The idea to bring sheep into Central Park originated with Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux back in the early 1860s.
The two brilliant co-designers of the city’s first major green space wanted part of the landscape to feel pastoral and serene. Having a flock of sheep roaming around, they reasoned, would give the area a romantic, English countryside-like feel, according to NYC Parks.
So in 1864, about 200 pedigreed English sheep were moved into the newly opened park, their grazing ground appropriately renamed Sheep Meadow.
Jacob Wray Mould, who designed many of Central Park’s loveliest structures as well as the carvings along Bethesda Terrace, built a Victorian-style sheepfold near West 64th Street (at right, in 1884) that housed the flock at night as well as a human shepherd and his family.
For decades, the sheep shared the park with people.
They left their fold at 5:30 a.m. and returning at half past six in the evening, with the help of a sheepdog assistant named (of course!) Shep, reported the children’s magazine St. Nicholas in 1884.
“With the exception of those who were delayed, most considered the sheep a pleasant spectacle to behold.”
The beginning of the end of the sheep came with the appointment of Robert Moses as Parks Commissioner.
For one, Moses wanted to make the Victorian-style sheepfold a restaurant (it later became Tavern on the Green, at right).
But his decision also had to do with the Great Depression and the very real fear that desperate New Yorkers (some of whom moved into the park in a row of shacks nicknamed Hooverville) might turn the sheep into lamb stew.
So the 49 remaining sheep were dispatched to join another flock (above, around 1900) in Prospect Park.
There, they grazed in the Long Meadow before being moved again, permanently — this time to the Catskills.
[Top photo: LOC; second photo: Wikipedia; third and fourth images: St. Nicholas Magazine; sixth photo: MCNY; 93.91.391]