The beginning

The fundamental, triangular shape of Jackson Square Park has a long, even ancient history.  In many instances the Dutch, then the English, built colonial roads on top of Native American footpaths.  In this instance what is now Gansevoort Street was a footpath that led to the river trading post they called Sapohanikan (by the way, this footpath, and now subsequently Gansevoort Street, happen to align perfectly and exactly to the spring and autumnal equinox). That river trading post footpath connected with what is now Greenwich Avenue which led “downtown” and connected to roads to the north. Although truncated in the 19th century and no longer directly connecting with Greenwich Avenue, Gansevoort’s parallel offspring Horatio Street forms the southern base of the triangle. A very assertive 8th Avenue was driven down through the intersection after the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 imposed a grid system on everything in Manhattan north of 14th Street.

What’s in a name?

The earliest reference found of the park is in the New York Times in 1853. We know that shortly after Jackson’s death in 1845 what is now Corlears Park started to be referred to as Jackson Park in honor of him, but the moniker did not stick for very long. It is likely the triangle took his name about the same time, the late 1840s.

In 1858 the Mozart Hall Democratic faction split off from Tammany, when Mozart candidate Fernando Wood was elected Mayor of New York. Between 1859 and 1863, members of the Mozart Hall organization held their gatherings at Jackson Hall, a building that formerly stood at 2 Horatio Street on the corner of Greenwich Avenue. The building was one of dozens that faced onto the triangular parcel of open space now – and perhaps then – known as Jackson Square.

The city acquired the land in 1826. “Jackson Square” appears and is detailed in the Second Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Parks in 1872. According to the report, Jackson Square was one of twenty-nine properties mapped and improved as parkland by the City. By May 1872, Jackson Square saw the following improvements: “5,900 square feet walks graded/103 cubic yards masonry in foundations/460 lineal feet railing/462 lineal feet coping/6 lamp-posts furnished and set.” It remained an enclosed, victorian “viewing park” from 1872-1888.

Gaining Access

In 1887, Mayor Abram S. Hewitt promoted a citywide effort to improve public access to the parks and squares that were entirely enclosed by iron fencing. Parks superintendent Samuel Parsons Jr. and consulting architect Calvert Vaux collaborated on a new design for Jackson Square. In an 1892 article for Scribner’s Magazine, Parsons described the central area as “a great bouquet of brilliant flowers and leaves.” He noted proudly, “The neighborhood of this park is respectable but populous, and it is wonderful on a warm evening to see the dense masses of people that crowd the park benches and smooth asphalt walks.”

West Village Life

In 1913, Parks gardeners planted a new school garden plot at Jackson Square and left its upkeep to the “little farmers” in the neighborhood. The park underwent renovations in the 1930s, when seventeen pin oaks were planted on the perimeter, the shower basin was replaced by a new wading pool, and new benches were installed. The park remained substantially unchanged for over fifty years, until a capital reconstruction project was completed in 1990. It included planting new greenery and restoring the historic iron fencing and benches. The centerpiece, a new cast-iron fountain with planters and a granite base, evokes the 19th-century origins of Jackson Square Park.

Sources: Wikipedia, NYC Parks

Video credits

Jackson Square Park: A History created for the Jackson Square Alliance. All artwork is property of its creator and is used with permission.

“Indian paths in the great metropolis”
Reginald Pelham Bolton
Museum of the American Indian and Heye Foundation
New York, 1922

Map of Manhattan
Bernard Ratzer
circa 1767

The Commissioners Plan of 1811
Randel Farm maps

Map of Manhattan, illustrated
Taylor, Golt, Hoye, 1872

“The evolution of a City Square”
Samuel Parsons, Jr.
Scribners monthly, Volume XII, July-Dec 1892

Photo of Jackson Square, 1934
Courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives
Used with permission

“Mannahatta” Conceptual Art
Markley Boyer
The Mannahatta Project
Wildlife Conservation Society

“Jackson Square” Painting
Cynthia B. Crier AIA
New York, NY
Jackson Square
30" X 40"
Oil on Linen

Sunrise on Gansevoort Photo
Bill Jeffway
Photographed for Jackson Square Alliance

Original Photography occurring in the “Today” section
James Donegan
James Did It!
Photographed for Jackson Square Alliance