Taking a leisurely drive in the peaceful, pastoral Central Park of 1900

By taking a drive, we’re not talking about automobiles. In 1900, the year this postcard dates back to, “driving” still meant driving a horse-pulled carriage…as these well-dressed and probably upper-crust New Yorkers demonstrate.

At the turn of the last century, Central Park still more closely resembled the pastoral retreat Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux envisioned when they completed the park in the early 1860s. Instead of ballfields and playgrounds, the park was a place of rolling hills, recreated nature, and drives.

Is that the Museum of Natural History in the background? It looks lonely out there on Central Park West, which had yet to become the beautiful avenue of elegant apartment houses as we know it today.

[Museum of the City of New York: X2011.34.1513]

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10 Responses to “Taking a leisurely drive in the peaceful, pastoral Central Park of 1900”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    I would love to transport into that picture to experience Central Park as its intended pastoral retreat – but then I’d still want to return to a modern world, perhaps an idealized 1950s, with enough contemporary conveniences and when most people got along. Today would work, too….

    Just a thought: how did they keep the park clean (or clean enough) with all the manure etc. left behind by the horses? Street/park cleaning must have been a thankless task!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That’s a good question—I imagine they had street cleaners come in, though that department was notoriously poor at doing their job until the White Wings formed in the 1890s. So maybe the park is manure-free in this 1900 image thanks to the WWs.

  2. andrewalpern Says:

    That spot by the Daniel Webster statue with Central Park West in the background seems to have symbolized luxury living in the 1880s and 1890s. In the case of your post card the north half of the original San Remo Hotel is shown.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      The San Remo—of course. I’d forgotten that the current San Remo replaced an original built in the late 19th century. Thanks!

  3. Jo Says:

    that makes more sense. I don’t believe the Nat’l History Mus.was built yet and if it was there would be a turrett on the south corner. It may be a building that was later demolished. And yes, there were folks tasked with sweeping up horse droppings all over the city.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You’re right about the Natural History Museum, I didn’t think it matched up correctly to the image in the postcard, but I’d forgotten about the first San Remo.

  4. Ty Says:

    “Drive” the horses, pull the reigns to “pull-over” or “pull-up,” and the Teamsters still live in the 21st century.

    • velovixen Says:

      Ty–That’s a great point about our language. We still say that we’re “shipping” packages even though they’re more likely to go by train, truck or plane, and we still “dial” numbers on our touch-screen iPhones or Androids!

      About the park image: Frederick Law Olmstead wrote about the “civilizing” effect of natural (really, cultivated) spaces in urban environments. And he meant “civilized” in the late-Victorian sense of the world: people in their Sunday best, not appearing to sweat. He would not have approved of the parks he designed (including Central and Prospect) used as training loops for cyclists (of which I am one!), runners and others who are sweating, but not wearing, much.

      Of course, I don’t mean this comment to denigrate FLO: I am glad he bequeathed to us Central and Prospect Parks (and Philadelphia’s Fairmount and Mount Royal in Montreal).

      • countrypaul Says:

        …and early work on Branch Brook Park in Newark (the amazing cherry blossoms came later).

      • velovixen Says:

        Countrypaul—Yes! How could I have forgotten about Branch Brook? And, yes, It has one of the best collections of cherry blossoms!

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