3. Seneca Village (1825)

An interpretive sign at the Seneca Village site in Central ParkSeneca Village in present-day Central Park

Seneca Village was a settlement in the 19th-century in present-day Central Park, founded in 1825 by free blacks. With a population of around 250 residents at its peak, the village featured three churches, a school, and two cemeteries. Bounded by 82nd and 89th Streets, Seneca Village would exist for over three decades before villagers were ordered to leave due to the construction of Central Park.

A white farmer named John Whitehead bought the land in 1824 and sold three lots of it to an African American man named Andrew Williams and twelve lots to the AME Zion Church. After the outlaw of slavery, many African Americans began to move into the village from downtown. A number of Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine also settled in the village. Most of the homes were well-constructed, two-story buildings, the Central Park Conservancy tells us, rather than shanties which were in the minority of the buildings. Workers typically were employed in construction and food service, with many women working as domestic servants. The African Union Church in Seneca Village was one of the city’s first black schools, named Colored School 3.

The Seneca Village Project, founded in 1998, was created to raise awareness of the settlement’s history as a middle-class, free black community. Today, a plaque commemorates the site where Seneca Village once stood. There have also been recent archaeological excavations to uncover traces of Seneca Village, and in 2011, researchers discovered foundation walls of the home of William Godfrey Wilson, who was a sexton for All Angels’ Church in the village. 250 bags were filled with artifacts during the digs, including the leather sole of a child’s shoe. Central Park recently celebrated the history of Seneca Village through new historic signage as well as free tours during Black History Month, of which Untapped New York partnered with the Conservancy to offer a special tour to our Insiders members.