6. Madison Square Park Used to Be a Cemetery, Arsenal, Military Parade Ground and House of Refuge
For those who have read a lot of our secrets articles, it’s probably no surprise that Madison Square Park used to be a cemetery (Herald Square, Union Square, and other locations in New York City were once cemeteries as well). It was a potter’s field (a burial ground for those who died unknown or couldn’t pay for burial in other cemeteries), between 1794-1797, but this field then moved to Washington Square Park.
After its time as a potter’s field, in 1806 the land that is now Madison Square Park was the site of a U.S. Army Arsenal and then a military parade ground that was named “Madison Square” for James Madison in 1814. Both made for a key military post for drills during the War of 1812.
Once the arsenal lost its military usefulness, in 1825 it became a “House of Refuge” for juvenile delinquents until 1839, when a fire destroyed it. Afterwards, the land between 23rd and 26th streets from Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue officially became a public park with a fence in 1847.