar arrangement for girls. In 1867 they permitted schoolgirls to play croquet (whose popularity had boomed in the United States after the Civil War) on the lawns three afternoons each week. [Ch928]


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