A few weeks ago I took advantage of all my time off to go on a tour of Central Park. The Conservancy Guides lead you through the Heart of the Park on a 90 minute walk explaining the history and fun facts about park. At 23 weeks pregnant, I thought it was an easy walk and it was FREE! I registered ahead of time but you can also meet up at the visitor booth close to a tour time to sign up. If you have some extra time while you’re in the city, I highly recommend taking advantage of this tour!
I’ve recapped a few interesting facts I learned along the way along with a little bonus video at the end. 🙂
We started the tour meeting up at the Samuel F. B. Morse statue named after the famous inventor of morse code at the Inventor’s Gate, on Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street.
The Alice and Wonderland statue is one of the many statues you stumble upon on the tour in honor of donor and publisher of Alice, George Delacorte. He commissioned it as a gift to the children of New York and it’s thought that the Mad Hatter is a self portrait.
The trails in the park were intentionally laid out to make you meander throughout the park and forget that you’re in the middle of a city. In 1800 the population of NY exploded with immigrants all packed below 14th street. It was a chaotic time to live with no grass or trees and lots of pollution. The city fathers decided to develop and acquired the land we now know as Central Park.
A competition was held to design the park; there were 33 submissions but the two that won were landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect/landscape designer Calvert Vaux. The land was originally industrial so they cleared it out and started to plant – every single plant and body of water is all man made!
Waldo Hutchins was one of the commissioners of Central Park and philanthropist that donated a lot to the park. The Waldo Hutchins bench was erected in his honor as a sundial and way to encourage people to sit and enjoy the scenery.
Originally a glass conservatory was in the plans for the park along with a small pond. Unfortunately, they ran out of money but still put in the Conservatory Water Pond where you can rent sailboats for $11/30 min.
Later in the walk, we go by the Loeb Boathouse which was originally made entirely of wood and deteriorated quickly and had to be replaced. Today you can rent a rowboat for $15/hour from April through November.
Another family friendly activity that I look forward to doing with Baby O is coming to the statue of Hans Christian Andersen. Anderson is pictured reading his famous Ugly Duckling which was actually stolen and miraculously returned! Every Saturday from June through September, Anderson’s classics are shared including one of my favorites – The Little Mermaid.
Bridges were added to perpetuate meandering through the park by making you curious as to what might be on the other side. Originally they weren’t a part of the plan for the park, but were added to accommodate the main form of transportation at the time of its creation – horseback. The bridges are meant to mimic rolling hills that one might find in the countryside.
From there we made our way to the iconic Bethesda Fountain. The angel on top is from the gospel of St. John where an angel visits the Pool of Bethesda, touches the water, and gives it healing powers. At the time there was no fresh water in the city; the fountain was put in to commemorate the 1842 opening of the Croton Aqueduct, which supplied New York City with fresh water.
The Bethesda Terrace also includes two grand staircases that are all intricately decorated with railings that represent each of the seasons. The lower terrace is known for it’s amazing acoustics and the beautiful tilings on the walls and ceilings. The ceiling panels are actually not painted-on tiles and weigh a ton a piece. In the 1970s, Central Park wasn’t cared for the way it is today and a lot of damage was done to the terrace. 15% of the tiles needed to be replaced and the conservation team was able to go back to the original company that created them to have them remade as an exact replication.
I love this picture of one of our amazing guides showing what the park looked like on Bow Bridge when it first opened up versus today. You can see that one building still standing proud just to the right! (More of that building at the end.) The park was opened as a democratic space and was the first public park in the United Sates paid with taxes. As you can see in the picture, it was a huge hit!
Fun fact: if you ever get lost in the park, a lamp post can help you get your bearings. Lamp posts are tagged with 4 digits representing two sets of numbers. The first two let you know what street you’re on, the second determine east or west side. Even numbers are for the east, odd numbers are for the west. Remember, the city is based off a gird and in this picture, we’re on 66th on the east side of the park.
Every single lamp post, tree, etc. is GPS’d by the conservation group! If you ever get lost, you can simply call their help line, tell them the lamp post tag, and they can help you find your way or send help.
We ended our tour at the building I mentioned seeing from Bow Bridge. It was the fist residential building on the upper west side (remember everyone was originally below 14th street) making this very uncommon in the midst of all the industrial building around the park. It was built as a luxury apartment building – another first as living in a shared building at the time was considered to something only the lower class did. Nevertheless, it was a huge hit and still functions as a luxury apartment building to this day!
Do you have a place you like to visit when you’re in the city? I’d love to hear from you! What was your favorite part of this post?