But what many don’t realize is that this area near the Park’s West 85th Street entrance has an exceptional 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.
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.
Things you can do here
Whether you’re just stopping by for a visit, heading to a concert, or consider Central Park your backyard, we have you covered for your perfect weekend in the Park.
Tags: Kids and Families / Health & Fitness / Art & Architecture / Wildlife
Before Central Park was built, the area from West 82nd to West 89th Street was home to Seneca Village, the largest community of African-American property owners in New York.
Tags: History / Art & Architecture
Explore the history of this area like never before with Discover Seneca Village, an outdoor exhibit of interpretive signage that gives visitors a glimpse into this fascinating community.
Head to Seneca Village this Juneteenth for a family-friendly celebration of Black wellness through dance, music, art-making, comedy, self-care, and more!
Tags: Staff Picks / Kids and Families
Also in the area
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
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
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
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
Learn about the historical research of this community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property.
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
The current movement for racial justice—which includes elevating Black history, culture, and stories—has sparked a renewed interest in Seneca Village, a community of predominantly African-Americans that existed before the creation of Central Park.
Tags: Tips for Visiting / About the Conservancy
Tags: Conservancy Staff / History
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.