Seneca Village Site
To a modern-day visitor, the site of Seneca Village resembles much of its surrounding landscape: rolling hills, rock outcrops, and playgrounds. But what many do not realize is that this area near the Park’s West 85th Street entrance has an important history — more than 200 years ago, it was once home to Seneca Village, the largest community of African-American property owners in 19th-century New York City.
The village existed between 1825 and 1857; by 1855, there were approximately 225 residents, which consisted of roughly two-thirds African Americans, one-third Irish immigrants, and a small number of Germans. As the first significant community of African-American property owners, Seneca Village provided residential stability. With property ownership came other rights not commonly held by African-Americans in the City — namely, the right to vote.
When the City built Central Park, the Seneca Village residents were displaced and all traces of the settlement was lost to history. Since the 1990s, scholars and archeologists have been working to bring the history of this significant community to light. In June of 2011, a group called the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History conducted an excavation at the Seneca Village site that uncovered stone foundation walls and thousands of artifacts from residents that offer valuable clues to unraveling the story of this community.
Central Park Conservancy offers tours of the Seneca Village site, for which you can register at www.centralparknyc.org/tours.