Seneca Village Landscape

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 don’t 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, plus 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 collaborated with the Central Park Conservancy to conduct an excavation at the site. They uncovered stone foundation walls and thousands of artifacts from residents that offer valuable clues to better understanding this extraordinary community.

Seneca Village: The Williams Family Legacy

The Central Park Conservancy explores the history of Seneca Village by speaking to historians and Ariel Williams, a descendant of Seneca Village resident Andrew Williams.

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In 2019, the Conservancy installed a temporary outdoor exhibit of signs that share decades of research about Seneca Village, and allows visitors to learn about community members in the place where they actually lived. Conservancy-led Seneca Village Tours also explore the community’s history and lives of its residents, and reveals what recent archaeological discoveries show about this remarkable community and its place in 19th-century New York.

More on Seneca Village

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  • Park History

    Before Central Park: The Story of Seneca Village

    An introduction to Seneca Village, the largest community of free African-American property owners in pre-Civil War New York.

    Tags: About the Conservancy / History

  • Q&As

    5 Questions with Cal Jones, Manhattan Borough Historian Emeritus

    Celedonia (Cal) Jones, born and raised in central Harlem, talks about his childhood in NYC and how he became involved in telling Seneca Village’s many stories.

    Tags: History

  • Park History

    Dishes, Shoes, and Tiles: The Excavation of the Seneca Village Site

    Conservancy Historian Marie Warsh speaks with two archaeologists about their experience excavating Seneca Village artifacts and what the items have revealed about this community.

    Tags: History / Park Experts

  • Park Information

    10 New Year’s Resolutions for a Central Park-Lover

    Here are 10 ways to combine a desire for a new you in the new year with the joy of spending time in Central Park.

  • Park History

    Before Juneteenth: The Story of Seneca Village and Central Park

    Juneteenth is a day that marks the end of slavery, celebrates Black culture and accomplishments, and acknowledges the systemic injustices people of color continue to face. It is also a time to reflect on Seneca Village, its residents, and its legacy.

    Tags: Families / History / Park Experts / First-Time Visitors

  • Park History

    How to Engage with the History of Seneca Village

    Tags: Tips for Visiting / About the Conservancy

  • Park History

    How the Landscape of Seneca Village Can Reveal its History

    The site of Seneca Village in Central Park resembles many other Park landscapes, with rolling hills, winding paths, trees, playgrounds, and rock outcrops.

    Tags: Conservancy Staff / Trees / History / Nature Lovers / Park Experts

  • Park History

    New Yorkers on the Significance of Seneca Village

    We asked several New Yorkers—some of whom have been involved in the work to research and share Seneca Village’s stories—what this place and history means to them.

    Tags: Conservancy Staff / History

  • Park History

    Artifacts and Archives: The Rediscovery and Research of Seneca Village

    Learn about the historical research of this community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property.

    Tags: History

  • Park History

    Before Central Park: Native Americans, European Settlers, Immigrant Communities, and Seneca Village

    This slice of Manhattan is unique in both its terrain and history. Native Americans, European settlers, immigrant communities, and Seneca Village residents all traversed here before the creation of Central Park. Here are a few of their stories.

    Tags: Park Design / History / Park Experts