Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of Central Park believed that every element added to the landscape design must satisfy human needs and not be created strictly for decoration. ” On the Central Park tour, we see the most beautiful bridges and arches that serve and protect the guests of the park. Here’s what Olmsted wrote:
“Service must precede art, since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts, and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. … So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art.”
The Central Park Lake is a 20-acre man-made lake incorporating an existing water body but enlarged for Olmsted and Vaux’s design. In the winter of 1858, after only six months of work on Central Park, the Lake had its first season of ice-skating. The still photo above is from a 1900 movie. While skating is now prohibited on the Lake, there are two formal skating rinks in the Park. Rowboats can also be rented at the boathouse.
While exploring the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 forts on the Secret Places of Central Park tour you’ll come upon a fortification which includes a genuine British cannon from the Revolutionary War. Salvaged from the H.M.S. Hussar after shipwrecking off the East River in 1780, it was eventually donated to Central Park. After being put into storage for a number of years, the Central Park Conservancy, in their plans to restore the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 fortifications, planned to put the artillery piece back on display. While restoring it in 2013, they found a cannonball, wadding, and frighteningly enough, over a pound of gunpowder, making this, in theory, a still-loaded cannon since 1780. The Bomb Squad were called to remove the explosive material, and eventually, it was put back on display for you to see!
At the Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park’s Conservatory Gardens near the top of Central Park, is a magnificent gate. The wrought iron gate was not built for the gardens but was a gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to New York City and originally stood in front of Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s mansion at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street–where Bergdorf-Goodman is today. Designed by the great architect George B. Post, of New York Stock Exchange fame, along with Richard Morris Hunt, the house first opened in 1883. The gate, designed by Post and produced in Paris in 1894, is a spectacular way to enter the center Italian Garden of the Conservatory Gardens. See the gate on the Secret Places of Central Park walking tour.
Fort Fish, in what is now Central Park was named after Nicholas Fish who, during the War of 1812, was on the City Committee of Defense to protect New York from British invasion.
Nicholas was also a good friend of Alexander Hamilton. They were both in the Hearts of Oak militia in New York (1st Battalion/5th Field Artillery Regiment) before and early in the Revolutionary War. Both were at Yorktown and both were members of the New York Society of the Cincinnati (for which Fish was also president). Fish named his son, Hamilton Fish, after Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton Fish would go on to serve as New York governor and United States senator from New York.
In John Trumbull’s painting above called, The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis both Colonel Nicholas Fish and Colonel Alexander Hamilton can be seen on the bottom right. Fish is at the very far right and Hamilton is four men in.