The Community Before Central Park


Central Park is one of the most iconic attractions in New York City. It spans over 51 blocks and boasts 843 acres of lawns, ponds, and public walkways. It is easy to believe that Central Park has always been a part of the city, but before 1857, several well-established minority communities existed where the park stands today.

This map shows the former location of Seneca Village

This map shows the former location of Seneca Village

On July 21, 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that designated 750 acres of land to the creation of a public park. The official history of Central Park, provided by the Central Park Conservancy (CPC), states that “socially conscious reformers” created central park with the intent to “improve public health and contribute greatly to the formation of a civil society.” There is no mention of the businesses destroyed, the churches and schools demolished, the families that were evicted. Most public records fail to recognize how Central Park conveniently destroyed many lower income “shanties” inhabited by “land squatters” and the less desirable residents of the city.

A depiction of Seneca Village from an edition of "Harper's Monthly"

A depiction of Seneca Village from an edition of “Harper’s Monthly”

Seneca Village was one, if not the first established African American communities in NewYork City. It was established in 1825 as an all African American community and by 1857, the year of its destruction, it was 30% Irish-American. Despite their portrayal in the newspapers of the time, the residents of Seneca Village owned their property and usually paid taxes. The community had a total of three churches, three cemeteries, and two schools. Records show that over 589 people lived in Seneca Village in its thirty-two years of existence. On a webpage dedicated to the Seneca Village community, the CPC states that despite the fact that “many protests were filed in the New York State Supreme Court, as is often the case with eminent domain,” those living within the boundaries of the proposed park were “compensated for their property.” It tells nothing of how the public petitioned to save their community or the police force used to violently evict families from their homes. By 1857, according to the CPC, approximately 1,600 people, including all 264 Seneca Village residents were displaced from their homes.

Seneca Village is only one community destroyed in the creation of Central Park, and though it is well known now, it took nearly half a century to be found. City records often fail to acknowledge the violent eviction of places like Seneca Village and the difficulty former residents had in reforming the community. Today, many of the neighborhoods and people that existed before the park remain off public records and wait to be rediscovered.


Further reading:


Pictures found at:





Think Like an Archaeologist

Archaeologists often find graves with little to no accompanying documentation of the people buried or their communities and cultures. It is the job of the archaeologist to figure out as much about the deceased as possible by looking at the inscription, composition, and location of their gravestones.

Grave of Casimir Perier in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Grave of Casimir Perier in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Pictured above is the grave of a Casimir Perier, born on October 21, 1777, died on May 16, 1832. With the Internet, I can easily learn who he was, how he died, when he died, and what he did when he was alive. But what if I didn’t have access to such a large database? If the only clue I had was the gravestone itself, how would I figure out what kind of person was buried there?

I would have to think like an archaeologist.

Perier’s grave is one of the few tombs with it’s own lawn and garden area. In fact, it is completely surrounded by a fence. This discourages the public from walking up to the grave, and suggests that distance between the two was desired at the time of its erection.

Perrier's grave is the centerpiece of this section of the cemetery.

Perrier’s grave is the centerpiece of this section of the cemetery.

Without reading the tomb inscriptions, it’s easy to see that the person buried here was not only important but was prosperous in either money or friends. The monument is made of marble and topped with a bronze statue of Casimir Perier. Marble is more expensive than the stone used for the majority graves seen in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Furthermore, the grave is almost four meters high, making it one of the tallest and therefore most expensive monuments in the cemetery. The people that buried him made sure his grave was far more impressive than those nearby; a great amount of money went into his grave. Only a wealthy man, or one with wealthy friends could afford to be buried here.

On top of the grave, Perier is garbed in a toga over regular European style clothing, a combination only seen on statues of diplomats. He holds a plaque that reads “ Charte De 1830.” On the bottom of the statue lies an excerpt above lady eloquence that roughly translates to “Seven times elected Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet under Louis Philippe I. Defended eloquence and courage and freedom and national dignity in the interior peace.” I now know exactly who Perier worked for, how long he held his position, when he was most influential, and what direct effect it had on the nation.

Without any information from the internet I’ve discovered that Casimir Perier was known for his eloquence and served as Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet under King Philippe I seven times. He was most influential as Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet in 1830, and was quintessential to upholding France’s dignity. He was greatly valued in life, and his monument in death far outshines those around it. The fencing, however, is used to aesthetically create a barrier from anyone walking through the cemetery. His time as president created disparity between the government and the public.

After confirming that the information gathered from Perier’s tomb is indeed accurate, it’s easy to see why archaeologists use graves to understand the lives of the deceased. The inscription, composition, and location of gravestones are all key in learning more about past communities, and in Caismir Perier’s case, whole nations.


Pictures found at:

Reference websites:

For more information:érier-40984#synopsis (French)