Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Geology of New York City's Central Park

Before Frederick Law Olmstead was commissioned
to turn it into a park in 1857, the 840 landscaped acres now in downtown  New York City were wet meadows, lagoons of human and animal sewage, a few small inholdings and tiny "villages" owned by untamed Irish and free slaves, and solid rock outcroppings ground smooth by glaciers.

Though Central Park was to be America's first *landscaped* public park, the land was so barren and fouled that 500,000 cubic feet of topsoil had to be imported from New Jersey right from the start.  Modern estimates put the amount of New Jersey top soil now in the park at around 10 million cubic yards.

Central Park started off with a grand plan, but after initial clearance, construction, and planting, City Hall corruption siphoned off all the maintenance money and the park went into a long decline. By the mid-1930s, Central Park was shabby and uninviting and New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia instructed urban planner Robert Moses to turn it around.  He did so by replanting the lawns and flowers beds, cutting out and replacing dead trees and bushes, cleaning and repairing bridges and walls, installing new playgrounds, ballparks, and a skating rink, and putting in new sculptures, a children's carousel, and a renovated zoo. Central Park became a destination once again.

The massive and rather dramatic rocks and boulders that are strewn across Central Park are schist and gneiss remnants of glaciers which scoured North America and then retreated about 12,000 years ago. One of the more famous big rocks is Rat Rock where urban boulder climbers practice their passion.

New York City is mostly built on solid rock -- one reason the buildings can rise so tall above an island riddled with subways, tunnels, and basements.


Rick said...

I have a minor correction, concerning Central Park. It is not America's first public park. That distinction goes to the Boston Common, first established in 1634, and formally established as a public park in 1830.

The second public park would be San Pedro Park in San Antonio, Texas. First settled by the Payaya Indians 12,000 years ago, the area around San Pedro Springs was the first site of San Antonio, and designated public land by King Phillip V of Spain in 1729. The City of San Antonio declared it a city park in 1852. Frederick Law Olmsted visited the park a few years later, as he wrote in "A Journey Through Texas" (1857).

I have set foot in Central Park, and regret that we didn't have more time to explore that wonderful place. But my family's colonial history (as a part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony), and Texas pride, compel me to make this minor correction.

PBurns said...

Thanks for the correction; I added the word *lsnscaped* which makes it right from what I can tell.

Rick said...

Central Park is certainly a masterpiece of landscaping, on a level never before seen. I hope to be able to spend more time there in this lifetime.

Enid Coleslaw said...

A piece of Central Park/ Terrior trivia: Swan kills Donna Karan's Jack Russell!

"Sometime around the summer of 2000, Donna Karan, the well-known fashion designer, was walking with her small pet terrier by the lake in Central Park with the dog off leash.

The little dog decided to chase after one of the ducks, which inhabit the lake and chased after it right into the water as the duck tried to escape.

Unbeknown to anybody was the fact that there was a pair of swans nearby, with their brood of cygnets nesting on a marshy islet.

Seeing the terrier swimming towards them, the female swan adopted her natural instinct to protect her offspring. She swam towards the little dog, grabbed it in her strong and powerful beak and took it out to the middle of the lake where she held the dog's head underwater until it drowned."