Seneca Village Site
To a modern-day visitor, the site of Seneca Village resembles much of the surrounding Park, with 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. During the first half of the 19th century, it was home to Seneca Village, a community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property.
The village existed between 1825 and 1857. In 1855, there were approximately 225 residents, a population that consisted of roughly two-thirds African Americans, one-third Irish immigrants, and a small number of Germans. There were over 50 homes in Seneca Village, three churches, and a school. For African-American property owners, Seneca Village provided residential stability and an investment in the future. Another incentive to owning property at the time was that it gave African-Americans the right to vote.
When the City decided to build Central Park, it used eminent domain to acquire the land. Residents were compensated for their property and had to leave by 1857. After they dispersed, all traces of the settlement were lost to history. Since the 1990s, scholars and archeologists have been working to bring the history of Seneca Village to light. In 2011, a group called the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History conducted an excavation at the site that uncovered stone foundation walls and thousands of artifacts from residents that offer valuable clues to better understanding this extraordinary community.
The Conservancy offers year-round tours of the Seneca Village site.