Belvedere Castle Central Park photo by Rachel Fawn Alban

In 1858, the City of New York held a design competition for Central Park. The winning plan, by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, was named the ‘Greensward Plan,’ and featured an English style landscape with meadows, lakes, hills, winding pedestrian paths, and many trees to block the view of city buildings.

Over the years, the park has evolved from the original plan due to changing administrations and in response to the changing needs of New Yorkers. In this post, we look at some quirky and surprising details in the park that were not a part of the original Greensward Plan, yet have become a part of its history and character. 

Untapped Central Park Walking Tour

Belvedere Castle

1. Sheep Meadow

Sheep's Meadow, photo by Rachel Fawn Alban

At the insistence of the Park’s Commissioners (and despite considerable objections by Olmsted and Vaux), this area was marked as a parade ground for military drills on the original Greensward plan. However, by 1864, the designers had reclaimed the open space and transitioned it into a beautiful meadow and a grazing area for 200 sheep, called ‘The Green’. According to the NYC Parks and Recreation Department, the designers suggested that the sheep enhanced the Romantic English quality of the park, as well as maintained the lawn.

In 1934, the sheep were eventually moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, possibly to avoid being used for food by people during The Great Depression. The former Sheepfold, which had housed sheep and shepherd, was converted into the restaurant The Tavern on the Green.

Where to find it: Above is a photo of Sheep Meadow today, on the West Side from 66th to 69th Streets. See more vintage photos of sheep in Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park here.