The pleasure gardens of Lower Manhattan

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.

Exclusive Niblo’s Garden (at left) soon became hugely popular, taking over an older pleasure garden at Broadway and Prince Street in 1825 and expanding it with a theater and open-air saloon.

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.

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9 Responses to “The pleasure gardens of Lower Manhattan”

  1. Joly MacFie Says:

    I take it that the Minsky’s National Winter Garden on Houston, that closed in 1931, doesn’t qualify?

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Wasn’t Minksy’s a burlesque house? I don’t think it had any gardens to speak of, just a theater.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Perhaps Tompkins Square Park in the East Village was designed as one? Still standing from Avenue A to B and 7th St to 10th St, certainly more then big enough to be a ‘pleasure garden’.

  3. Paul Says:

    As much as I dislike what Mike Bloomberg has done to the city in the name of “progress” I have to admire his administrations efforts to increase the amount of public space and parkland along the Manhattan and now the Brooklyn waterfronts. From the West Side (Hudson River Park) to the East Side there are lawns, wild flower plantings and plenty of benches and assorted seating for various pleasures in these modern “Pleasure Gardens”. Of course Mike Bloombergs nanny government refuses to allow us the pleasures of LEGAL products such as alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. All that aside these improvements to public space are a laudable achievement.

  4. T.J. Connick Says:

    Consulting Burrows and Wallace’s Gotham, other pleasure gardens:

    Spring Garden at Broadway and Ann
    Catiemuts Garden at Park Row and Chambers
    Ranelagh at Church and Thomas
    Brannon’s at Hudson and Spring
    United States at Broadway and Murray (later to become Contoit’s)

  5. Barbara Says:

    Might be interested in more on early pleasure gardens in New York City – http://bit.ly/kidKAi

  6. When Charles Dickens toured the city in 1842 « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] visited alms houses and lunatic asylums, checked out the infamous Tombs prison and amusement garden Niblo’s, and hung out at a dance hall called Almack’s popular with the city’s black [...]

  7. GrayFoxDown Says:

    Reblogged this on Big Apple Dayze.

  8. A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] all super-aware city kids, she knows all the leading attractions. She visits Vauxhall Gardens, mentions a wax figure at Barnum’s Museum, and remembers how moved her father was when he saw […]

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