We’ve done a few in-depth articles about the secrets of Central Park, such as what’s there that wasn’t in the original plan and some of its more naturalistic secrets. Here’s our top 10 list of our favorite secrets in this famous park!
To discover even more secrets, make sure to join us for our next tour of Central Park:
10. The Hidden Code on Central Park’s Lampposts
Unless you’re obsessed with lamp posts, you probably haven’t noticed the embossed numbers that are on a metal plaque bolted on each of Central Park’s cast iron lampposts, designed by Henry Bacon. The plaques can be either on the base or on the post itself, oriented appropriately.
The first two or three digits actually denote the nearest cross street, and the last digit tells you if you’re closer to the east or west side of the park. An even number means east, an odd number means west.
9. The Survey Bolt in Central Park
The bolt is believed to be one of the original survey bolts from when the Manhattan grid was first planned in 1811. As Central Park was not a part of the original plan, street intersection points may have been marked but left to remain since no intersection was actually built here.
The bolt is known to be in the park, but the exact location is kept a secret for fear that it will be stolen or destroyed. After some intense searching of both the internet and park, you might be able to find it like we did.
We know that with a park with such a rich history and diverse planning, a list of 10 could not ever capture everyone’s favorite secrets. Let us know what your haunts are.
8. The Ramble’s Role in LGBT History
In the heart of Central Park is the Ramble, a dense grove once known as the “Fruited Plain” because of the prevalence of anonymous sex that was well-known to have taken place there. One proposed idea to manage the area was to develop a seniors’ center there – a dismissive solution to the real problem of hate crime – which was rejected.
7. NYC Drinking Water Flows in the Waterfalls of Central Park
There are at least five waterfalls in Central Park, all completely man-made, and most of which are located in the Ravine. The water that flows here is actually New York City drinking water that comes from a 48-inch pipe hidden by the rocks at the Pool Grotto on West 100th Street.
6. The Remaining Historic Trees of Central Park
When Central Park was built, the city planted more than 270,000 trees and shrubs and preserved a handful of trees that were original to the area. Today, only about 150 trees are left from the time of Olmsted and Vaux, but many of the trees acquired over the years have a unique story. These Yoshino Cherry trees along the east side of the Reservoir may be the original trees presented as a gift to the United States by Japan in 1912. They are among the first trees to bloom in the spring, before the Kwanzan Cherry. The delicate blossoms drop quickly before the trees green out, and stay leafy for the rest of the season.
5. The Natural But Inaccessible Ramble Cave in Central Park
Steps down into the Ramble Cave
The Ramble Cave, also known as the Indian Cave, was created from a natural cave discovered during park construction and used by lake rowers who could leave their boats to explore the area. Unfortunately, in the early 1900s, the cave was the site of several crimes and at least one suicide. In 1929 The New York Times reported that 335 men had been arrested for “annoying women” in the park, especially at the cave. Eventually, the cave became too dangerous to maintain, so it was sealed at both ends and the inlet was filled. Today, the cave is inaccessible but the entrance is visible from the path above and it adds a feeling of mystery to the area.
4. Seneca, the Middle Class Village in What Became Central Park
The granite bricks here are often erroneously said to be the foundation of a building in Seneca Village, but is actually from a 1930s sandbox.
There was once a thriving village called Seneca located in what became Central Park, between 81st and 89th Street on the West Side. It wasn’t a shantytown or slum, like the rest of the settlements. This was a full fledged middle class town with over 260 residents, several churches, and a school.
With wooden houses on assigned lots, it gave African American residents what they need to vote–their own land. However in 1853 the city passed a bill authorizing the takeover of the land and paid the settlers off. By 1857, when the park officially opened, the settlement was gone. The granite bricks near the West 85th Street entrance are often erroneously said to be the remnants of a foundation of a building in Seneca Village, but from speaking to the Central Park Conservancy Historian, Marie Warsh, it’s been determined they’re actually from a 1930s sandbox. There are foundations and other remnants hidden much further underground though!
3. The Secret Christmas Tree for Pets in Central Park
Photo by Lynn Lieberman
This existence of this tree is kept hush hush, and the locations left deliberately vague but we happened to stumble upon the annual decoration of the tree in recent years.
2. The Ruins of the Academy of Mount St. Vincent and a Tavern in Central Park
These stone walls behind the Conservatory Gardens at 105th Street are the ruins of the 1842 Academy of Mount St. Vincent, today known as McGowan’s Pass. After St. Vincent’s moved out in the 1850s, the original buildings were used for a hotel, a restaurant, and a museum.
The original Mount Saint Vincent buildings burned in 1881, but another tavern was built in its place. The last restaurant at the pass, McGown’s Pass Tavern, was closed and razed in 1915-1917. However its driveways and foundations remain and the Central Park Conservancy uses it as a mulching and composting area.
1. Revolutionary war-era cannon found fully loaded in 2013
This cannon was used on a British ship which sank in the East River. After an anonymous donation in 1865, it was installed at Fort Clinton in 1905 where it remained on public display until 1996 when the Central Park Conservancy brought it indoors to protect it from vandalism. In 2013, however, workers from the Central Park Conservancy, while trying to refurbish and clean the cannon, found it to be still active — fully loaded with 800 grams of live gunpowder, cotton wadding and a cannon ball.
The gun powder has since been removed, and the cannon is now reinstalled in Fort Clinton, at 107th Street, close to 5th Avenue.
1. The Lost Arches of Central Park
Lost beneath the surface of Central Park is the Marble Arch, one of the finest pieces of architecture located at the end of the mall, on the opposite end of Bethesda Terrace was Marble Arch. Built entirely from marble, the arch distinguished itself from its other noble neighbors and was the only bridge built of the material in the entire park. According to Edward J. Levine in the book Central Park Then & Now, the Marble Arch featured a drinking fountain, a semicircular pergola, and marble benches.
Like many things lost in New York City, we have Robert Moses and his quest for automobile domination to blame. In 1938, the Central Park drives were realigned to accommodate car traffic. The arch was demolished, smashed into pieces, and buried. Writing in 2008, Levine stated, “In recent years, a scarred chunk of marble has worked its way to the surface as if declaring “Here Lies Marble Arch.”
Other lost bridges include Outset Arch (demolished for the Central Park Zoo) and Spur Rock Arch (or Oval Arch), demolished for Heckscher Ballfields.
Bonus #2: Hallet’s Sanctuary, Off-Limits Except a Few Times a Year
In 1934, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses sealed off this natural woodland area, preserving it as a bird sanctuary. For decades, it served as a sort of experiment, showing the Parks Department what would happen to the land if they did nothing to maintain it. In 1986, it was renamed to commemorate George Harvey Hallett, Jr., a naturalist, birdwatcher, and civic leader. It remained untouched until 2001, when the Conservancy began to restore it, reintroducing native plants and weeding out invasive species.
n 2013, the Conservancy opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary up to the public for the first time in 79 years, but only on certain days of the year. Today, the Conservancy constantly tends the plants, though they’re unsure of how many plant species thrive here. They’re working to increase the numbers of birds and butterflies too.
Bonus#3 Remnants of the Old (Now Covered) Reservoir
Before Olmstead and Vaux got their hands on the Central Park site, a rectangular reservoir had been built in 1842. According to the Times, they felt “cursed” by the gawky thing and designed around it. It was filled in and covered in the 1930s but you can see elements when you walk by the 86th Street police station inside the park. You can even see the rock wall inside the new police station’s conference room. There’s also a historic marker near the Shakespeare theater.