Central Park was a grand vision by New York City’s civic leaders, executed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. 843 acres of what was once swamps and farms (even a small village) was transformed into a naturalistic, experiential public space. But not everything in the park was shaped anew with the monumental effort. There are a number of ruins and remnants, and original landscape features, that remain to this day.
1. Ruins of the Academy of Mount St. Vincent
The stone walls behind the Conservatory Gardens at 105th Street are the ruins of the Academy of Mount St. Vincent, founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York. According to Mount St. Vincent history, it was the first institution for higher learning for women in New York, even before public colleges or high schools were open to women. As the school notes, “The Academy was no finishing school,” and was dedicated to a liberal arts education.
Starting in 1855, land was acquired for the creation of Central Park, so the school moved to a new campus in Riverdale, in the Bronx. According to Melvin Kalfus in the book Frederick Law Olmsted: The Passion of a Public Artist, Olmsted and his family lived in the Academy buildings during the construction of Central Park. In 1881, a fire destroyed the buildings, but the stone wall foundations remain to this day. The illustration on a plaque in the Conservatory Gardens (above) today shows just how large the academy, situated on a hill, was.