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 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.

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.

Seneca Village site photo

Additional Resources on Seneca Village

In recent years, the Conservancy has undertaken a major effort to conduct new research on Seneca Village. Visit our new page to explore a curated list of articles, tours, videos, and updates about this community.

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    Tags: About the Conservancy / History

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    Tags: History

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    Tags: Tips for Visiting / About the Conservancy

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  • 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

  • About the Conservancy

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    Tags: Conservancy Staff / Rustic Architecture / History / Highlights / Staff Picks / Art Lovers / Architecture / Landscapes

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    Before Juneteenth: The Story of Seneca Village and Central Park

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

  • Park History

    New Yorkers on the Significance of Seneca Village

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    Tags: Conservancy Staff / History

  • Park History

    5 Questions with Nadine Bryce, CUNY Professor, on Seneca Village

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    Tags: Conservancy Staff / About the Conservancy / History / Landscapes

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

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    Tags: Park Design / History / Park Experts

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    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

  • 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

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

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    Tags: History / Park Experts

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    5 Questions with Sara Zewde, Landscape Architect and Founder of Harlem’s Studio Zewde

    Harlem-based landscape architect Sara Zewde speaks to how both Frederick Law Olmsted and Seneca Village have informed and inspired her landscape design work.

    Tags: Park Design / History / Landscape Design

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    From Coverture to Control: The Empowerment of Seneca Village’s Women

    Despite legal restrictions on property rights for women in the 19th century, many found novel ways to overcome these barriers and gain land ownership in Seneca Village. Discover the stories of these women, the complex systemic hurdles they faced, and their ingenuity in navigating them.

    Tags: History

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    Tags: History / Art Lovers

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    Finding Joy in a History of Loss: Juneteenth in Central Park's Seneca Village

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    Tags: Families / History / Best for Kids / Art Lovers