Pleasure gardens: The term sounds dreamy and enchanting.
And for 18th and 19th century city residents, these gardens definitely were: recreational spaces open day and night that featured landscaped grounds, lights, music, theater, fountains, and grottos.
Kind of a cross between a botanical garden, country club, and the Playboy mansion, pleasure gardens offered a coed social scene plus the latest fancy refreshments—the alcoholic kind as well as the new craze: ice cream.
New York Vauxhall Gardens, opened in 1767 on Greenwich Street by the Hudson River, was one of the first. Vauxhall eventually relocated between Broadway and the Bowery (practically the countryside at the time) in 1805.
Contoit’s Garden, close to Niblo’s on Broadway, was an elegant rival. And one of the last pleasure gardens to open, in 1858, was the Palace Garden (top), on the northwest corner of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue.
The pleasure gardens were gone by 1900. Blame the newly opened Central Park, cheap transportation to seashores like Brighton Beach, and more adrenaline-pumping diversions, like the Coney Island amusement parks.
Ice cream, whale-oil illumination, and a breezy promenade through a landscaped pasture just couldn’t compare to the razzle dazzle of Coney.
Tags: 18th century New York, 19th century New York, Contoit's Garden, New York Pleasure Gardens, Niblo's Broadway and Prince, Niblo's Garden, Palace Garden, Pleasure gardens, Sixth Avenue and 14th Street, Vauxhall Gardens