Central Park: almost built on the Upper East Side

They would have had to call it something besides Central Park, of course.

But the great new park planned for the city in the middle of the 19th century came pretty close to being created on the Upper East Side.

The idea of a park was first suggested in the 1840s, and by 1851, one site seriously considered was Jones’ Wood, 150 acres of dense forest overlooking the East River (above sketch from the NYPL).

Once a summer retreat for New York’s wealthy, Jones’ Wood was being used as a sort of amusement area for working-class residents, featuring beer gardens and dancing.

City authorities thought it would make an ideal retreat from the ills of urban life. But others, anticipating the city’s growth northward, realized it was better to put the new park in a central location.

Though the city approved both sites in 1853, only Central Park was developed, opening in 1859.

Jones’ Wood was slowly parceled out and turned into a residential and commercial area, with the remaining land falling victim to a fire in 1894.

It’s now the location of Upper East Side neighborhoods Lenox Hill and Yorkville.

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7 Responses to “Central Park: almost built on the Upper East Side”

  1. Alex Says:

    It is fortunate that Manhattan’s great park was picked to be in a more accessable centralized location instead of on the upper east side. While having Jone’s Woods parcel as a secondary large park would have been a great addition, NYC would be vastly different today without our beloved Central Park.

  2. Katharine Gates Says:

    There is a still a place called “Jones’ Wood” in that neighborhood — in fact I grew up there. It is a communal private park on the block between 65th and 66th and between Lex and Third surrounded on the north and south by brownstones and the West by a Church. It is accessible only through the brownstones themselves.

    Where many such blocks would have permitted brownstone owners to wall off their private areas as a back yard, Jones Wood does not permit this and in fact anyone who buys a house on that block must sign an agreement to respect the communal nature of the park. I wonder if there is a connection…

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Oh, there must be–so interesting. The garden sounds lovely. If you have access to it and ever feel like taking a few photos, I’d love to run them. I know of a few other pockets of private gardens in Manhattan; there’s one on Sullivan Street. Only the families living in the brownstones that surround it have access.

  3. Katharine Gates Says:

    The NY Times wrote it up in the Real Estate section once here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/realestate/15deal1.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=jones+wood&st=nyt
    It was quite magical growing up there. Some of the trees were truly ancient. I am a huge fan of this blog so glad to be able to add something of interest.

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the link–I’d love to do a post on this in the future.

  5. Thankfully, these were never built in Central Park | Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] But some of the wackier or just-plain-wrong proposals were focused on Central Park. And that’s just in the park’s first half-century of existence. [...]

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