It’s easy to miss, just a gray iron rod hammered into a slab of gray Manhattan schist in Central Park. But this unassuming bolt is a relic with historical meaning.
It was put there more than 200 years ago by John Randel Jr., a surveyor and engineer. Randel had been hired by a state-appointed commission tasked with drawing up a street plan for the growing city of New York.
Beginning in 1808, Randel’s job was to map out a grid that would divide Manhattan into blocks formed by east-west streets and north-south avenues, few of which existed at the time (Gotham’s northern border was Houston Street back then).
He submitted his plan, famously known as the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan for the City of New York. Then the grunt work began.
“Randel spent the next 10 years staking out and marking the intersections from First Street to 155th Street with 1,549 three-foot-high marble monuments and, when the ground was too rocky, with 98 iron bolts secured by lead,” wrote Sam Roberts in a 2011 New York Times article.
As the city marched northward and the streets Randel mapped out were developed, the marble monuments and iron bolts disappeared.
In 2004, this one in Central Park—left undisturbed, as Central Park escaped the street grid plan—was discovered by surveyor Lemuel Morrison and geographer Reuben Rose-Redwood while researching the grid system.
Exact directions to this unassuming relic are hard to find, since no one wants it to fall into the hands of souvenir hunters. New York history fans should start looking in the park’s southern end.